By Emma Amaize & Festus Ahon
ASABA—Over 70 armed youths of Okpai community at Ndokwa East Local Government Area, Delta State, yesterday attacked and held hostage Vanguard reporter, Mr. Ochuko Akuopha and six other journalists going to Ase-Omoku community to cover a peaceful protest by the coalition of Ndokwa youths.
Others were Felix Igbekoyi, vice chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Delta State, who works for Daily Independent Newspaper, Okungbowa Awerieoghene (The Nation), Paul Osuyi, chairman, NUJ Correspondents’ Chapel, Asaba and Dominic Adewale (Telegraph).
The youths were protesting against an oil company over alleged flawed implementation of Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, signed with the people.
But those that attacked the journalists, it was gathered, were against the coalition led by Alex Aya for mobilising youths from other parts of Ndokwa land to demonstrate against the company, Sterling Global, without notifying them.
It was also gathered that the planned protest was not in the interest of Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Friday Osanebi that purportedly mobilized the hostile and violent youths.
The violent youths chased away members of the coalition, smashed the windscreen of the Toyota Picnic vehicle conveying the journalists, seized their phones and damaged a television camera belonging to the Delta Broadcasting Service, DBS, Asaba.
Akuopha sent a text message to his Regional Editor at about 10.02 am, saying, “We are held hostage by Okpai community youths; I think we are in danger.”
Minutes later, the youths ordered them to come down from the vehicle, lie on the ground and started beating them.
He said, “When we got to Okpai, on the road to the Independent Power Project, IPP, the youths ambushed and started beating us. We were held hostage, asked to lie down on the ground even when we told them that we are journalists going to cover a peaceful protest.
“A councillor wanted to know who brought us to the place, we told them we got the information and are going there to perform our duty. One of them called Osanebi, who spoke to Igbekoyi on phone. From what I heard, he told our captors to release us.
“But they did not release us after his directive; rather, they intensified the beating and later asked us to leave the area if we love our lives. We were about going when youths from Deneku community emerged and joined the Okpai youths to continue another round of assault on us. They destroyed a television camera belonging to DBS, Asaba and seized our phones. Though, they later returned some, they withheld others and wallets were also stolen.”
He said after the second round of beating, the journalists managed to escape to a military checkpoint where they sought refuge, but as they proceeded to return to Asaba, they discovered that the youths had laid fresh siege.
“We returned to the checkpoint and begged the soldiers to escort us past the point where the boys were so that we could leave the area,” he added.
Rift between the coalition and top official
Vanguard learned that there was a rift between the coalition and a top official from the area, who mobilized some youths to counter their moves against the oil company.
Youths of Ase-Omoku, who complained that the oil firm was defaulting in the implementation of the MoU signed with the community reportedly contacted the leaders of the coalition for assistance.
They fixed Thursday for a peaceful protest to drum home their grievances to the company, but a rival youth group ambushed them.
DTHA Speaker reacts
Reacting to the incident, Deputy Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Friday Osanebi, told Vanguard, that he was not aware of the protest and did not send anybody to attack journalists.
He said that a youth in the area called him on phone about the incident and he urged them to quickly release the reporters and do them no harm.
Osanebi confirmed that he also asked to speak to one of the reporters and spoke to him on phone to find out their mission and “he told me they were invited by a group to cover a peaceful protest at a community in the area.”