I shared a cell with confessed murderers, didn’t eat for two days– FIJ reporter, Ojukwu


A reporter with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, Daniel Ojukwu, who was abducted by men of the Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector General of Police and regained freedom after 10 days in captivity, tells GODFREY GEORGE his detention story.

How long have you been a journalist?


First of all, my name is Daniel Ojukwu. I work with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, Nigeria. I am an investigative journalist. I do social justice, security, and conflict reporting as well as finance, business, and data reporting. I am from Abia State but I am based in Lagos. I have practised active journalism since 2017. This should be my seventh year.

Did you ever anticipate the possibility of facing arrest due to your work?

Yes, of course. It is what we signed up for. As a journalist, we set out to tell stories that some people somewhere do not want to be told. Every other thing is public relations. This is not my first arrest. I was arrested back in 2019 and was arrested last year. This is the third time I have been arrested as a result of the work I do. But, this would be the first time I would sleep in a cell. Every other time, I get out of the cell before the next day. This is also the longest detention so far.

How were you arrested?

It was on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. It was Workers’ Day. I was supposed to cover a field report on that day but somehow it got rescheduled for the evening. I just ran out to do a few things before that time. I was tracked by a cybercrime unit of the Inspector General of Police. They came in a bus and said they had been looking for me, and that was how the arrest happened.

How many policemen were there?

There were five persons – four men and one woman, and there was a driver. So, I was cuffed and put in their vehicle.

Did they have a warrant of arrest?

They showed me an arrest warrant. I mentioned to them that I needed to make a call to tell my people what had happened but they said no and took my phone away from me. I insisted that I needed to make a call but they said no and so they drove off. This was around Herbert Macaulay area, Yaba, Lagos State. They removed the cuffs in the vehicle and started having a chat with me. They said they wanted to see my home. I kept asking them what the case was and they said they would tell me when I got to the station.

I asked why they wanted to get to my house; they said they just wanted to visit my place. I told them I didn’t bring my work home so there was no need. They said we should get to the station. I was taken to the Force Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Lagos, and instructed that no one should give me a phone or allow me to make a phone call.  They said they wanted to take a statement. I told them I would love to take a statement in the presence of my lawyer, but they said my lawyer didn’t need to be present if they were going to record me on video.

I insisted that I would love to have my lawyer present but they said I should put what I said in writing so they’d allow me to make a call. I put that down but I was still not allowed to make a call.

At this point, did they make known your offence to you?

No, they did not. They only told me I belonged to a syndicate and they were investigating us. I asked them who the members of the syndicate were but they said I would see them when they were arrested. I told them that if they had invited me, I would have honoured their invitation. They didn’t send me any invitation; they just arrested me.

When I went behind the counter, all my valuables were taken, and I ended up in a cell. That very night, I suffered an asthma attack. I reached out and told them I needed my inhaler. They had to go out to get one.

I told them that my inhaler at other personal effects were some of the reasons why I needed to make a phone call. I have two inhalers at home. I use a Ventolin inhaler but they said they’d rather buy me an inhaler. One of the policemen went to buy it and came back, complaining that the price was too high. He had to get a cheaper one for around N8,000. I had to manage that one and took it into the cell.

What went through your mind that night?

For the first two days, all I was thinking was how I could make a call to let them know where I was. Throughout Wednesday, I did not eat anything. I was just thinking.

Were you offered food?

There was no food. People are facing a lot in those cells. It was a very dire situation. That Wednesday passed. Throughout Thursday, too, I didn’t eat anything. I was waiting for my Investigating Police Officer to show up. They said the people who ordered my arrest were from the Federal Government. I don’t know who they are. I had no name. I had nothing. I kept telling the guys at SCID that I wanted to make a call. They told me to wait for my IPO.

So, in two days, no one told you what your offence was?

No one told me anything. I asked to see the petition but they said I should make a statement first. I still insisted I needed my lawyer, Ridwan Oke, present before I would make any statement. They refused. On Thursday, at about 4 pm, they showed up again and told me that they needed to search my house because they had a search warrant.

I told them to show me the search warrant alongside a remand warrant since they were remanding me beyond the stipulated 48-hour mark without charging me to court. They had none. They then said whenever I was ready, they’d go with me to my house. I insisted on them bringing a search warrant first, so they left that day. They said it was already late and that they’d do the search on Friday morning. I asked again that I would love to make a call. They said no way and left.

That Friday, there was no communication but I am glad it was the day those who were searching for me were able to track me down. So, my family got to Panti and they spoke to some officers and were able to see me. Throughout that day, I didn’t see the policemen who arrested me. I passed some information to my family, and on Saturday, my lawyer, Oke, came around. Amazing guy! It was that day the matter started gaining traction because he made a tweet and made Nigerians aware of my incarceration.

All through that Saturday, I still was not allowed to make any calls.

At what point were you transferred from the Lagos SCID to Abuja?

