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Photojournalists Almost Lost Their Lives, Trying to Cover Arepo Explosion

Valentine Chinyem

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PhotoJournalsistWhile trying to locate the scene of the pipeline explosion in Arepo village in Ogun State, two photojournalists with The Nation and The Sun newspapers, were abducted and almost killed by the vandals.

Solomo Adeola and Omoniyi Ayedun never bargained for what transpired, in fact like every journalist, they were hungry for stories, they wanted to cover the Arepo explosion in details.

Narrating his experience to TheNation, Adeola said: “We felt we were going to die as their leader had told them to deal with us. On getting to Arepo bus stop, bike men, popularly known as okada riders, led my friend from The Sun and I to where the pipeline exploded. We rode on separate bikes. On getting to the entrance to the place, we disembarked. The place is called ‘Beach land’.

“Then, a guy came to inquire from us what our mission was. I thought he was the one to paddle us to the place. I told him we were going to where there was a fire. Then, more than four guys suddenly showed up, held us, collected our bags and whisked us away. There were many canoes with people in them. At this point, I hadn’t told them we were journalists, but they saw my ID card and said I was working with the Federal Government and we were sent. They began beating us.

“’Who sent you, before we kill you?’” asked one of the men who led us away. I told them, ‘I am a journalist.’”

He said that as they were being led away, they saw some women, who were watching the scene from their home.

“They were lamenting for us, biting their fingers and clasping their hands on their heads. They were begging for us because no one they take away comes alive – as we later learnt. The place is a forest and the water is dirty. Bamboo and raffia palms cover the area. The handle of my bag was used to cover my face. When I refused to cooperate with them, they brought out their guns and told us to be saying our last prayer. They transferred us from one canoe to another.

“We got to their bosses, who wore military gears, bearing riffles. I was so scared. They commanded the boys to take us to where they would kill us. They bound my hands and legs (displaying scars. Tears welled up in his eyes).

“I began to beg them, telling them that I am the only child of my parents. They said it was none of their business, that we had got to a point of no-return. We were beaten and slapped several times, as they inquired who our boss was. There was no escape. I tried jumping into the river but was hit with a gun.

“They spoke Ijaw. When asked my state of origin, I told them I’m from Ikare-Akoko in Ondo State. I told them my language and that we share boundary with Edo State. I even tried to speak the language which I don’t know well so that they will believe me. I was slapped for my ‘long explanation’.

“By the time we got somewhere I don’t know, about 300 of the fierce-looking men surrounded us. We were just standing in their midst.

“These men kept asking questions and interrogating us. I told them I live at Iyana-Ipaja and I’m the only child of my parents, that I just got married, that I’m a photo journalist, yet they insisted that I was lying and had no business covering the explosion.

“I’d died even before death came as they said our cameras should be used to take a photograph to show that our execution was successful and that my prayer should stop as it wouldn’t save me. Once again, our eyes were covered and I was asked to kneel down in the water in my trousers and bare chest. My shirt was used to cover my eyes.

“Then a slim, tall man in white shorts approached us. He told us we were to be spared, but had no reason for doing so. We were unveiled and shown a place where they claimed to have killed many policemen and soldiers.”

Adeola sobbed as he spoke. He went on: “I called Issac but I could not speak. They snatched the phone from me and hung up the call.”

“The slim man promised to spare our lives if we could sing for him. I told him I was too scared to sing any song. He insisted. I could make no sense of what I sang. I apologised, blessed him and called on God in the song.

Other guys around said in pidgin: Anybody wey reach this point no dey come back. I no wan see you here again.

“Another one said, ‘this is our only means of livelihood and the government wants to take it from us’. We were promised some money to go back. Another shirt was bought for me after I had been asked to promise never to return to the area.

“My N600, 000 camera was not returned to me, even when I told them I was still paying for it installmentally. Our bags were given back to us and our ATM cards and other things were intact.

“Immediately we got to the shore, one fair complexioned woman was paid to give us shirts. They threw a shirt at me and gave us some money to go back. They reminded me that I should thank God for sparing our lives as we hurriedly left the area on a bike organised for us.”

Aiyedun said his inner shirt was torn and used to cover his face. While he said his “last prayers”, he had a lot of flashbacks and regrets.

“The militants argued over our phones – whether they should release to us or not. Neither my Samsung nor itel-branded phone I bought for N25, 000 or his N300, 000 camera was returned. I still gave them a thankful handshake as they warned us never to come there again.

“They also revealed to us that such a job they are doing was caused by Federal Government, adding that many military men had been killed.”