“No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority” – Joseph Addison.
My experience on the 6th of September 2016 cannot easily be forgotten. It signaled clearly to the leadership deficit we have in the present Abia State government. It also exposed the oppression the people of Abia State are going through in the hands of the Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu-led government. That incarceration also made me to understand that the people of the state are truly ready for freedom from a tyrannical system of governance, one that keeps governance in the hands of a selected elites with the agenda to continually keep the state undeveloped and improvised while they wallow in the wealth and affluence at the detriment of the people. The resistance that followed my Incarceration was unprecedented, unimagined, unexpected, and unbelievable. The social media was fired up with the hashtag #FreeEmenikeIroegbuNow; online news platforms, national and local dailies were not exceptions. They all carried screaming headlines that sought for my immediate release. Human right Organizations put out statements; Human Right lawyers stepped in and the people of the state agitated and just then my release came.
All through the intimidation and attempt to break me down by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) at the instruction of Abia State Government, I never got broken. But I got broken when I realized the number of people that stood up for me with trending hashtags on the social media. I just want to say thank you to everyone and I want to thank God for making me realize that, indeed, am on the path of truth, justice.
On the 6th of September 2016, at about 2pm, I was in the comfort of my apartment in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, when I heard the opening of my apartment entrance gate and a big bang on my front door. It sounded so hard that I became terrified. I had a few minutes confusion, wondering “who are these guys. Are they kidnappers, robbers or what?” But the confident at which they kept banging the door completely eradicated the idea of them being robbers or kidnappers because the time was about 2pm.
I immediately checked them up again through my window and discovered that they where men of the State Security Service and I got so disappointed at their rudeness. I got disappointed because I had expected sense of civility from them. Their Gestapo attitude was not called for knowing I was not a terrorist nor a kidnapper but an ordinary Journalist. So, besides the assumed ‘invitation for questioning,’ they had a hidden motive that was politically sponsored.
As soon as I identified as operatives from the Department of State Security, I dressed up ,went straight to open the door. By that time they had taking over all entrance of my residence, as I opened the door, a huge man angrily sauntered in shouting: “what is your name?” I answered “Emenike Iroegbu” and he shouted again: “where are your phones?” I handed over my phones, by that time another two mean-looking men had entered my house and headed toward my bedroom. They packed all my IT equipment including Ipads and Laptops. Once they had gathered all my gadgets, one of the guys immediately snatched me by the belt and pushed me outside toward a waiting SUV. As we were coming close to the SUV, two other guys stepped out with guns, handcuffed me, covered my face with a hood and sandwiched me at the back seat of the SUV.
In less than 20 minutes I was sitting inside a facility. Before me was a dedicated detective who told me to be calm and fill a form that was placed before me. A nexus of thoughts covered me. I thought of the offense that could have warranted my arrest and who was behind it. Immediately it dawned on me that I was being picked up at the instance of Abia State Government. I remembered the call I had from a man that introduced himself as Okoye, whom I later discovered was the Assistant Director of SSS, Abia State Command, inviting me for a chat in their office. I remembered that I refused to honour that invitation because it was not formal and because my lawyer advised me not to.
My bewilderment became a reality when one of the top officers in the Uyo Office of the SSS stepped in and asked: “why did you not honour the invitation from our office in Umuahia?” I gave my obvious reasons, which he rejected. He later said: “Well, just wait Umuahia people are to take you from here.” As soon as he said that, I immediately established who was behind my arrest, Abia State Government.
So, Abia state Government actually ordered my arrest, even though the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Enyinnaya Appollos, denied that fact. After my release, I got more concrete information that the State Government actually petitioned Abia Facts Newspaper and penned my name down as the main person to clampdown. Their thinking, as I got to know, was that if I am clamped down, Abia Facts will definitely be dead and buried. But unfortunately God didn’t allow it to work.
What were Abia Facts Newspaper’s sins? We were very objective during the 2015 electioneering. We reported issues and facts the way they were without biases. Our platform, a major platform in Abia State, gave political space to all and sundry. These were our sins. We have been threatened, intimidated, but our conscience, which is tied to truth and justice, has been very clear.
Within three hours of waiting at the Uyo Office of the SSS, the dispatched team from Umuahia landed. It took another 30 minutes of formalities to tidy up my transfer papers to Umuahia and immediately that was done, I was leg cuffed, blindfolded and driven for about three hours to Umuahia.
From Uyo to Umuahia was a journey of my life. A lot ran through my mind. We arrived Umuahia at about 7:30pm the same day. I was pulled out of the truck, still blindfolded and leg cuffed, and taken into a room with furniture. In the room, I overheard someone saying “don’t put him into the cell. Leave him there to stay till tomorrow.” I felt a sense of relieve. After awhile, the hood was taken off my head and the cuffs removed from my legs. Again, my left hand was handcuffed to the burglary proof of the room where I was asked to sit. A medical doctor came, cheeked me up and I was asked: “what will you eat? I told them and it was provided.
But sleep eluded me that night. It was hell for me. Eventually, morning came and one detective, Felix, sent for me and interrogation started. He asked: “Do you know why you are here?” My reply was yes. He asked again: “Are you responsible for any publication in Abia Facts Newspaper?” My reply was yes. Here are excerpts of that interrogation:
Detective: So anything published there you are responsible for it?
