By Lanre Arogundade, Chairman of Lagos State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Before I proceed to relay the sordid details of my experience and expose the lies told against me, I wish to state that what mattered to me most while the ordeal lasted were those I could count upon to attest to my political belief and good character. In a society like ours, it takes a lot of courage for people to come forward and boldly defend someone facing a murder charge. I therefore consider it most appropriate to first and foremost express my profound gratitude to those men and women of honour and organisations of repute who came out to declare: WE KNOW LANRE AROGUNDADE, HE CANNOT KILL ANYONE.
I am particularly highly inspired by the splendid campaign which has been waged on my case by the Committee for Workers’ International (CWI) and all its national sections especially Socialist Party (Ireland), Socialist Party (Britain) and Democratic Socialist Movement (Nigeria) of which I am proud to be one of its leading members.
Now to the macabre event. Four detectives from the CID Ibadan, assisted by a policeman from the Alakuko police station in Alagbado, Lagos stormed my residence at about 7 a.m. on Sunday, April 25, 1999. They were in mufti and fully armed. Since my life had been under threat for some time I did not open the door for them until my wife had alerted our neighbours that there were some intruders in our compound.
Inspector Sam Akpofure, later, but furiously, identified himself as leader of the strange delegation. He wanted me to endorse a document purportedly from the Magistrates courts in Ibadan and Lagos indicating that I was to be arrested because I had defied a summon to appear in court on April 9, 1999, on the account of the murder of M Bolade Fasasi. Since I was never so summoned, I declined. Next he produced a warrant authorising his troop to search my house for guns and other ’incriminating items’. It was at this point that I discovered that Akpofure and co were actually from the Anti-Robbery section of the Oyo State CID.
For the next one hour or so my residence was thoroughly combed. At the end of it all the detectives did not find any gun or any other weapon in my flat. They also admitted that there was nothing incriminating in my residence, though they took away my wife’s certificate of graduation from the Times Journalism Institute and copies of a letter I was about to dispatch to the Commandant of the Nigeria Legion asking him to withdraw his men who had been illegally stationed at the NUJ Lighthouse by Lawrence Ojabo. After the search I was first taken to Alakuko and Denton police stations in Lagos because the detectives had some other assignments before the final departure to Ibadan. We arrived Iyaganku at about 8.30 p.m. and I was promptly detained. I spent the night in cell A.
The following morning, the fear which I had expressed in the note I left behind at home that I believe Lawrence Ojabo and co were at it again, was confirmed when I was confronted with the fact that they had alleged that I was responsible for the death of Ms Bolade Fasasi because shesupposedly belonged to their camp, the members of which, I had purportedly threatened to kill. I promptly stated that this was not true. Having been fed with so many lies, my interrogators were visibly hostile on the first day and at a stage I had to ask them if they were investigating a murder case or the Lagos NUJ crisis.
As most journalists, not just in Lagos but the entire federation, know it is Lawrence Ojabo and co, who have resulted to physical attacks, use of thugs, vandalisation of union vehicle, hijack of about N8 million ($ 80,000) belonging to five thousand Lagos journalists etc since I won the chairmanship election for a second time by defeating their candidate in August 1997. They have turned to rabid dog because all attempts to stop me legally have failed while I continue to enjoy the support of majority of our members. With a court order hanging over their head asking them to return the money that they had colluded with the former estate agent to hijack, and with another election around the corner, they have become real desperados.
I never had any personal quarrel with the deceased while she served on the executive with me. All issues including the ones that generated passion and heated debates were collectively and democratically resolved. The deceased was a remote factor in the contrived crisis in our council since the election of 1997 and even if she wasn’t it would have been no reason for me to want to eliminate her, after all, the principal actors namely Ojabo and co are alive. The truth of the matter is that as a unionist, socialist revolutionary, pro-democracy and human rights activist and Christian, I do not believe in terrorism including assassination to settle political, personal or any other score.
One must ask at this point: where were Lawrence Ojabo and co. when we
were fighting against the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa; against the
killing of the other Ogonis; against the murder of Tunde Oladepo and
Bagauada Kaltho (both journalists); against the disappearance of Chinedu
Offoaro (another journalist); against the death in incarceration of
Bashorun MKO Abiola (when we postponed our July 1998 congress to enable
all journalists in Lagos pay their last respect to the fallen winner of
the June 12, 1993 election who was being buried on that day, Ojabo and co
kicked against the decision and went ahead to hold an illegal congress), etc. These elements were nowhere to be found because it would have offended their former, and possibly present, paymasters at Aso Rock (the seat of the Nigerian government in Abuja).
In conclusion, I wish to appeal to workers and youths, to all activists and organisations, nationally and internationally , not to relent but rather to intensify the campaign for my full freedom and dropping of the charges. Though I have been granted bail by the court now, the frivolous and politically-motivated murder charges still hang on my neck. I am also under a court order to report every fortnight at the police headquarters at Ibadan, about 140 kilometres from Lagos where I live. Aside from your political and moral support, financial assistance is also needed to meet the legal costs and to deepen the mass campaign.