For presenting fact as it is, he has suffered great discomfort from authority. He has seen himself from detentions to interrogations over decades. OGA TOM UHIA, is the Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of ‘Power Steering’, a monthly news magazine with focus on governance and anti-corruption practices in Nigeria. He was released last week after 29 days under detention, on orders of the Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba.
Although his magazine has published for 16 years, Oga Uhia has been around much longer. The 71 years old publisher, in this interview with The Union Nigeria in Abuja, recounts his ordeal in Police detention for 29 days. Read on…
The media was agog following your release after 29 days unlawful detention by the Nigeria Police. What exactly happened?
My recent detention is not the first. I have been there severally. I was detained twice during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure. President Umaru Musa Yaradua didn’t detain me but I was interrogated for doing a farewell Yaradua cover when he was flown abroad for medical treatment. I was also detained during President Goodluck Jonathan tenure for nine times. I would have said this was the only government that didn’t detain me until recently.
I was detained in Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Area 10, Abuja, because I did various cover stories on corruption in Nigeria. One of the stories was on how the Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba had knowledge of the Dana Airplane crash.
The report disclosed how the minister had knowledge of the Dana plane crash of 2012 while serving as a senior manager with the Nigeria Nigerian Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
As a matter of fact, of the three major stories in that edition, the Minister tried to cover the others with this one. This was not the most grievous of the stories.
The story on the stealing of crude oil in Nigeria would have been the major cover. He systematically avoided that one to pick his alleged involvement in the crash of the Dana aircraft in 2012. That notwithstanding, he picked me and locked me up for 29 days on the instance of the Deputy Inspector General of Police, of Force CID headquarters, Abuja, Mr. Michael Ogbizi, his mother’s younger brother.
Michael Ogbizi was a former Commissioner of Police in Delta State. Whatever offence they said I committed was bail-able and by Nigerian law I was not supposed to be detained beyond 48 hours. But Ogbizi in collaboration with his brother, kept me behind lock for 29 days.
Today, with the effort of the Nigerian Union of journalists, concerned citizens and those interested in the rule of law, I am here out and free. They cried out and I was released. I thank them.
How would you describe your stay in confinement?
I am quite used to detention. Right from Sani Abacha’s regime, I have been facing detentions. I try not to allow them affect me psychologically. A man who puts you behind bars wants to cow you and deprive you of the luxury of freedom. In my own way, I try to make myself comfortable. I try to make sure that the detention does not affect me psychologically. That is how I was able to wade through.
I had enough food. My family brought food to me from home on daily basis, hence, I ate well. Thank God for the inmates. They recognized the fact that I was older than everybody there. I am 71 years old. They vacated a cell for me and swept it by themselves. I had my beddings; a pillow, a duvet, a blanket thus making the place comfortable for myself, even though they tried to disorganize me.
I thank God for my family. Whenever they brought food, they also made sure they provided for at least 10 other inmates. That was how I scaled through.
What was your most memorable moment while in detention?
It was the night Omoyele Sowore came to visit. His visit was so mysterious. Usually, after 6 o’clock nobody was allowed to come in, but he did. The next day, the cell guards that came, reported that Sowore’s visit was on the internet and that a video was on the internet with me in it.
I learnt the video went viral and that the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) was summoned to the Inspector General of Police (IG) office. The IG was in turn summoned to the Presidential Villa. Before noon that day, a group of detectives stormed the cell, harassed us, and ransacked everything. They were so brutal. I have never been humiliated like that all my life. I thank God I survived it.
I also want to say that my detention exposed a lot of things to me. Countless number of persons are languishing in jail without trail, on the orders of the high and the mighty in Nigeria. Most specific is the detention of 24 police constables for over six months and a few other persons who were under unlawful detention on orders of the Inspector General of Police, the multi-billionaire, Ned Nwoko alleged to have the loyalty of Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. Michael Ogbizi and other high and mighty persons.
Did you get any details on the reason behind the detention of the Police constables?
Yes. The detention of the constables was on the order of the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, following a recruitment exercise. It is quite sad that school drop outs who have no means of income or place to go would be taxed or made to pay huge sums of money from 200 thousand naira and above to get recruited into the police force.
That was what happened, I learnt. When the slot for certain states is filled, the police system apportions states to recruits. For example, they can say you will answer Sokoto State as state of origin, another will answer Kano State. About 24 of them were people that were allocated Kano State as their state of origin. Some of them were already serving. They had finished from police recruitment and Police College and posted to serve.
They were arrested and placed on detention because the Kano State government protested that they were not adequately accommodated in the recruitment exercise.
Your case is already in court, what are your expectations?
The case is already in court. I have been arraigned for criminal conspiracy and defamation of character. I have also taken them to court for unlawful detention. We are in court in two places. I am not deterred by my detention. I am going to do more. If I see corruption lurking in the corner, I will expose it. I will not relent on what I have signed myself to do. I will continue to engage the leadership of this country.
I call on journalists to stand strong. They should not be afraid of detention. In detention they will find more truth in this country as well as a better way of reporting the high level of corruption in this country.