The state of the nation’s tide of insecurity again resurfaced in Ibadan as innocent journalists on duty narrowly escaped death from the hands of gun wielding hoodlums who stormed the palace of Olubadan of Ibadan, writes Ademola Babalola

“Black Monday in Ibadan. Another great escape by whisker! Gunmen @ Palace. It can only be God. Saw death LIVE!!! This life. Job hazard. My God, thank You 4ever. Alihamdulilahi forever over me, Olufemi Atoyebi, Punch, Jeremiah Oke, Daily Trust… May God heal our land and judge our Leaders. It is well.”

That was my immediate reaction on social media after cheating death alongside others at the ill-fated incidence of Monday September 25, 2017, at the palace of Olubadan.
How it started? The Olubadan was planning to install four Baales whose applications were said to have been pending for years.

The Baales are: Baale Lagelu Aboke Village, Chief Sayeed Aderemi Alatise, Baale Ode Village, Ido Local Government, Tajudeen Oladejo Baba Ode, Baale Adigun Village, Ona-ara Local Government, Taye Makinde Aikomo and Baale Ojedeji Ojo Aro Town, Akinyele Local Government, Pa Ezekiel Akinboade Ojedeji.

The three of us, Atoyebi, Oke and I were about to take off at Lekan Sałami Stadium area around 11a.m. when our colleagues who had arrived the palace told us to hurry because the paramount ruler of the city had seated in his majesty to perform the ceremony. In his parlour where the ceremony usually takes place were the Osi Olubadan, High Chief Rashidi Ladoja who had gone to court to challenge the amendment on new reform to Ibadan Chieftaincy Law Declaration of 1959. In their midst were the Iyalode of Ibadan land, Chief Aminat Abiodun, members of the Authentic Mogaji Ibadan and Baales — slated for installation. All decked up; drummers and dancers at their crafts’ best were entertaining guests within the precinct of the palace. All was going well, as planned.

That was the feelers we got on phone by colleagues who were giving us blow by blow account of the event when we were approaching the palace. Due to the logjam that might arise after the event, we parked our car about 100 metres away and three of us in the car, alighted and advanced towards the gate by foot.

I was in the front, when suddenly, a white Sienna Toyota Bus drove at top speed into the palace, and screeched its tyres.

Hefty gun-toting men opened the two sideway doors and began to fire from both directions into the palace. Curiously, we had almost rammed into them before they brought out their guns. Rat-tat-tat, the men shot into the air, cursing and daring anyone to stand in their way; eyes bloodshot.

“Awon da, awon were?” They asked in Yoruba. It means: “Where are they, the crazy ones?” Everybody ran for dear life, chiefs and commoners alike.
As at the time we entered the street from the Molete end, we were the last to arrive from that end but from the other end towards Idi – Arere, a Toyota Sienna bus was making its entrance at the same time we came in. Like the journalists, unsuspecting guests and residents of the area were oblivious that danger was in the air until the assailants began to open fire.

While my colleagues were lucky to instantly found their way into the gutter, I was rolling several times and gut sandwiched in-between an Okada and an Honda Accord car which was later fired at and side window broken down. I was lying on the road besides the shot vehicle with no hope of surviving the situation when I noticed that the two men firing from where I dodged had expended their bullets and like a master in the game, I saw them reloading the magazines. Before they could resume another round of shooting, I crawled and rolled passed the Okada and jumped into the deep drainage where my other colleagues were already gasping for breath too. At that moment, they fired into the area but for mother luck, the bullet hit the retailing wall and dropped inches away from our legs.

Pleased that they had succeeded in their ingenious act, their driver who all along kept the car engine running, sped off. But a Toyota jeep belonging to a former Secretary to the State Government, Chief Sharafadeen Abiodun Alli unknowingly rammed into the fleeing assailants who were still shooting to escape from the area having sensed that people were mobilising to track them. Like journalists, Alli’s car was fired at, by the rare side of the driver and the bullets pierced through it to the ‘owner’s corner’ and chopped-off the back rest of the seat.
While the attack lasted for just few minutes, there was deafening silence everywhere and it was not until the assailants were leaving that people mobilised and trailed them.

Alli and other occupants escaped unhurt but we (journalists) sustained minor injuries. In the process, I lost my car key but later retrieved it from some guys after paying a dime. When the dust settled, expended cartridges littered the ground before policemen later cordoned off the streets and provided security cover for the event which eventually held under tight security.
Still in a perspired breadth, we ran to the back of the palace where some old women accommodated us and after about five minutes of hiding in the corridor of their house, they gave us water to clean ourselves.

