Oludare Richards, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, was returning from the National Industrial Court in the city on 1 April 2022 after covering a case when he observed that he was being followed.
After alighting from a taxi at the Secretariat bus stop at Ado, a town east of Abuja, he noticed that a Hyundai minivan was parked along his route. The vehicle was tinted and the engine was revving. The time was around 2 pm (GMT+1).
“I passed by and continued walking. I entered a street and it was quite desolate, then I noticed a vehicle coming towards my direction. Suddenly, its tyres screeched, I looked back and saw the Hyundai bus that I passed by moments ago also coming towards my direction,” Richards told the MFWA.
Sensing that something was wrong, the journalist said he started walking faster. As the buses neared him, he panicked and started running. Two men, donning mufti and black boots, jumped out of one of the vehicles and ordered him to stop, but he ran faster.
“When they were closer to me, I dipped my hand inside my backpack and brought out pepper spray, which I sprayed on their faces. This helped me to escape from them,” Richards narrated.
He said using pepper spray was one of the security tips his father, a retired military officer, and his mother, a policewoman, taught him and his siblings to ward off attackers.
Richards said he was close to his house already but he didn’t go home because he feared they could trace him there. While contemplating what to do next, he saw a motorcycle, which he hailed and took to a safe place.
The journalist said he went into hiding and didn’t return home until after three days. Fortunately, he said his wife and kids were not in Abuja when the incident happened.
Richards could not say whether the incident was connected to an investigative work that he is working on, which he can’t disclose for now. What he knows is that he has been put under surveillance by some people, adding that he fears for his life and that of his family.
“The whole experience has caused me trauma because it is affecting my marriage. I didn’t tell my wife what happened because in 2019 when I was assaulted by secret agents while covering a protest, it caused her trauma. She couldn’t sleep for days and she was always scared for my life, hers, and the kids’. She cried a lot. She is always afraid I may go to work one day and I may not come back home,” Richards said.
Richards is a seasoned professional who has endured a torrid experience in his journalism work. Apart from his assault by soldiers in the 2019 incident mentioned above, he was also brutalised by officers of State Security Services (SSS) while covering a protest outside the Abuja headquarters of the intelligence service in 2020. His blood-stained chest and lacerated right elbow became one of the poster images of the crackdown on the protest and journalists covering it.
Although the incident has caused him a great deal of trauma and is tearing his domestic life apart, he said he would not quit journalism because of his passion for it.
Meanwhile, a lawyer and friend of Richards’, Marshall Abubakar of Falana Chambers, has written a petition on behalf of the journalist to Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Mr Usman Baba.
Richards said he has not heard from the police since reporting the scary encounter to them in June, neither has he or his lawyer petitioner received any response from the IGP. This, he said, has increased his fears.
MFWA contacted the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) spokesperson, Muyiwa Adejobi, about Richards’ case, but the police official referred our correspondent to the spokesperson for the Federal Capital Territory Command, Ms Josephine Adeh.
However, Adeh insisted the matter was not in her jurisdiction.
“His [Richard’s] petition was not addressed to the commissioner of police but to the IGP, so the NPF PRO should be the one to respond to this issue,” she said.
MFWA strongly condemns the threat to Richards’ life and emphasises that journalists will not be able to practise their job freely if their lives are constantly in danger and their safety cannot be guaranteed.
More importantly, MFWA demands that the authorities should swiftly investigate the threat to Richards’ life and provide him with the necessary protection to safely go about his duty as enshrined in section 39 of the Nigerian constitution.