We at PREMIUM TIMES remain unperturbed by this peddling of falsehood against our newspaper and its reporters. We will remain focused on our work.
“Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
– C. P. Scott
One of the planks upon which some commentators have been having a free rein on the report of the human trafficking investigation by our reporter, Tobore Ovuorie, is that which claims that Miss Ovuorie based her report on stories supposedly told at a conference organised by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), held in Makurdi, Benue State.
Of course, that is an absolute falsehood.
It’s necessary, at this point, for us to release more facts, which will go to the source of this campaign of calumny against our newspaper, but which, sadly, Miss Ovuorie has been used as the cannon fodder.
On January 23, shortly after we ran Miss Ovuorie’s report, an editor with THE PUNCH, Solaade Ayo-Aderele, contacted our Editor-in-Chief, Dapo Olorunyomi, claiming that the story was false.
And, what was her evidence? A claim by another reporter with THE PUNCH, Bukola Adebayo, that Miss Ovuorie’s narrative was almost similar to those told at a workshop held by NAPTIP on 5-6 December 2013.
Unknown to Mrs. Ayo-Aderele, Miss Ovuorie had filed her reports to both her editors in PREMIUM TIMES and our partners in ZAM Magazine between 21 and 27 November 2013 – long before that said workshop. Mr. Olorunyomi gave Ayo-Aderele this information.
If that was not sufficient to convince her, PREMIUM TIMES’ Managing Editor, Musikilu Mojeed, also had a long telephone conversation with Mrs. Ayo-Aderele. He explained to her in detail how the investigation was done, how the reporter turned in her report before attending the workshop and how the publication of the investigation had to be delayed following the death of Nelson Mandela in December.
Mr. Mojeed also suggested to Mrs. Ayo-Aderele to do more independent findings of her own before attempting to discredit the work of a colleague who risked her life to tell the world an important story.
Messrs Olorunyomi and Mojeed could well have been wasting their valuable time. Mrs. Ayo-Aderele was soon all over the social media casting aspersion on Miss Ovuorie and her report.
For the records, Miss Ovuorie, then on the staff of National Mirror, beat Mrs. Ayo-Aderele to second place in the 2012 Wole Soyinka Investigative Reporting Awards in the Health Category. The judges had commended her winning work: Travellers Shun Vaccination….As Touts Take Over “for its courage, its dare, and its sunny feelings that good reporting is as much about depth as it is about the renewal of community.”
It was such a frenetic campaign by Mrs. Ayo-Aderele that soon caught fire on social media, with some commentators joining her to discredit PREMIUM TIMES, via Miss Ovuorie.
It has also been falsely claimed by some commentators that Ovuorie tweeted consistently during the investigation. Fact is, Miss Ovuorie was undercover for several months but only checked in with the syndicate for less than a week in November. She did not tweet for the whole of November.
We remain unperturbed by this peddling of falsehood against our newspaper and its reporters. We will remain focused on our work because we know that truth is like a calabash, it will force its way back to the top no matter how hard you push it under water.
We also urge Nigerians to be wary of paid, mischievous, or/and attention-seeking individuals, who, as 2015 approaches, would want to latch on to their falsehoods to try to discredit PREMIUM TIMES, probably for their paymasters, but surely not for the good of Nigeria and Nigerians.
We assure our readers that we will always truthfully and courageously report abuse of office, corruption, and inefficiency by public and elected officials, no matter whose ox is gored.
We are however open to answering further questions on the investigation. As we have consistently promised, we are willing to grant law enforcement agencies access to all records concerning this investigation.
A fastidious reporter, Miss Ovuorie kept records during her investigation. Her timeline of events, as submitted to her editors and our foreign partner on November 28, is presented below.
Timeline of events:
May 26th: Met Ivie on board an Egypt Air flight on our way to Malaysia. She tried talking me into joining her group having studied me from the Airport in Lagos to Egypt where she started chatting with me.
June: First met Samuel in Lagos.
June: first contact with Oghogho- a pimp, in Abuja and met her through a ‘fellow’ prostitute/friend.
July: Met with other girls in Abuja while feigning to be a prostitute like them. They introduced me to seven trafficking groups who unfortunately don’t ply Italy how much more go through Cotonou.
July 18th: First met James Etuk at Banex Plaza, Abuja. He is a recruiting agent to Mama Caro. Was referred to him by Sussan, a call girl I made friends with in Abuja. He recruited her elder sister who now lives in England having completely paid Mama Caro.
August: Being checked by Aunty Precious in Maitama Abuja. I was referred to her by five other traffickers who don’t take girls to Italy. I met the five other traffickers through ‘fellow’ prostitutes whom I made friends with.
August 18th: Had a telephone interview with John Olaiya who is presently in the Netherlands. I got his contact through my fellow researcher.