We headed to the palace to join our colleagues. Many of them who also took cover inside some rooms during the shooting said they were praying that we escaped unhurt knowing fully well that we had told them of our arrival almost at the same time when gunmen began shooting.
Prior to the fateful day, there has been no love lost between the state government and Olubadan following August 27, 2017 enthronement of eight members of the Olubadan-in-council and some Baales to beaded wearing crown status thus changing centuries of Ibadan chequered history which had for long enjoyed unique ascension to the stool of Olubadan, being the only crown wearing monarch in the city.

And few hours to the ceremony, the Oyo State Government had through the Ministry of Local Government and Christian Matters sent a circular to the palace, directing the monarch to stop the installation of new Chiefs.

The government directive was sequel to a petition signed by the eight High Chiefs who were recently promoted to beaded crown wearing Obas that Oba Adetunji should not go ahead with the ceremony. Those who signed the petition are HRM Oba Lekan Balogun, the Otun Olubadan of Ibadanland, HRM Oba Olakulehin Owolabi, Balogun of Ibadanland, HRM Oba Eddy Oyewole, Ashipa Olubadan, HRM Oba Tajudeen Ajibola, Osi Balogun Olubadan, HRM Oba Kola Daisi, Ekerin Olubadan, HRM Oba Lateef Adebimpe, Ashipa Balogun of Ibadanland, HRM Oba Hamidu Ajibade Salawudeen, Ekarun Olubadan and HRM Oba Adegbola, Ekerin Olubadan.

Their letter titled: ‘Notice on illegal appointment and installation of Baales and Mogajis’, was copied to Commissioner for Local Government, Attorney General and Commissioner for Police, Director, State Security Service, The Commandant, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, queried why the Olubadan unilaterally concluded arrangements on the ceremony without the meeting of the Obas in Council to determine the suitability or otherwise of such persons.

It further read as follows, “our revered ruler, we owe you a duty to advise and caution against any act that may create unnecessary conflict in families and communities with the proposed illegal appointment and ultimately breach the much cherished peace in Ibadanland. The Ibadan Obas in Council having had no input in the current effort wish to state that we would not give any recognition to these illegal appointments; same will be illegal, null and void. We trust your imperial Majesty will be properly guided and desist from the act accordingly.”

And subsequently, the state government through a letter signed by the Director of Chieftaincy, Ministry of Local Government, Z. O. Jaiyeola stated inter alia “…I therefore directed to inform your imperial Majesty to immediately cease and desist from the current efforts to pursue this illegality as governor would not fail to sanction erring party consenting to this illegal action. We trust you comply.”

The warnings were ostensibly not heeded and unfortunately the unexpected happened. However, not a few condemned the ugly development including Ladoja, Alli, Lanlehin, and the state government which immediately convened security council meeting. The AIG and the Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Odude thereafter visited the palace and the rest they say is now history.
But the post trauma feeling of such life threatening situation we found ourselves is yet to abate in my ecosystem.

This indeed is wild, wild world. Terrible people are around and abound. Every profession comes with its own vagaries of work. Journalism is no exception. Practicing the act here is like signing off one’s life. The society we operate does not value human lives. Too volatile and unrewarding. The shooting spree at the palace was political and let no one be deceived, 2019 campaign has started in earnest. Ibadan is South West political hotbed; notoriously famous for its Operation Wetie “the Wild Wild West” of the First Republic.

Also, like a double edged sword, Ibadan very great in so many Pace Setting achievements, and renown for its sophisticated and politically conscious aura, no one should be in doubt that more troubles lie ahead. It should be expected but how soon will the politicians be more civil in their approach to public offices and play the ball according to the rules? Must it be all about life and death, make or mar or by fire by force; do or die politics that does no one any good than the wrath of omnipotent in the end!

The take away from the episode is that we as journalists should be more careful than ever and always watch our backs. It is so unfortunate. Do you know from the comments so far from the gladiators, none of them has deferred to us in their public remarks to at least acknowledge God’s kindness for saving the lives of the affected journalists, instead, they keep attacking themselves in blame games? To them, our lives mean nothing. All they are preoccupied with is how to make gains out of what happened to feather their own nests ahead of 2019. Very regrettable!
A profession with near absence of life insurance, hostile environment and lack of protection from the security agents who should see the press as partner in progress, this society is yet to evolve and I have no option than to agree with a school of thought that says Nigeria is still a work in progress even at its 57th year of gaining independence as a sovereign nation.

And where again is safe in the land if a palace regarded as a sacred abode with the traditional rulers seen as next to gods because of the enormous powers they wield, could be so brazenly attacked in the broad day light and no arrest was made? In the olden days, once an Oba says something, it becomes law and you cannot controvert it. There is no room for appeal let alone hoodlums invading it with assorted guns as AK47 and pump action riffles. As things stand today, invitation to chaos is in the offing, and unless security agents buckle up for the greater task ahead, it is everybody to himself and God to us all.