Refuse Dump: How Aswama Boss Brutalized Journalist Obenta Okechukwu
Journalists Have Continued To Be Endangered Species In A Country Where Impunity Is Perpetuated With Bare Face. The Latest Journalists To Taste The Bitter Hatred By Society Is Journalist Okechukwu Obenta Of The Source Magazine, Odogwuemekaodogwu.Com Brings You Report From Fides, A Catholic Church Paper
Thursday, 15th May was to Mr Okechukwu Obenta like every other day, he had prepared for work on the morning of that day and was headed nowhere in particular, but he had one mission; to meet the deadline of his magazine by filling good stories of happenings in Anambra State as was his job specification demands.
Arriving at Aroma Junction, he saw his friends and colleagues, (the popular junction in Awka has become a popular hangout for journalists in the town) when his instinct as a journalist told him a newsy story was brewing.
It was the scene of an enforcement team of the Anambra State Waste Management Agency(ASWAMA), led the Managing Director of the agency herself, Mrs Njideka Oraedum confiscating traders' wares forcefully and dumping same in their lorries, while traders who did not want the hassles of going to the police station where their wares were being taken to redeem them instantly paid the sum of N5,000 or more to have them back.
Thinking in his mind what the offence of the traders could be to warrant such penalty, Mr Obenta dashed to the scene, and was joined by a host of his colleagues from different media houses around the country who have the same obligation like Obenta and were eager to find news stories to feed their head offices. Identifying Oraedum as the leader of the enforcement team they headed for her and pronto, an interview had started. She(Oraedum) told the journalists that the traders whose wares she was confiscating were those who dared to open their shops without recourse to an earlier announcement of an environmental sanitation exercise in the town that Thursday.
Typical of journalists, as most of them have inquisitive natures that can irritate one in their bid to be cleared about issues, which leaves them asking questions. The journalists sought to know from Oraedum if the regular sanitation exercise for the state which is usually last Saturdays of every month has been changed, to which she said no, stating that the Thursdays exercise was a special sanitation day. They also sought to know if the exercise had been publicized as most of the traders insisted they never heard of it; to which she answered yes, saying she had used a town crier to publicise the event. But the town crier while taking questions from journalists said in all honesty that he was contracted late the previous day to make the announcement, and that most of the traders had closed for work when he came to make the announcement, so chances are that they never knew of it.
Unknown to the journalists, Mrs Oraedum was already infuriated with the effrontery the journalists had to question her power to singlehandedly announce a special sanitation day in the city, but was only managing to keep her cool. But for Journalist Obenta, having gotten atleast one news story, he needed to back it up with a good photograph, and so he drew out his ipad device and made to take a shot when the angry managing director who seemed to have been looking for an opportunity to deal with journalists for their guts pounced on him, seizing his ipad and ordering his boys to beat up the journalist.
Oraedum did not stop at molesting Obenta, she ordered the police officers who were giving security backing to her enforcement exercise to arrest and detain the journalist, while she personally searched and took away other working tools in the possession of the journalist, including his two smart phones. At police Station, the DPO of the central Police Station, urged Oraedum to let the journalist go as he was carrying out his duties, while also reminding her of the implication of holding a journalist, but she insisted that the journalist must be locked up as the governor, Chief Willie Obiano had been intimated of the obstruction caused her agency in the cause of their job by the journalist.
The Managing Director as also said to have told the DPO that nothing would happen if she locked up the journalist for a longer period. Our source said that she bragged that Governor Obiano was only being too lenient to journalist, as she would have taught them a lesson if she were in the governor's position. She was apparently reacting to questions by the DPO who had told her that the press was powerful and should not be treated the way she was about to.
Though Obenta regained his freedom, but not after six hours of detention, a time when his aim for the day had been totally defeated. Though his working tools were refunded to him, alongside one of his phones, but the phone which had all the contacts with which Obenta worked as a journalist was held back by the MD, who refused to state any reason for keeping it back, and pictures in his ipad, even those had no correlation with the said sanitation exercise were all deleted before returning it to him.
It was latter gathered that the release of the journalist was made possible by the Anambra State police commissioner, Usman Gwary who besides dispatching the public relations officer of the command, Emeka Chukwuemeka to the station also put a call across to the governor to intimate him of the matter. The arrival of an aide of the governor, Mr Emeka Ozumba, Special Assistant on Media to the governor facilitated the release of the journalist.
Though Obenta is a journalist, and with the disdain which society approaches journalists in this part of the world, many still wonder why Oraedum, a woman who probably is younger than Obenta would go to such length to humiliate him because he was a journalist. To this, a subordinate of the MD in ASWAMA who pleaded anonymity told this reporter that Oraedum is naturally arrogant. The staff stated that even though she is a woman she treats men in the agency the same way. Another staff disagreed with the previous, saying that Oraedum was a nice person but may have been pissed off by the approach of the journalists.
Whether the later or the former was right in their description of Oraedum, what is more true is that journalists have become an endangered species, and are battered at every point in time, even as they work hard to bring to the public accurate news of happenings around them.
Also, determined to stop the trend, atleast in Anambra State, the chairman of Correspondents' Chapel of Nigeria Union of Journalists in Anambra, Betty Onuchukwu convened an emergency meeting to treat the manhandling of its colleague by Mrs Oraedum. They condemned in strong terms the detention of one of their colleagues, for over six hours on Thursday.
In a communiqué addressed to the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, the group said, "we condemn in strong terms the manhandling, illegal detention and seizures of working tools including an IPad device and two telephones belonging to Mr. Okechukwu Obenta by the Managing Director of ASWAMA, Mrs Njideka Oraedum. The chapel protests the undue excesses of the enforcement officials of the state sanitation agency led by Mrs Oraedum, and her boastful outburst that 'Nothing will happen' and that the governor was aware of her actions. This smacks of arrogance and poverty of knowledge of the operations of journalists.'
It also stated that the continued threat on the life of Mr. Okechukwu Obenta was not just a threat to him alone but also to the life of the entire journalists in the state, while advising the governor to be wary of characters like Mrs Njideka Oraedum in his government as they may dent the image of his administration. The chapel appreciated the personal visit of the governor's Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Emeka Ozumba to commiserate with it on the incident and the timely and kind intervention of Commissioner of Police, Mr Usman Gwary in the release of the journalist.