Detective: Let me advice you, anything put before you just accept, so that we can talk to the authorities to forgive you and you can move on with your life. Maybe you retract the statements and apologize.
Me: (I smiled)
Detectives: (Fiddling his phone for awhile, he brought out a document and showed me), did you publish this?
Me: I will take responsibility of any document on our platforms and anyone not there is not our publication.
Detectives: Ok, let’s check your platforms? (He gave me my phone and he called for another detective to stay close to me and watch me while he eats).
Me: (on my phone and checked all through, the alleged publications were not there) – “they are out there,” I said.
Then I went ahead “nwanne, why is it that you guys are only concerned about this, have you people not seen Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, Dr. Uche Ogah, Dr. Alex Otti and other prominent Abians insulted by the state government and its media handles online? What have you guys done about that, or the state government wants to use SSS to intimidate Abia Facts Newspaper and shut it down after their threat messages did not work?
Detective: Please we are not politicians, we saw a story that is capable of causing problem and we decide to investigate it.
Me: So you have not seen other stories sponsored by the state government against other prominent Abians?
Detective: We don’t just look for stories. If someone feels what is published against him is bad and he reports to us, we take it up.
Me: This is political, this is blackmail, this is just an attempt to intimidate us and close us down and it will not work?
Detective: So you are saying you don’t know anything about these publications?
Me: Yes, I am responsible for anything on our platforms.
Detective: But those are from your platforms, they have your logo?
Me: In today’s world anything can happen. Logo or no logo is not the issue and moreover, we had notified the general public of cloned Abia Facts Newspaper pages on facebook and we informed the public that they intend to blackmail us using those pages and that is what is happening.
Detective – Do you have partners or sponsors of Abia Facts Newspaper?
Me: I have reporters all over Abia State, i don’t have sponsors or partners.
At that point, he wrote a report and sent to the Director, who after reading it immediately sent for me.
Director: Oga, we invited you to our office but you refused to come. You think we cannot find you, we know all your movement, we have been watching you, but we thought you will come on your own that is why we have been telling you to come but you refused. Why?
Me: Sir, I did not refuse to come, my lawyer told me that invitation comes with a letter to make it official and more over I have being under threat, I don’t know if it was an illegal job to molest me.
Director: No, once you are invited to the office, it is not illegal job. Nobody does such job here because I see everything happening in this facility from my office (he showed me his CCTV).
Director: Please go back and tell the detective the truth and I can assure you that you will leave here immediately. I will talk to the people you offended to forgive you and you will retract your statement and move on.
Me: I have informed the detective of cloning activities taking place and those documents are not ours.
Director: Just go and tell him the truth.
We left the Director’s office and went back to the detective’s office and another round of questioning plus intimidation started.
I noticed that the detective did not take any of the issues I raised serious concerning the cloning of our platforms. He was acting like a man trying as fast as possible to nail me down, but unfortunately it didn’t go the way he planned.
After another round of questioning, he asks me to write down my statement, which I did carefully. I was now instructed to sit outside.
At about 3pm, he called me in again, and I made a request for my phones to place some calls and he replied “I have just being told you are leaving now” and I asked “with my gadgets right?” He responded “you are going now with all your properties,” immediately he started identifying my stuffs, “is this your phones” “yes” “was the items registered at the front desk “yes” “ok, let’s go there so that you can sign out immediately and leave.”
The sense of urgency for me to leave immediately made me know that something has been triggered, something that is making everyone uncomfortable. It sounded as if it was becoming a serious issue for them and I knew something was happening outside that I didn’t know about. I got to the front desk, identified my items, the defective took me upstairs to the Director’s Office and he said “Oga, I hope no one maltreated you?” I answered “No”. He went on, “we are just doing our job, we are not politicians, Please, you can go now.” I responded “thanks.”
Once I stepped out, the defective assisted me with transport fare because I was carried from my house empty.
That was how I was released.
The first thing I did as I walked out of the gate of the Umuahia Office was to put on my phone and I was so impressed with the clamor for my release on social media. The hashtag #FreeEmenikeIroegbuNow was already trending. Phone calls started rushing in from bloggers, friends, Abia State elites and a lot of people.
I am putting out this report because of pressure from fellow bloggers, friends and journalist all over the world who want to hear my side of the story. This report is also meant to encourage fellow bloggers to be objective, truthful and focused in their reportage and not allow themselves be intimidated by the apparatus of the state. The truth is that government of our country at different level only appreciates pro-government publications, praise singers, and public relations write-ups. They will fight any platform that publishes the true state of things because they have a lot to cover.
I want to thank my media friends in Akwa-Ibom State, especially the online media professionals, Darlington David of Ibom Telegraph; Barrister Inibehe Effiong of Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD); Barrister Victor Asuquo; Jonathan Emmanuel; Abia State Online media professionals association led by James Emeh. The list is endless. I also used this medium to appreciate prominent Abians that stepped into the situation and ultimately, I thank God Almisghty for his infinite Mercy.
Abia Facts Newspaper will remain and do its work objectively, no matter who the truth hurts.