Reporter’s diary: Locked in violence, fear for three hours

On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, I had alighted from a commercial vehicle in front of an eatery at Ojoo Park, Ibadan, where I was supposed to join a bus to Oyo town only to hear gunshots. I beheld a group of boys and men all looking very mean, throwing stones, broken bottles, sticks, and other dangerous objects.

I was confused about what was going on. I overheard a middle-aged man in front of the eatery saying that officers from the Ojoo police station were shooting to scare away hoodlums who wanted to create a roadblock in front of their station. It was at the height of the #EndSARS protests. This aggravated my fear as I was heading in that particular direction.

At this point, I knew the journey to Oyo could not be continued, I ran into the eatery for cover as the hoodlums took over the road, pelting stones and other dangerous objects at the police station.

I went to the upper part of the eatery to behold the chaotic scene. In the twinkle of an eye, the hoodlums had mobilised for the apparent battle ahead. “Let them continue to shoot. We don’t care if we die,” one of the fierce-looking men said while pointing at the policemen. I saw the policemen numbering about five in front of their station while facing the resolute men. The police opened fire after the enraged men surged towards them throwing dangerous objects at them.

While at the upper part of the eatery, I interacted with some youth, who gave an account of what had transpired an hour before I got there. They explained that the hoodlums in the area threw the first salvo by burning down one of the two police stations in Ojoo in the morning. I was also told that three persons had so far died in the melee.

The police were said to have shot at the boys in the area to prevent a further attack on their station. While the crisis lasted, I picked up my phone and put a call through to my boss, Mr. Akin Durodola and my family members to inform them of my predicament. I broke the news of my dilemma on the Nigerian Tribune work platform, which made many of my colleagues aware of what was going on. Few minutes later, I received a call from the daily editor, Mr. Debo Abdulai, inquiring of my safety. He was worried I was at the scene of the clash.

From where I was, I could see under-aged persons joining the fray. I saw persons hit by bullets and subsequently rushed to the hospital. A boy fell after being hit by stray bullets and died instantly.

Men of the Operation Burst arrived at the scene and spoke to calm the situation. This was repelled. This continued till about 1:00 pm when an unidentified soldier got to the scene and tried to calm the situation. He spoke with both the hoodlums and the policemen to be calm.

Suddenly, I saw a group of boys overpower the policemen in front of their station. They made away with guns and killed two policemen in the process. Other officers ran for safety. They subsequently burnt the two dead officers.

Subsequently, they went into the station, freed some suspects and looted the establishment. Afterwards, the police station was set ablaze alongside some vehicles.

I wanted to take pictures of the tragedy when a young man offered to help me with the task. Immediately the young man raised the phone to take shots, one of the hoodlums brought out a knife, threatening to stab him if he dared. “I will stab you if you try taking pictures. Bring that phone,” the red-eyed fellow shouted. I pleaded and my phone was given back to me.

At that moment, I knew it was time to make my way to the office. While searching for a commercial motorcycle to take me away from the scene, I saw some of the hoodlums taking the charred bodies of the burnt officers into bags. On my way, I encountered no fewer than 22 roadblocks and paid between  Ojoo and Imalefalafia, Oke-Ado where the Tribune House is located.

I got to the office at 3:15 pm. There was mild jubilation when I entered the newsroom. The editor shouted, “thank God she is back,” while the chief sub-editor, Mr Laolu Afolabi bought me a drink.

Staring death in the face was no tea party for me.

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