Press Freedom Day: Working as a Nigerian Journalist

Ayodele Ale

By Ayodele Ale 

As a journalist, you are an endangered specie. It is worse when you are an investigative one, burrowing into people’s private lives and exhuming terrible dealings that some would want buried for life.

Then, come to think of being a guerrilla journalist with a medium like TEMPO.

I once attended a media briefing in Lagos and I wanted to how it feels to see a TEMPO journalist lurking around. So, when other journalists were asked to introduce themselves, I stood up and said, “Ayodele Ale, from TEMPO.” It was as if a demon had entered their midst. The organiser was aghast. “Do you also look for news around like other journalists?”  He quipped. Other journalists looked at me with disdain. But some wanted to know how we survive.

Also, after introducing myself during another press briefing in Lagos, the head of the media team who was visibly angry asked his aides, “Who invited TEMPO here?”

It was tough working as TEMPO reporter. At times, our salaries were paid through hired taxis at designated secret locations and there was no time to check whether it was ‘accurately’ counted or not. But believe me, they were always ‘correctly’ packed with the names of the reporters at the back of each envelope.

Though a bachelor then, I used to count myself lucky each time I had the opportunity to return home alive. Why? One of my colleagues, Bagauda Khalto was strangely killed. My directors and senior editors were either in exile or in jail without trial.

You dared not flaunt your Identity cards publicly. Anyway, some of the IDs with your pictured embossed were carrying different names and non-existent companies. Just to beat the state security!

I could recollect when the security goons came for an early hour raid one Monday. I was then running my post graduate degree at the University of Ibadan then. I sauntered into TEMPO’s office at 26, Ijaiye Road Ogba in Lagos oblivious of the danger lurking around the corner. Our office had been surrounded by gun-wielding policemen, who were already holding my colleagues and bosses hostage. While some had escaped through a ‘secret’ door before the entire building could be enveloped by the desperate security men, others were not so lucky.

As I walked into their hands, my colleagues who were hibernating nearby were making some strange sounds and whistling to draw my attention. However, as God would have it, one of the gun-wielding security men emerged from the back of the building and barked, “Hey, you, get back.” He must have thought that I was a schoolboy coming to see my uncle, especially as a school bag was strapped on my back. The scale fell from my eyes. I melted. My other colleagues who were watching from afar kkpheaved a sigh of relief and congratulated me when we eventually met.

Our editorial meetings were held in classrooms to generate story ideas and such stories were usually written in our private rooms and submitted to the editor through unconventional means. One day, the security men who came to raid our office asked my senior colleague, Seidi Mulero (of blessed memory) who had already been captured, “With this kind of work, are you not pitying your family?” They were so annoyed when he replied that he was still a bachelor. “At this age?” they quipped. Out of anger, they pushed him out of their vehicle. But that was the saving grace as he was with the tape of the interview he just had with a NADECO member. If they had played the tape to listen to the content, of course, they would have killed him instantly.

Then, we believed that we were working for a better Nigeria.

Anyway, we were only able to heave a sigh of relief when the dictator, the late General Sani Abacha suddenly and ‘mysteriously’ dropped dead in his Ado Rock den.

As a journalist with Punch Newspapers, I was once captured while investigating a story. The captors who had already stripped me of my phones and means of identification were planning to kill me and dismember my body when suddenly, one of them boasted. “Leave him, I know his editors at The Punch, nothing will happen.” That was my saving grace. I escaped.

For the global press, it is not yet uhuru.
As the world prepares to mark the World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, 3 May 2020, I salute my colleagues all over the world, especially those whose lives were cut short by the timid guns desirous of drying the ink.

-Ayodele Ale, a lawyer currently working with a peacekeeping mission, was a journalist with TEMPO, a Nigerian Tabloid.