Abeokuta — It was a day the news hunters became the hunted. On that fateful day, two journalists, in the course of doing their job, had approached the Chairman of Sagamu Local Government Area of Ogun State, Funmilayo Efuwape, to seek her side of the story on the crisis that had engulfed the local government. But it was a move that dramatically turned into an ordeal for them as they received the beating of their lives.
Efuwape, whose emergence as the chairmanship candidate of the local government some months ago sparked off crisis in the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in the state, threw caution into the wind when she reportedly ordered some armed thugs and suspected student cultists to 'deal' with the information merchants. The order was carried out to the letter with the journalists receiving severe beatings.
The two journalists, Mr. Segun Olatunji of the Punch and Mrs. Olayinka Olukoya of the Tribune incurred the wrath of the Chairman when they took pictures of deserted buildings within the council secretariat shortly after violence erupted between the workers of the council and elected officers in the council.
This happened 24 hours after three other journalists were harassed by security personnel attached to the Governor's Office during the presentation of the 2013 budget by Governor Ibikunle Amosun. The three victims of the 'sledge hammer' wielded by the overzealous security agents were Femi Oyeweso of the National Mirror, Sulaemon Fasasi of Nigerian Pilot and Rasaq Ayinla of the Businessday.
Their offence, they learnt bitterly, was 'their effrontery' in entering the hallowed chamber where the presentation was to take place. And despite their identification as journalists, the security personnel allegedly threatened to shoot them if they dared to enter the complex. The rest is now history.
Vanguard Metro, VM, gathered that after the fracas which trailed the clash between workers and some councillors, no fewer than 10 staff of the council were seriously injured and hospitalized. It was further learnt that the thugs and student cultists numbering about 60 used various dangerous weapons, including iron rods, broken bottles and cudgels during the melee .
Explaining their ordeal, the traumatised journalists lamented that they were molested by the thugs who forcibly dragged them into the office of the council chairman. Lamenting the injury the thugs inflicted on them, Olukoya complained that she sustained injury on the hand and neck. She said that since the brutality, she has been groaning in pains.
According to the Punch correspondent: "The thugs seized our camera and blackberry phone and also deleted all the pictures we had already taken. Efuwape had earlier dismissed us from her office when we attempted to get her to comment on the allegations leveled against her by the council workers. The thugs accosted us for daring to take the picture of the deserted secretariat of the local government council".
According to eye witnesses, trouble began around 10:43am when the council chairman led thugs who stormed the local government secretariat in three buses to beat up and chase away council workers from the premises for allegedly daring to demand that she called to order a councilor, simply identified as Arode, who on Monday beat up and injured a female staff of the council, Miss Abidemi Awoyemi.
Arode, representing Ode Lemo/Emuren Ward 9 was alleged to have on Monday thrown a chair at Awoyemi, injuring her seriously on her back and stomach. Her offence? For allegedly daring to tell him that there was no paper with which to print the minutes of the last meeting of the councilors in the local government.
In her reaction, Efuwape who spoke to VM on phone denied the allegation, saying it was a disagreement between a councilor and a staff of the council. She said the matter has been taken over by the Local Government Commission, adding that she had scolded the councilor for slapping the worker before the workers took the law into their hands.
The State President of NULGE, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusesi, described Efuwape's conduct as unbecoming of an elected office holder, stating that the union would take the necessary steps to ensure that the matter was not treated with levity.
"It's surprising and embarrassing to the union and the workers of the local government as well as the state NULGE in general because we could not believe that the executive chairman of a local government could invite outsiders to come and beat up council workers. We are not going to take this lightly. We are going to use all means to address the issue," the NULGE president said.
Condemnations have continued to trail the attack on the two journalists and council workers by armed thugs reportedly on the orders of the Sagamu Local Government Area Chairman.
Reacting to the incident, the Ogun State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists expressed concern over the recent cases of assault on journalists while discharging their constitutional duties in the state. The NUJ in a statement signed by its State Secretary, Mr. Soji Amosu, said that it viewed such attacks on defenceless journalists with serious concern, describing it as uncalled for.
"Journalists by virtue of their professional calling and constitutional responsibilities are watchdogs of the society and therefore must be allowed to carry out their duties unhindered.
"The union enjoins members of the public, including security operatives, politicians and corporate organisations, to always see journalists as partners in progress and should extend necessary cooperation to them for the overall interest and development of the society," the NUJ statement reads.
Also reacting, the state Correspondents' Chapel of the NUJ directed its members to henceforth boycott the activities of the Sagamu Local Government and demanded immediate public apology from the council chairman over the attack on the two journalists.
The Correspondents' Chapel in a statement jointly signed by its Chairman, Kehinde Akinyemi and Secretary, Abiodun Taiwo, said that it had already reported the attack on the two journalists and the threat to their lives to the appropriate security agencies in order to ensure that the matter was not swept under the carpet.
The chapel, however, warned that if the Sagamu council chairman failed to apologise within seven days, "more measures aimed at bringing sanity and restoring the glory of the journalism profession in the reckoning of those who found themselves in power on a platter of gold, like Mrs. Efuwape, would be taken. Democracy is not an avenue for 'DEMON-CRACY'. Sagamu Local government chairperson should please learn from history."