THERE are some things no one prepares for. If you are a Nigerian journalist, the list of mishaps is long. You could be killed, forced into exile, disappear, be beaten, harassed or embarrassed. This is majorly by security agents who do not understand what the law says about press freedom. A few times, they overextend their hand, just to prove who the boss is.
On the morning of April 18, 2022, my team and I had already discussed at the editorial meeting the importance of the Chrisland school developments as news material. Immediately after the meeting, a statement came from the Lagos State Ministry of Education, closing down the school pending further investigations.
Then a call came later from my Editor, saying that I should visit the school. That time I was around Ikeja trying to catch Easter fun. By 2 pm, I headed for Chrisland Schools, Opebi.
The premises was very quiet and there were no activities just as the State Government directed.
On arrival, I asked to see the principal but the gateman said no one was going to talk or attend to me, not even a Public Relations Officer of the school.
Since I had my Press ID card with me, I settled to take photographs of the school gate and fence instead to show that the school authorities complied with the government directive.
I moved some distance backwards to get a wide-angle perspective. And in a few seconds, I was done. I was about to leave when I heard a man with a scarred face in a blue overall shouting after me. Two other men from the school joined him to form a ring around me. I told them I was a journalist taking pictures and showed them my ID card for confirmation. They ignored my effort, instead, they started dragging me toward the school gate. I made a frantic call to my Editor but was interrupted by a policeman with the name tag Gilbert Ebute who later joined the three men. He threatened to seize my phone if I did not comply following them.
Now the number of men had increased to seven men, all of them pushing and dragging me towards the school premises. A policeman that was a junior to Ebute because I saw his rank wielded a riffle. I became afraid because there was no one around because it was Easter Monday.
Ebute said I had no right to be snapping photos except I speak to the principal of the school.”
So he asked for my phone and I handed it over to him. They led me into the next building adjoining Chrisland schools and ordered me to wait for further instructions.
I suggested to him that if he wanted me to speak to the principal, he should directly take me to him. But he insisted I stay downstairs.
A few minutes later, two men appeared from the balcony of the duplex, and Ebute reported me to them.
After he spoke, I explained my mission. I told the men that I was there to confirm that the school complied with the Lagos State government directive, and I needed visual evidence.
But since I was told the principal was around, I could as well speak with him as Ebute suggested.
But the two men told me that I was on private property, and not a school. Then I became confused. The school compound was just adjacent to the supposed private property, and there was no wall separating the buildings.
The men said the residential building was different from Chrisland, even though there was no gate separating them. I apologised for my mistake and the police officer was asked to return my phone. He reluctantly did so, but not until he deleted all the photographs of the building I took.
When I protested against deleting the photograph of the school building alongside the other building, he ignored me.
“See my name tag, my name is Gilbert, you can tell them [people who sent you] that I did this. This is because I am a police officer attached to this resident and Chrisland schools and I am within the rights.”
He also told me with a tone of finality that I could not speak with the principal.
But I left the school without a scratch.
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