How SSS detained journalist over report of Enugu State Governor’s death

Posted: December 19, 2012 in Crime, News, Security
Tags: , , , ,

Security operatives in Enugu State apprehended and held hostage the correspondent of The PUNCH in the state, Ozioma Ubabukoh, on Saturday.

Ozioma Ubabukoh

Ozioma Ubabukoh

In this interview Ubabukoh recalled his experience in the hands of the security operatives

Men claiming to be from the State Security Service waylaid you on Saturday, what actually happened?

I was on my way home, about a quarter past 11pm, when seven men accosted me. As I drove into the close – Corporation Boulevard – where I live in Trans-Ekulu area of Enugu State, they blocked my car, thereby preventing me from moving further. Before I could ask what the matter was they asked me to open the doors of my car or they would get violent. I obeyed and two of them jumped into the car while the rest walked away.

They told me not to be scared and[b] that they wanted to ensure I would not write any story that night (Saturday) concerning the rumour of Governor Sullivan Chime’s death. They ordered me to drive into the compound and warned that I shouldn’t scream or they would get tough with me[/b]. They subsequently seized my BlackBerry and gave me the sim card.

They took me to my apartment where they ransacked my room and took away my laptop.

They told me they would wait at the staircase and leave at 3am, but would return my BB and laptop before doing so. They turned down my request to get water downstairs. They were still at the staircase when I contacted newsroom in Lagos, using my MTN sim card on an old Nokia phone. I was also able to reach out to some colleagues through my Visafone line.

What amazed me, however, was that the men knew I was reaching out to people. However, they warned me not to “try anything funny,” or they would deal “ruthlessly” with me. Shortly before 12.30am, they came in to tell me they were leaving but would return at 3am with my “property.” I was in suspense because I knew there was no way they would return since the contact door downstairs would be locked as well as the main gate.

Did they eventually return your BlackBerry and laptop?

They did. When I waited till 4am and there was no electricity supply, I went downstairs and switched on the generator. Not long after, I started charging my phones, someone called me with a hidden number to tell me that my BB and laptop were under my car. I hurried downstairs and indeed, found the phone and laptop under the car. The things were very dusty and the battery of the laptop had run down – they had obviously searched my documents.

You said one of them called you. Did you give them your phone number?

I didn’t give any of them my phone number. They never asked for it. How they got my phone number was yet another mystery.

Was there any proof from them to show that they were indeed from the SSS?

There was no proof. Before they came upstairs, I had inquired to know who they were. The taller of the two said they were from the State Security Service. I then asked for their identity cards, but he became angry, saying, “All the stories that you have been writing about the governor in Enugu, have you ever asked for peoples’ ID cards? You don’t ask for ID cards when you are doing your job, so allow me to do my job.”

When you first encountered them at the entrance of your close, why didn’t you attempt to reverse?

I almost did, but I couldn’t because the entrance to the close is very sloppy. Attempting to reverse would have caused an accident, or worsened the situation.

Would you recognise any of them?

Their command of the English language was impeccable. They wore mostly long sleeve T-shirts, jeans trousers, dark goggles, snickers to match and looked very neat. However, I have not come across any of them in the past. Well, I think I can recognise the huge, tall one who led the operation to my room. He is also a dark-skinned man.

Why do you think you were the only journalist that was harassed in Enugu State that fateful day?

The state government had earlier accused me of being vocal over Governor Sullivan Chime’s health status. The government in the past sponsored advertorials (October 18) on two national dailies against me, this was shortly after I broke the story on the governor’s health and his continuous absence from the state on October 14.

Was any other journalist harassed after Saturday’s incident?

No. No other journalist has been harassed since then.

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