August 22nd: First met Saratu at her family home in Zabin Zaria, Kaduna state.
August 24th: I met Priye in Abuja through my fellow researcher who is a friend of hers.
September 6th: interviewed Saratu at her family home in Zabin Zaria, Kaduna state.
September 8th: interviewed Samuel in Oyo State.
September 9th: Met and interviewed Precious in Kogi State when she came visiting a relation of hers. I met her through a mutual friend who is also into prostitution.
September 12th: First interviewed Zainab Muhammad in Barinnawa, Kaduna State.
September 27th: Later interviewed Zainab Muhammad in Kano State when she relocated.
September 30th: Interview with Danno Baba in which he claimed some Nigerian leaders are involved.
September 29: Party with Oghogho and other traffickers
*Bought a box and bought several clothes and shoes- the type sex workers wear.
*Bought a Nokia phone, Glo sim and N5000 recharge card to keep in touch with my editors while under cover.
*Met with Mr. James and other members of the pickpocket team at Ikeja shopping mall popularly called Shoprite.
*We all took off to Ikorodu for our first pickpocket session where security operatives guarded us all through. We were 10 trainees.
*I lost my phone because I was fidgety. I have never picked a pocket all my life!
*Mr. James took my box of clothes but requested I bring more the next day.
*Bought another box and more clothes, accessories, shoes, bags, and cosmetics. *Bought another phone, sim and N6000 recharge card.
*Met others again at Shoprite where we took off for Ikorodu to continue pickpocket classes.
*My first day at the underworld camp and first meeting with Mama Caro.
*Manicure, pedicure, poise, strip and lap dance trainings take place.
*Five other girls join our group
*Four men and a woman alongside Baba later come to the camp in the night.
*the visitors wanted body parts while Baba was there to administer the oath.
*Four of us were rejected while two were killed for money rituals.
*Madam questions me all night about my alleged juju-priest. She gets angry when I insisted that I had none and thoroughly whipped me.
* The rejected girls- four of us, were taken to three native doctors while the qualified girls and boy joined another group on their way to Cotonou.
*The other girls are beaten blue black with a whip by the native doctor while my hair was shaved!
*Back at the camp that night, Baba still rejected us, he was particular about me!
* A terrible argument ensued between Mama C and Baba while I was locked up in a room again.
*Later in the night, a pickpocket trainer sneaks into the room to give me food. He reminded me about where we met in Abuja and how I returned his BlackBerry Z10 phone to him when he misplaced it. On account of that, he alerted me of Mama Caro’s plan to sell me in Burkina Faso to a controversial slave master.
*He helps me steal my international passport from where it was kept by Mama Caro and gave it to me.
* He collects all the money on me.
*He tells me how to escape.
*The armed Army officer guarding us discovers a phone on Isoken.
* She implicates me that I also have a phone.
*With the gun pointed at me, I reluctantly gave the army officer the phone. The previous night, the phone had refused charging. I had photographs, audio and video recordings of most of the events which transpired in the camp. Faces of the traffickers were in the recording.
*The Army officer spent over an hour charging the phone in order to access the content. But the phone refused charging how much more switch on.
*The Army officer thoroughly beats Isoken for lying against me that I had an active phone while it was a ‘toy’ I had in my possession. Yet, he refused giving me back my ‘toy’.
*For fear of being killed by the armed officer, Eno and I didn’t continue our plea that he returns my ‘toy’ which keeps me company.
*The pickpocket trainer ensures I sit by the door.
*Without hindrance, and with immigration and customs officers hailing Mr. James and Eno on the way, we cross the Nigerian-Seme border with so much ease.
* After the border, the pick pocket trainer stops the bus to ease himself while I jumped out immediately he started urinating.
*I run into several crowded places with the Army officer chasing me.
*He lost track of me because I tied my head with a scarf and removed the top I was wearing leaving the second top I had worn under to facilitate my escape.
*Later connected with Reece a fellow journalist in Cotonou.
8. As stated in my drafts, the visitors’ appearance indicated they are influential Nigerians with enormous affluence. Their names were never mentioned while being introduced to them. As regards what was going on there, as stated in the draft, they asked for their package while Mama Caro said she hadn’t been able to get that. Then the only woman among the visitors pointed at me to be sacrificed since I wasn’t going to be useful but the native doctor refused. Rather, the native doctor chose two other persons.
Editors Note: The drafts Tobore refers to are her two-part drafts she sent to her editors and partners. The first part was sent on November 21, 2013, while the second was sent on November 27, 2013. Based on PREMIUM TIMES’s and our partner’s best editorial judgment, the drafts were edited to the final published version.
Tobore later attended a NAPTIP-UNODC workshop on human trafficking on December 5 and 6.
NB: The materials would be shared with law enforcement agencies that choose to investigate the revelations.