When I attended a course on, “Conflict Reporting,” organized by the BBC in Lagos, way back in 2002, the lead facilitator, Christine K. a German, had told the participants that, no story or report is worth dying for even as she admonished us that we should not in any way endanger our lives in the pursuit of news reports. Through out the week-long programme, she repeatedly emphasized that a journalist reporting conflict should do everything to stay alive so that he or she does not become part of the story. For me, the area emphasizing that that no story is worth dying for has remained my guiding principle through out these years that I have worked as a reporter in the crises-ridden Kaduna state. During the 2000 anti-Shariah riots, I witnessed assault on fellow human beings at Asikolaiye and Badiko. At Bakin Ruwa, I watched individuals hacked down and set ablaze while trying to flee to safety and I had to jump over several corpses at Kasuwan Baci and Tudun Nupawa, in the Tudun Wada area, in order to get to the city centre. It was virtually the same story when two years later in 2002, the Miss World riots ripped through Kaduna metropolis with bloody consequences. The same scenario played out itself during the 2011 post-presidential riots. The Kaduna situation has perhaps proved that indeed, no story is new, only the characters or actors differ.
In all, the ultimate desire to stay alive has never wavered in me although the luck factor may also play a significant role. To a large extent, surviving Kaduna in periods of bloody conflicts may actually depend on where you are when the madness begins. If for instance, you are a Christian and you happen to find yourself in the Muslim dominated area of Tudun Wada at the eruption of an ethno-religious conflict, then consider yourself dead except of course you can claim to be a Muslim and able to recite certain verses of the Holy Koran and your attire matters a lot in addition to your proficiency in the Hausa language. Your interrogators do not understand a word of the English language. On the other hand, if you are a Muslim and you are at Sabon Tasha or environs during such a period, if you must live, then you have to claim to be a Christian and you have to name the church you attend and the name of your pastor, alongside the ability to recite certain portions of the Holy Bible. Perhaps, it may not be out of the way if adherents of both Christianity and Islam begin to study aspects of both religions, for who knows, it may save your life. And, in both circumstances, it goes without saying that you may have to also adopt the appropriate names. It would certainly be the highest form of embarrassment if you claim to be a Muslim but your name turns out to be Christian John or Christiana Paul.
For the latest violence of June 17, 2012, I was at home, just lazing around, pretending to be busy but actually doing one or two things around the house. Then at about 9.30 am, reports filtered in from Zaria that there were bomb attacks on two churches there. A few telephone calls confirmed the reports and unknown to me, as I left my Angwan Pama residence, heading for the town, through the Post Office road area, in order to get more details concerning the Zaria reports, parts of Kaduna metropolis were already on fire as you see people just running and motorists driving at break- neck speed and you begin to wonder what for God’s sake was the matter (again). In spite of the apparent confusion and of course with the “stay alive” flashlight already beaming furiously at me, I managed to pull beside the road at the High Cost Junction and inquired from a few of those running, what was happening. There were variations in the answers given the fact that some people were actually running because they saw others doing so, without knowing why and fingers pointing towards the Barnawa area. That was the situation until someone who claimed to be an eyewitness at the scene said that Boko Haram had bombed the Shalom Pentecostal Church, at Trikaniya, some four kilometers away, after the Abuja junction, on the Nnamdi Azikiwe Bypass. I put a call through to a colleague who lives at Nasarawa, close to Trikaniya and without even waiting to know the reason for my call, he asked to know my location and I told him. “You had better go back home!” It sounded like an order and I complied. At Angwan Pama road on my way back home, the area boys had already mounted road blocks, on the look out for perceived enemies, stopping motorists and checking the boots, bonnets and interiors of vehicles. The illegal check points also doubled as interrogation centres but unlike some others who arrived the point later, I was lucky as the hoodlums, armed with machetes and other dangerous weapons, did not demand to know whether I am a Christian or a Muslim. I still thank God that they did not ask me, perhaps due to divine intervention because if they had, I would not know their reaction as I would have told them that as a reporter, my religion is journalism! And given their apparently misplaced fanaticism, I would have even gone further to tell them that I was also ready to die for journalism as they too were set to give up their lives for whatever religion they profess. Near the junction of Sea Breeze Garden Resort, a commercial motorcycle operator had already been hacked to death and his okada placed on top of the corpse. Few hours later at about 2 pm, the Kaduna state government slammed a 24-hour curfew on the state, as the situation degenerated and violence enveloped Trikaniya, Ungwan Muazu, Tudun Wada, Gonin Gora, Sabon Tasha and Ungwan Pama suburbs, among other areas.
In the early hours of Monday, June 18, government announced a review of the curfew from 6 am to 6 pm. It turned out to be an error of judgment as a section of residents especially in the Barnawa area exploited the opportunity to re-introduce a regime of mayhem on the people. On Tuesday, June 19, the Kaduna state Commissioner of Police, Muhammed Jinjiri Abubakar, scheduled a press conference for midday and I left the house at about 10 am but never made it to the Police Headquarters, venue of the conference. Given the precarious situation at Barnawa, I, along with the Correspondents of The Nation and Punch decided to avoid that area and instead branched off at the Water Board section of Barnawa, going through the St. Gerald Hospital and that was the end of the trip to the town. As we approached Queen Amina College, it would appear as if hell was let loose as you just saw people running here and there. Motorists broke the known traffic rules as each driver seemed to move in no particular direction. Not in a position to take chances, as I approached the U-turn at the Chachangi Airline office, and considering the long traffic of vehicles waiting to make the U-turn, I had no option than to join the madness as I quickly turned around, using the one way and daring the risk involved. I headed back towards the St Gerald Hospital where I stopped briefly near the gate to inquire from those coming from the town what the commotion was all about. It turned out that some youth had invaded the central market where they attacked traders and other people, according to reports.
For whatever it is worth, in periods of conflicts or in situations where government places restriction on movement of people, the journalist appears to be king as he moves about unrestricted but it also exposes the naivety of some of the security personnel, especially the soldiers on patrol and at the check points. For what we considered as security reasons, correspondents of the Nation, Punch, the Sun, THISDAY, and I preferred to do the rounds together more especially as we all live in the same area. But on one of the days during the 24-hour curfew regime, soldiers on patrol who stopped us at the High Cost junction turned hostile over an alleged offence that we were in a convoy of five cars. “Why should all of you ride in different cars?” one of the soldiers (a Second Lieutenant) queried even as he also questioned our claim to being journalists since the cars had no official newspaper logo on them. Well, perhaps also for security reasons, it may be easier for them to handle five persons in a vehicle than contending with the same number of people in different vehicles. It took the intervention of a higher officer with the patrol team for them to allow us continue. And few minutes later at the Station roundabout, a different set of soldiers at the check point there accused journalists of disobeying the law. “You people are the ones who imposed the curfew and you are the ones coming out,” one of them said. But some of the soldiers displayed high sense of civility and understanding. “Please make sure you tell them that we are working o!” some of them would say.
As the curfew period in Kaduna enters the third week from tomorrow, the beat goes on.