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I was caught taking ‘illegal’ photos

It is somehow awkward to find you find yourself at the centre of your own story, that was the situation I found myself on Monday 29th of September 2014 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

I had gone to the local Wuse market to get some things for my daughter, as I was walking back to where I left my car, a little away from the market in order to avoid the usual traffic bottleneck in that area.

I saw people running towards the overhead bridge leading to Wuse 2 axis, some were looking down from the bridge. I thought to myself this must be a car crash , I quickly pulled out my phone to get shots for the news.

As I approached it suddenly dawned on me that it was not a traffic accident but the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) taskforce in a convoy of four vehicles; one Nissan/Toyota van and three trucks, who were arresting peasants hawking sachet water, peanuts and other menial things.  Also in their team, were some men from the Navy and Nigerian Police dressed in full riot gear.

What got to me was the force and brutality employed by some hefty men in black T-shirts, who look like bouncers at a nightclub or bodybuilders, whom I later learnt were employees of AEPB.

The woman in the picture was partly being dragged and carried by those men as I was getting there, her wares that worth less than N2,000 .00 ($1.3) were scattered all over the place, even her cell phone fell off in the process.

Having pulled out my phone I tried to take a shot, but quickly realized that my phone camera was set to video (a mistake that I would later be grateful for), so I stopped switched to photo, as I clicked to take the shot. The next thing I heard was ‘hey hey what are you doing there?’ ‘Why are you taking pictures?’

I stopped but they were already moving towards me, apparently to get me, I greeted and told them that I am a journalist. They retorted ‘journalist, where is your ID card?’ I told them that it is in my car, I pointed to where I parked, they asked me to enter their van so they can follow me to my car to confirm.

I thought that will be the end of it but I was wrong.

They shoved me into their van with three other women they arrested, we were well guarded by those men in black T-shirts, they drove to Aminu Kano Crescent, as we were passing I pointed to my car asking them to let me get my identity card. They ignored me and moved on to Parakau Crescent also in Wuse 2 where they arrested another lady along the way.

After leaving Parakau, one of their bosses said ‘let’s go to your car’, so they turned and started moving to where I parked my car, as we were approaching, another man in their team said “we did not arrest him with his car, his car is safe let’s take him to our office”. So I asked them where is your office?, They told me that their office is at Area 3, Garki.

I placed a call to another journalist friend and told him what was going on. As we drove through Wuse Zone 2 and Zone 1 axis towards their office, they continued with their brutality and dehumanization of the poor and defenceless.

Towards Abuja Metropolitan Area Council (AMAC) secretariat, a woman selling Fura de nono (fresh cow milk) was grabbed by one of the hefty men away from her five or six month old baby, it took some shouting and screaming from passersbys  before one of the big guys came with the poor crying baby.

In front of AMAC office, one Umar was rudely shoved down to the asphalt, he nearly hit his head on the metal bar on the vehicle. On getting to the banking zone at Area 3, a teenage girl had her groundnuts worth about N800 ($5) snatched from her.

One man standing beside his car got so pissed that he started calling them to arrest him, saying that he was selling cars.

When we got to their office, we were all ushered into a hall (which I later learnt was a mobile court) with television on the wall with three tables, two on one side facing the third table. Names of everyone arrested were taken, about 15 of us, there were another 60 or so in that room before we came in.

One Mr. Michael approached me apparently he had been told that I am a journalist caught taking ‘illegal’ photographs. He was very polite and told me that, they have no reason bringing me to their office, he pleaded with me to wait for another officer to come, who I later discovered was the lawyer.

When he came, he asked them to delete the picture I took, they took the phone but because they could not operate the phone very well, they ended deleting only the single photo leaving a one second video I had shot in error, which is where I got the picture in this story.

I was then asked to write an undertaking, I asked them what am I undertaking to do or not to do? They said okay I should write what happened, I wrote what happened and was finally let go after about four hours.

The service personnel among them were the only ones that acted civil all through.

Instead of the dissipation of energy chasing hapless citizens struggling to earn their daily bread, Abuja Environmental Protection Board should focus more on ensuring proper disposal of refuse collected in markets and estates around the FCT.  They should clear blocked drainages to reduce flooding in the city, these are enviromental issues that requires urgent and musclar attention from AEPB.

By Oruruo Samuel Okechukwu.

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