Oluwatosin Adeneji was released from the Suleja Correctional Facility on bail last Thursday, after spending six nights behind bars. The citizen journalist had been covering the #EndSARS protest when security agents attacked and arrested her and five others, all of them since dubbed the Abuja Six.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview, Tosin, as she is popularly known, recounted her experience.
A citizen journalist
Though she is a graduate in agricultural economics, Tosin is also a citizen journalist who regularly covers protests and other newsworthy stories as her “little contribution” to the improvement of society.
“That morning, [Friday, November 6th] I got a notification that there would be a protest at the National Assembly, so, as I usually do when I hear that there is a protest, I went there. Whether it is an EndSARS or ProSARS protest, I cover them.”
The peaceful protest was reaching an end when a security officer shouted, “arrest them”, prompting officers to fire teargas and charge at the crowd. In the ensuing chaos, Tosin was arrested as she fled from the heavy-handed response.
The arresting officers, however, would not acknowledge Tosin’s pleas that she was not a protestor, instead, they “were kicking us with their boots and beating us” in front of the National Assembly.
The beatings continued as the six were transported to the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and made to write statements. Ms Adeneji initially refused to write it without the presence of her lawyer, “but then an officer came, and he started hitting me with his wooden baton.”
“Where do you think you are? The fact that you are a journalist is why I am punishing you now. I can kill you and nothing will happen so you better start writing,” Tosin recounted the officer saying. She complied and wrote her statement, without the presence of a lawyer.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported on the subsequent hearings that took place, in which the magistrate refused to grant bail and remanded the six in custody on charges of criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, public nuisance and inciting public disturbance.
After a night spent behind bars at the Garki FCT Command with two of her fellow detainees, the six were once again reunited the following day and taken to the Suleja prison.
According to Tosin, “when we got there, there was an issue regarding the minor – Kabiru Gazali. The prison officials asked the IPO if he was sure the guy was not a minor, but the IPO insisted that he was 20 years old.”
When asked in Hausa, Kabiru – who does not speak English and claims that he did not even attend the protest, but rather, was at the wrong place at the wrong time, informed the officers that he was 15.
Prison officials then stated that they could not incarcerate a minor in their facility, “but the IPO insisted” and they acquiesced. The six were then ushered into the prison. The only female among the group, Tosin, was taken to the female wing.
“They couldn’t admit us into the cell for people awaiting trial because we first had to complete a two-week quarantine for COVID-19. So, they put us in the cell used to punish inmates [solitary confinement],” Tosin said.
She would spend the next five nights sharing her cell with two other women, despite the use of solitary confinement cells reserved for errant prisoners. The cells are only designed to hold one person and, to that end, was equipped with just one mattress and one mat – there was no toilet.
Inmates have access to the toilets in the day, but from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the gates to their cells are kept shut.
“Once you have to relieve yourself at night, you have to do it in the cell and throw it out of the window. At night if the others were peeing, I had to cover my face because I did not want it to spill on me. It is not hygienic. I stopped peeing at night.”
In the interview, Tosin recounted several other difficult moments experienced while in prison, but she also insisted on sharing some positive sides of the prison.
“In the prison there is an NGO that comes to teach the women how to sew clothes, make sanitary pads and learn other skills. I think that this is a good idea. In this way, they will gain something from their experience in prison. I also heard from other prisoners that there are computer classes for inmates.”
A just cause
Tosin’s positive spirit was reflected in the photo posted on her Twitter account of the moment she was released. In the photo, she is seen raising a fist in the air alongside the five others she was arrested with, and one of their lawyers.
Tosin explained that her defiant spirit was motivated by the injustice she both experienced and witnessed during the whole ordeal, and the resolution not be cowed into silence.
“I’m not broken. If there is a protest somewhere, I will cover it as I have always done, and no prison can stop me. They can’t stop me unless they kill me.”
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