INEC and security officials treated journalists with disrespect in Anambra.
The gentleman in a traditional attire and a sweaty face frowned into my credentials – a voter’s card, staff ID card, and an official letter of introduction from my organization.
He paused, cupped his palms to wipe another flood of sweat that had gathered on his forehead, and fixed an impassive stare at me.
And then he grunted: “Where is your NUJ ID card?”
“Huh?” I was not expecting the question.
“Your Nigerian Union of Journalists ID card; that’s a requirement for accreditation to cover the election.”
I started to protest but the gentleman cut me off in mid-speech.
“…We don’t want to accredit fake journalists for the election. So you have to show that you belong to a branch of the NUJ.”
“With due respect sir, my ID says I’m a PREMIUM TIMES reporter. Are you saying that PREMIUM TIMES is a fake news organization?”
The gentleman glared at me: “What is premium times? You see the main reason I’m asking for your NUJ card? I’ve never heard of that name before.”
I staggered back, stunned.
That was Henry Nwaosike, the Chairman of the Anambra State chapter of NUJ, who was helping out with the accreditation of journalists for the November 16 election.
Even my explanation that no ‘fake’ journalist would check into an hotel five days to an election, accumulating hotel bills, and trudging from one end of the state to the other in search of pre-election stories did not make any sense to him.
“So if people from CNN and BBC come here, you’d demand for their NUJ ID card.” I fumed.
“Yes of course,” Nwaosike retorted.
“They must show me that they belong to a local NUJ chapter where they are covering.”
I gave up.
I did get my accreditation, however, after a series of frantic phone calls to Abuja, Lagos, and Abuja again which eventually yielded the intervention of the Chairman of the Abuja chapter of the NUJ.
But others who did not have such a ‘godfather’ were not so lucky and were told to go home.
If that incident left a sour taste in my mouth, what happened two days later, just before the final collation at the INEC headquarters, made sour taste like a glass of banana juice.
After the rigours of election coverage the day before – which included traversing the entire three Senatorial districts in the state as well as keeping vigil at the INEC headquarters – I returned to the headquarters on Sunday afternoon.
The result of the election had not been announced and the final collation was yet to commence.
I loitered around the premises exchanging banters with colleagues and some security officers.
At about 3 a.m., Akufue, the Chief Security Officer at the headquarters, walked quietly into the collation centre, accompanied by five police officers, and made an announcement.
“All the journalists and (election) observers should move out of the premises. We are going to do a rescreening and we don’t want anyone who is not supposed to be here to be here,” he said, brandishing a white paper.
I scooped up my bag and was about to step out of the centre when I stole a quick glance at Akufue’s white paper.
My face fell.
The paper contained a list of media organizations that would be allowed into the collation centre.
There was The Punch, The Guardian, The Sun, AIT, NTA, MBI, ABS, The Nation, Channels, ThisDay, Vanguard, FRCN, Silverbird and TVC.
We were missing from the list.
Now the most important task of my assignment was to live-blog the election results as they were being announced by the Returning Officer.
I was still brainstorming on the best way to navigate out of the apparently unfolding mess when a colleague, whose organization was also missing from Akufue’s list, suggested we camp inside the canteen within the premises.
That seemed a brilliant idea and so we sneaked towards the canteen where we ate and drank. Time appeared to stand still, so we continued drinking while we waited.
Unfortunately, the canteen does not stock alcoholic beverages, but we continued to drink nonetheless.
Two hours later, we made away towards the collation centre again just in time to witness a heated argument.
A camera man from TV 360 was fuming at Frank Egbo, the INEC PRO, for compiling a list which excluded his organization.
“You don’t have any right to tell me not to cover the collation. You don’t have the right. Election coverage is a public event,” the journalist stormed off.
“We shall see. When the time comes, we shall see,” Egbo shouted after him.
A few minutes later, we heard a commotion outside. Some dozens of disgruntled women were protesting their disenfranchisement during the election.
We returned later to a wall of stern faced, heavily armed police officers at the gate of the INEC headquarters.
“Hey! Don’t block the gate. Come this way. Come this way,” an unarmed one roared at us.
We approached him.
“Wetin be the name of your media organization?” he barked, running a stubby finger down a list of names on a crumpled paper.
“I’m from Business Day,” one reporter said.
“It is not in this list. You can go home now. Go back!” He barked again.
Within a few minutes, a horde of ‘unwanted’ reporters had gathered outside the gate.
At first we raged at the police officers, then we pleaded, then we raged again.
After what seemed like an eternity and still no succour in sight, the Business Day fellow was the first to react.
He seemed to be the worst hit.
He approached the officers manning the gate, in a business-like manner, a bundle of paper tucked neatly under his armpit.
“Officer, excuse me please,” he adjusted his spectacles and moved the bundle underneath his armpit from the left one to the right one.
“You see, I came all the way from Lagos just because of this election. What do you want me to tell my editor?”
The officer he was addressing merely stared at him, a bored expression inscribed all over his face.
“Officer, it’s like you don’t understand what I’m saying.”
He unbundled the package he had been clutching under his armpit, produced the day’s edition of Business Day, and straightened it before the officer.
“Now look at this,” he pointed to the headline, and then allowed his finger to trail towards the by-line. “Look at this name, it is my name you are seeing there. Yes. Now take a look at this…”
He whipped out his staff ID card and poked a finger under his photo.
“Look at this name. Is it not the same with the one here?”
He produced the paper again and pointed.
“Officer, I reported this election very well. That’s why it was on the front page because it was the major story. Look at the story very well…”
The officer leapt out of his chair.
“Hey, just respect yourself and move away from here. I say take your things and go!”
And then out of nowhere emerged the police dogs – huge, ferocious, blood thirsty beasts – that seemed enraged for being kept on a leash.
We were no longer interested in covering the final collation.
The Business Day reporter quickly gathered his journalistic tools and fled, with the rest of us on his heels.
(PREMIUM TIMES is officially protesting the treatment of its reporter by INEC and security officials at the Anambra election).
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...