*Who can rescue Lagos from this shame?
Lagos state has had a tradition of incarcerating children in prison. I am not shocked when the report oozed in from our Lagos correspondent about the Chief Judge releasing 80 of the kids in the Badagry prison. My mind raced quickly to the assignment where I witnessed the release of the 12 kid robbers, one died in prison. Three died after their release. Their experiences cannot be published then and now.
One judge who was so reputed sentences the kids as soon as the police brings them to his court was Moshood Olugbani (which in one of our follow up reports we referred to as Olupani, the one who kills).
Justice Moshood Olugbani: November 1992. I just finished serving the nation in Yola. I was a stringer for Tell Magazine during my service year churning reports from a hidden Adamawa State that was created out of Gongola State.
The nation was preparing for the celebration of 1st October 1992. In pursuit of the amnesty powers, the then Head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, released the 12 kid robbers who were in prison after a massive media outcry. By then, one of them had died. The 11 others were ghost of the copy of their body they took into prison.
Skin diseases, one was serially raped by an older homo sexual inmate. He could not sit down. He was walking like a disjointed skeleton. He was oozing pus from his anal region. He had to wear rags to contain the free flow of liquid. He died two days after leaving prison. As they left the prison, they were a sure calamity. Ravaged, destroyed and impoverished.
My favourite amongst them, Aminu Saleh, was then 14 years of age. Despite the horror he had passed through was very comical. A bespectacled journalist from Champions Newspaper, his name is Tosin Awopegba, gave out ‘trailer loaf of bread’ which only two of them could struggle, picked and went aside to feast on. Seven of them were too weak to even struggle. They look on hungry but helpless.
As this was going on, an assemblage of reporters were trying to birth a new media publication, TheNEWS magazine. We debated for days on the cover and narrowed down to the story of the 12 kid robbers. We got to the judge who sentenced the kids to prison, Moshood Olugbani. Three reporters and a photographer: Dapo Olorunyomi, Akin Adesokan, myself and Mudashiru Atanda went for the interview.
Olugbani interview: It took repeated calls and assurances before the dreaded judge will concede to grant an interview. He did. When he was answering the questions, he dropped his guard. When asked about the kid robbers’ case he handled about two years back, he flippantly and arrogantly answered.
Olugbani, without remorse, volunteered he will sentence the kids again if the opportunity presents itself. We had a good copy. That was what led the copy that was used as our promo. It was not sold. It was one edition we used in announcing the entry of the magazine to the media world.
Olugbani’s pound of flesh: Investigations revealed that a matter was filed in the registry of the court. The case was assigned originally to one Justice Roseline Omotosho. Olugbani went to lobby for the matter to be brought to his court. It was.
The matter in court was in response to our cover story of 5th March which detailed on-goings in the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC). Professor Humphrey Nwosu rushed to court. Since the magazine had not been served with his libel claims, we published a follow-up to the cover, hen, he filed for contempt.
Injured by the cover of our maiden edition, High Court Justice Moshood Olugbani summoned five journalists–editor-in-Chief Bayo Onanuga, deputy editor Dapo Olorunyomi, staff writer Akin Adesokan, editor Seyi Kehinde and Chiedu Ezeanah, a correspondent based in Port Harcourt–of The News, a Lagos-based weekly, to answer allegations of “wrongly publishing facts in a suit pending before the court.”
Since it began publication in February 1993, The News has been critical of the Federal Military Government. Bayo Onanuga was the former editor of Concord magazine. He resigned, raised a new team to start the new magazine. His sin in Concord? Rather than apologise to government for critical stories they published, he left.
The journalists were ostensibly summoned to answer “contempt of court” charges in connection with the cover story entitled “Dirty Humphrey–NEC Boss in Deep Scandal.”
However, the real reason for the summons of the five journalists relates to the cover story of the maiden edition of the magazine dated 8th February, 1993 titled “My Case–Dreaded Judge Speaks on Kid Robbers’ Affair,” which featured an unflattering interview with Justice Olugbani.
Judge and persecutor in his own case: When the journalists appeared in court on Friday, 12th March, the presiding judge granted them bail but with stringent conditions attached, including a stiff bail requirement and a surety not below the level of a company director or high-level civil servant, with landed property and a residence in Lagos. As the journalists were unable to meet the conditions by the end of the day, they spent the weekend in detention in Ikoyi Prison.
On Monday, they appeared in court again, with the money and the sureties, but the judge then raised the bail conditions extra-judicially. On 18th March, the Court of Appeal heard the case of journalists’ detention and ordered them released immediately because they had already met bail. They were released the next day, a Tuesday.
Higher level of persecution: On 21st March, security agents stormed the offices of The News and confiscated 30,000 issues of an edition that was to be distributed the following day containing an interview with former Minister of Defence, General Domkat Bali, in which the President was criticised for his previous postponements of the political transition.
On 16th May, the SSS seized 40,000 copies of The News, which had a cover story entitled “Revealed–Babangida’s Methods and Tactics” that accused the military president of relying on plots and schemes to govern the nation.
On the 22nd May, the magazine’s entire print run was seized from the premises of Academy Press in Ilupeju, which prints TheNews. An article in the magazine contained a story headlined “Help! Nigeria is Dying,” referring to various crises before the nation, including the sinking economy, rife corruption, the clampdown on civil institutions and the uncertainty of the transition.
The premises were occupied by police and the magazine was shut down. On the 27th May, The News was granted an injunction to remove police from the premises and re-open the magazine, but police have not yet complied. On 2nd June, The News went to court to in an attempt to cite the police, who still occupy the premises, for contempt of court.
Another reminiscence: Returned from a national team event on 3rd June with a return of my right thumb injury which had cut my professional career as a handball player short. From the nursing of the injury, I was advised to choose between my journalism career and my sports career that the two cannot go together. I offered to go to sports.
Two weeks later, Gboyega Okegbenro, of the Daily Times offered me almost double of what I was earning in TheNews and an opportunity to work on the sports desk!
Helpline: Lagos state has a long history of destroying minors through incarceration in prison. Are there not chances that there will be some other minors in other prisons in the state? Are there chances that millions of these children get to prison without their relations knowing?
I have one million questions boiling in my mind. Bad as it is, Justice Atilade earns my kudos. It is only a mark of courage and daring spirit that she ordered the release of 80 minors. What about the other minors in other prisons in the state?
Mi Lord, rise. Be not tired. Endeavour to visit other prisons in the state. I also hope we are following up with social workers having a salve placed on the souls of the released but bruised boys? If they are not, they will soon return there meaning as a society we all have failed.