When soldiers demanded video camera for identification
Sometimes, journalists like a war scenario. I’m one, don’t mind me. Due to the creation of an ‘atmosphere of war’, a colleague and I, decided to drive down to Okrika, the epicentre of an unprecedented violence in Rivers State recent history.
The East-West Road particularly between Eleme and Refinery Junction, which usually experiences traffic, was found empty too. Armed to the teeth army men who erected barricades along the road, were seen lazing around at some of the checkpoints as the whole stretch of the road was virtually a ghost highway. As we turned from the East-West Road to the Okrika-Refinery Road, a long convoy of army and police patrol raced past us with lightening speed towards Okrika.
Just as we drove past the Port Harcourt refinery, we heard cracking gunfire adding to the climate of insecurity. The prevailing situation compelled us to stop at an army checkpoint at Abam area of Okrika. As we parked, a young army personnel approached us and inquired: “who are you? Why are you driving on Election Day? Are you people INEC workers?”I responded almost simultaneously with my colleague, “ we are journalists covering the elections”. I explained, “I am an employee of The Guardian Newspapers. This is why this car has the INEC sticker and we are dressed in INEC election monitoring vest.”
While the interaction was going, another stern- looking soldier walked up to us, staring at us the way a fuel attendant will intensively scrutinize a perceived fake currency, he kept his eyes fixed on the INEC media tags hanging on our necks and asked pointedly: “Where is your permission to come here for the elections? You can see that no vehicle can drive on the streets except with a permit from INEC, so where is your permit?”
We respectively removed the INEC tags, which even bore our passport photograph on our necks and presented them to him for further scrutiny. His piecing eyes shifted from us to inside the vehicle for a short while, as though in a trance, he turned to me and in a seemingly harsh voice he asserted, “if you say you are journalists, where is your video camera? Or are you not supposed to carry a video camera? If you are a journalist, the one thing that I will use to identify you is missing: Your video camera.”
At this point, I almost chuckled, but suppressed it in order not to infuriate the army personnel and his colleague who irrespective of all the INEC election paraphernalia on us, were still skeptical.I replied: “We work for a newspaper and not a television station. We do not carry the kind of camera you are looking out for. We don’t have need for such equipment to do our work, otherwise, you would have seen video recording camera in our possession.”
After confiding in themselves, they asked me to open the boot of the car for searching. As the boot lifted, one of the soldiers declared: “Hope you people are not carrying election materials? Election materials have been stolen in some wards and that is why we are thoroughly searching you people. If we find anything on you people, you are finished.”
At this point, I erupted in laugher: “We have just come in from Port Harcourt and there is really no connection between journalists and the snatching of election materials.”After the search, we were allowed to continue with our election coverage duties in the virtually deserted Abam-Okrika.
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