On Sunday morning, at about 4.50 am, I was awakened from my sleep in the cell and was taken down to Abuja. I was put on a 6.30 am flight from Lagos to Abuja. We left Lagos around that time and got to Abuja. While on the flight, I still didn’t know what my offence was. No one told me anything. I had worn the same pair of clothes from Wednesday down to Sunday. Every day, I thought I would get to make a call so I would get a change of clothes or even know my offence. I didn’t even see my IPO (Investigating Police Officer).

When I got to Abuja, they showed me the petition and I wrote my statement. I was hoping that by Monday, I would see the complainant and all that.

What really is the matter about?

It was about a report I had done about an agency of government last year. I was accused of cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and conspiracy, amongst others. I explained everything to them that I worked on the story for about two months and within that period, I sent a Freedom of Information request. But, they said the people (complainants) had written a petition and had done their due diligence. I simply told them that the complainants should have responded to the FOI request. But, I gave them close to two weeks, but no one responded to the FOI request and I kept following up and following up with the spokesperson for the agency but got no response. I had to tell my story from what I had.

Were you charged to court?

No, I wasn’t. Even on Monday nothing happened. I thought I’d be released on Tuesday because there were a lot of talks and efforts on Monday from my lawyer and other amazing people behind me. My Board of Trustees Chairman at FIJ; my publisher, Fisayo Soyombo, and the whole team at FIJ, including journalists from PUNCH and other media houses championing my case and calling for my release. It was an amazing support system.

Were you allowed to make a call in Abuja?

Yes, it was when I got to Abuja that I was given my phone to make a phone call. They told me that I couldn’t go online, but that I could make calls. So, I reached out to all the people I could reach out to tell them I was in Abuja so their efforts shifted from Lagos to Abuja. That was also how the whole process of bail started because the offences they listed were bailable. I thought I had all those things sorted by Tuesday, but I had to spend more days in the cell. Everything was perfected on Friday morning and that was when I was released.

What was your experience like in the cells – Panti, Lagos, and Abuja?

Being in a cell is never glamorous at all. For me, I don’t think I was the worst hit among everybody in the cell. When I got in there, everyone there had an IPO; everyone’s case was state-level. I was the only person who was brought in by ‘guys from Abuja’ and who did not know his offence.

I was with confessed murderers in the cell. I am not kidding you. I was with people who had confessed to killing people. I was with people who had defrauded people and were forfeiting sums.

Were you not scared they were going to attack you?

I was not. All that happened was attempted extortion. I had already made up my mind that nobody was going to extort me, so when they tried to, I told them I had nothing on me. But gradually, when I saw the way some of them were living, I just had to support them. So, I was trying my best to help people in the cell. Some old men would need water and I would get a bag of water for everyone in the cell to drink. There were people who I just gave some small sums of money here and there just to support them. When I began to have visitors, I tried my best to help with the smallest sums I could get.

There was one guy in the cell, Suleiman, whose story struck me. He said he lived in Ojo, Alaba-Rago area of Lagos. He said he worked as a construction worker at a site in Lekki and used to sleep at the site every night although he shared a house with another three other guys. So, one day, after closing work for the week, he retired home only to meet a mob at his home. His neighbours began to beat him up, saying he was part of a conspiracy to kill someone.

One of his roommates had killed someone and fled with the two other persons. The police arrested him in proxy and he has been kept in detention for over two weeks. Suleiman was the sweetest soul I had seen in a prison cell. He was very unassuming. He was even volunteering to wash my things. He was helping people in the cell get food, clean up the cell, and run little errands. He is a young guy. It made me wonder why he is still in a cell for an offence he has no idea about. Even when I was taken to Abuja, I asked my lawyer to help me see if he could get Suleiman out.

You spent 10 days in detention. How does it feel being out?

Hmmm…. To be honest with you, I haven’t fully grasped it. Being away, I didn’t see what was going on on the outside. I was just sleeping and waking up. I pretty much just set my mind to avoid thinking. I was just sleeping and waking up.

How are your family members taking it?

Everyone is fine. I have spoken to them. They are where they are and they are good. During this period, I was able to meet fantastic people. There were corrupt policemen, yes. There is a lot of fraud that goes on in the system. This is not even about my case now. So much money goes into bail, especially for people who don’t have a voice. There was a point where people were not willing to tell me their names because I was a journalist.

But, I also met police officers who would not compromise their standards for any reason. I met people who I would say were not willing to accept the rot in the system; they were willing to fix the system.

All this happened around the time when the world was marking Press Freedom Day. How does it make you feel?

To be frank, (it taught me) nothing. This is because one cannot be a journalist in Nigeria and not know these things. They happen. Before the Cyber Crime Act came into effect, Nigerian journalists kicked against it because it was not the best piece of legislation at all. Every year, Nigeria keeps dropping on the press freedom index. Last year, I was arrested on the exact day of the International Press Freedom. This year, I was in detention on the day it was celebrated. It is something I am used to. You cannot want to do the job without expecting a fightback. That is how it is.



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