FJA 2020 Shortlist

Category: Outstanding Investigative Reporting

Fisayo Soyombo (Nigeria)

Undercover Investigation on Nigeria's Criminal Justice System

 

(I) Bribery, Bail for Sale… Lagos Police Station Where Innocent Civilians Are Held and Criminals Are Recycled

TheCable

October 14, 2019

The original publication is available via the following link: 

https://www.thecable.ng/undercover-investigation-i-bribery-bail-for-sale-lagos-police-station-where-innocent-civilians-are-jailed-and-criminals-are-recycled 

Investigative journalist ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO spent two weeks in detention — five days in a Police cell and eight as an inmate in Ikoyi Prison — to track corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system, beginning from the moment of arrest by the Police to the point of release from prison. To experience the workings of the system in its raw state, Soyombo — adopting the pseudonym Ojo Olajumoke — feigned an offence for which he was arrested and detained in police custody, arraigned in court and eventually remanded in Prison. In the first of this three-part series, he uncovers how the Police pervert the course of justice in their quest for ill-gotten money.

It cost only N500 for a policeman to arrest me, and N1,000 for another to hurl me into a cell. Of course they didn’t know I was a journalist; I had assumed a pseudonym and grown my hair long enough — for 10 months — to blend with artificial dreads. My locks were tinted in gold and almost all my facial hair removed. I cut the profile of the kind of youth the Police indiscriminately railroad into their notoriously ramshackle vans for no reason, for onward transfer to their cells. One look at me and the typical policeman would have mistaken me for a compulsive hemp smoker, an incorrigible internet fraudster or a serial drug abuser.

The Police in Nigeria have a history of illegitimate arrests and extrajudicial killings. In July, Chinedu Obi, a musician better known as Zinquest, was accosted for spotting tattoos and shot in Sango, Ogun State. Only two months ago, policemen in Lagos shot two unarmed civilians — they died instantly — suspected of phone theft. In April, anti-cultism policemen killed Kolade Johnson, a civilian, at a football viewing centre in the Onipetesi, Mangoro area of Lagos. One bus driver in Ayobo, Lagos, was even shot dead by a policeman in May for refusing to part with his money. In Ifo, Ogun State, in April, a policeman shot a motorcycle rider during an argument over N100 bribe. All five incidents happened within the last six months; all six victims died in the end.

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(II): Drug Abuse, Sodomy, Bribery, Pimping… The Cash-and-Carry Operations of Ikoyi Prisons

The original publication is available via the following link: 

https://www.thecable.ng/undercover-investigation-ii-drug-abuse-sodomy-bribery-pimping-the-cash-and-carry-operations-of-ikoyi-prisons  

Investigative journalist ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO spent two weeks in detention — five days in a Police cell and eight as an inmate in Ikoyi Prison — to track corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system, beginning from the moment of arrest by the Police to the point of release by the prison. To experience the workings of the system in its raw state, Soyombo — adopting the pseudonym Ojo Olajumoke — feigned an offence for which he was arrested and detained in police custody, arraigned in court and eventually remanded in Prison. In the second of this three-part series, he exposes how the courts short-change the law, and the prisons are themselves a cesspool of the exact reasons for which they hold inmates.

Too many unforeseen obstacles had sprung up against me by the time I arrived at the gates of Ikoyi Prison, Ikoyi, Lagos, on July 12: I’d had my most tortuous night in the police cell; I had been messed up by the typically ruthless Friday evening Lagos traffic; I had arrived under the cover of darkness, which wasn’t the plan. Even the few things that went well would later come back to haunt me.

Proceedings were well underway at Court III when we stepped into the Chief Magistrate Court, Yaba, Lagos, after my extrajudicial detention for five consecutive days at Pedro Police Station, Shomolu. It was a little after noon — or thereabouts. A funny but very contentious matter was ongoing. The protagonist, a woman, was being tried for, allegedly, illegally selling a piece of land belonging to a former associate of hers. This woman — ostensibly in her late 50s or early 60s — claimed, vehemently so, that the complainant indeed owed her millions of naira in accumulation of unpaid earnings for executed projects. She sold the land because she had been instructed to, to defray the cost of her service, she said. But the prosecutor insisted otherwise, arguing that the sale was fraudulent. The woman, irritated and incandescent, embraced and perhaps enjoyed every window to have a go at the prosecutor. Once, the prosecutor got under her skin by scoffing at how two of her high-profile witnesses were deceased. “Excuse you!” the woman fired back in protest. “Are you suggesting I killed them? Is it my fault that you’ve been dragging me from one police station to another and from court to court for more than 10 years?”

The magistrate — a dark, soft-spoken, middle-aged man whose eyes often evaded the lens of his pair of glasses when talking — adjourned the matter, as expected. And after two or three other cases, mine was mentioned. His orders: remanded in prison custody, two sureties in like sum of N500,000 each, N150,000 to be paid into the Registrar’s account by each surety, sureties to be from father’s side of the family. Not long after, the court rose, to be followed by my preparations for a long and difficult journey to the prison.

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(III): A Reporter’s Diary — Living with a ‘Mad’ Cell Mate, Set Up by Prison Warders, Abducted by the Police

The original publication is available via the following link:

https://www.thecable.ng/undercover-investigation-iii-a-reporters-diary-living-with-a-mad-cell-mate-set-up-by-prison-warders-abducted-by-the-police 

Investigative journalist ‘FISAYO SOYOMBO spent two weeks in detention — five days in a Police cell and eight as an inmate in Ikoyi Prison — to track corruption in Nigeria’s criminal justice system, beginning from the moment of arrest by the Police to the point of release by the prison. To experience the workings of the system in its raw state, Soyombo — adopting the pseudonym Ojo Olajumoke — feigned an offence for which he was arrested and detained in police custody, arraigned in court and eventually remanded in Prison. In the third and final installation of the series, he documents the soft side of his time in police cell and prison, and how prisons, police and court officials conspired to abduct him after his cover was blown.

I hadn’t yet spent a full day at Pedro Police Station, Shomolu, Lagos, when I asked myself the question: “Who sent me?” But it was nothing new; I knew I would ask myself that question at some point during this investigation, and I knew too that it wouldn’t make me call it off. If you asked any hardcore investigative journalist, they would say the same of almost every daredevil story they have covered.

As I lay in that warm cell in the wee small hours of Tuesday July 9, it dawned on me that surviving the days ahead would require more than brawn. Five of us ‘suspects’ had crammed ourselves into that narrow, filthy cell, all wanting to get our bodies on that small mat but none fully succeeding. So, intermittently, one suspect pushed or snuggled into the other. The four of them were in deep sleep but I lay there wide awake. How could I sleep? To my immediate left was Uchenna, whose snores could dwarf the grunt of an elephant; and on my other side Austin, coughing so laboriously as though his heart was about to be flung out through his mouth, and in a manner predisposing cell mates to air-borne infections. The air was reeking of alcohol, too. Back in the evening, one suspect had tipped a policewoman to help him buy two sachets of gin that he didn’t down until just before midnight. I looked at the cell gate again and it was firmly padlocked. There was no escaping; this would be my home for a few more days.

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