By Yemie ADEOYE
SOMETIME’s in July, while working on the next episode of the Energie Platform show and caressing a cup of cognac my phone rang. It was a strange number as I didn’t have it in my phonebook. I reluctantly picked and it turned out to be Mrs. Binniyat, my good friend and colleague Luka Binniyat’s wife. I immediately knew there was trouble, as she has never called me on the phone except to say hello to me sometimes when I speak with her husband.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries and I inquired what the issue was as I’m certain all was not well. ”It’s about my Husband sir. He has been remanded in prison custody again and the bail conditions given were too stringent, we have been running around but still finding it difficult to meet”.
Since that day I have been involved and have engaged in strategic moves to help the situation that has taken the Kaduna Bureau Chief of Vanguard Newspapers, a professional and senior journalist, your quintessential jolly-good fellow, Mr. Luka Binniyat to the Kaduna Prison.
I assured Hajia Binniyat, (My nickname for her) that I will make out time to visit Kaduna state. But my frightfully hectic schedule hasn’t allowed me figure out a time to fulfill this promise. All that changed however, after reading the article written by Mr. Simon Reef Musa, an Abuja based journalist who obviously like my humble self have been following the issue since it erupted.
Immediately I read that article I told myself I have to pull all the stops to ensure my immediate visit to my long time friend and colleague at this crucial period, Luka Binniyat, unarguably the funniest and most friendly journalist I’ve met all through my career.
So I called my old faithful travel agent, Ms Ronke shittu to get me on the next available flight to the capital of the defunct Northern region. On board the Azman airline flight to Kaduna, I quickly tucked in my little carry-on bag (as it was meant to be a short trip) and sat down on my favorite isle seat. I looked up and saw my good friend and brother from Airtel Nigeria, Erhumu Bayagbon trying to locate his seat, one way or another we rigged the election and got to sit together. We chatted all through the flight till touch-down talking about any and everything we could lay our minds on. My friend was gracious enough to ask his driver go drop me at my hotel which was miles away from his.
Fast forward to the next day, Hajia Binniyat had arranged and quickly dispatched her younger brother Andrew to my hotel. A cool cat with strong mind, Andrew came along and acted as my guide to the Kaduna Prisons. On arrival, the usual security engagement ensued. Guards: Who are you?
Me: I’m a journalist from Lagos and I’m here to visit my colleague.
Guard: Ha! Journalist!! Are you sure you’re not here to record us?
Me: I have no reasons for that, Nigerians and the world already know what wonderful people you guys are.
Guard: We don’t trust you people o. Even this wrist watch can video us I’m sure.
Me: I assure you, it can’t. In any case, even if I do write, it’s just to tell Nigerians how friendly you guys were to me. I also have a little token for you people so the kids can get some biscuits when you all get home.
Guards: shun sah! Thank you sah!! Welcome sah!!! Go well!!!
Me: you can see now that journalists are good people….(general laughter).
We were asked to proceed to the reception, where we were searched and asked to drop our phones and other banned items like sunshades etc. We were ushered into the visitor’s room which was filled to the brim with relatives and friends visiting inmates. Andrew my new friend and guide immediately walked up to the officer in charge and spoke in Hausa language. He beckoned on me to come closer and introduced me accordingly. The officer greeted me properly and asked me to sit on the wooden bench meant for visitors there were four of such in the room.
We sat and waited for over 20 minutes, and suddenly my good friend and colleague of very jolly and wonderful memories, Luka Binniyat sauntered into the room like the prison was an extension of his farmland in his much talked-about Makasham Chiefdom in Kataf land.
We hugged each other like our lives depends on it,and to the astonishment of the wardens. We joked about fun memories we’ve both shared on the beautiful streets of Houston Texas, USA and around the lovely city of Abuja in the over 12 years we’ve been friends. He immediately asked after my wife. “How’s Vivien? I’m sure those boys would have grown really big now? He asked, referring to my sons. I assured him they were doing their best and wifey is just as fine.
He said I’m looking well fed and bigger than he last saw me and I told him it must be due to the recession, we both laughed out loudly and dangerously. We talked about his favourite beer whenever he visits Houston “Budweiser” and his face lit up as he asked if I came with any. I smiled and assured him the guards and other wardens would have either confiscated it or ensure they take turns in tasting it till the can is empty.
We talked about his case with the Kaduna state government and he told me how his Newspaper Vanguard abandoned him when he needed them the most. He insisted he did everything possible to ensure the paper yanks the story and steps it down including text messages but for reasons only the management of the Newspaper can explain the story got published and there were no known punitive measures on those responsible for getting it published.
I enquired from him if there was a retraction of the story by the paper, and he says not to his knowledge insisting that had that been done immediately the issue erupted, it mightn’t have been this bad or controversial at all.
He told me that in their quest to ensure he suffers if possible to death, the Kaduna State Government have brought in a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to lead the prosecution against him, not for murder, arson, fraud, treason, economic or political crime but because a journalist wrote a story which he personally recalled but his Newspaper went ahead and published. Now the newspaper is not getting sued, but the poor defenseless journalist is.
At that point I encouraged him to stay strong and ensure he discontinues any inflammatory statement that might either infuriate the state government or the Judiciary.
I told him there has been calls for him to apologize to the Governor of Kaduna state so he could be released from jail, and he humbly told me he would do no such thing as he is strongly convinced he has not in any way offended the Governor either knowingly or unknowingly, according to him, it’s a matter of principle, and for every man who has done battle..We know and understood what that meant.
I assured him we would come together to do everything humanly possible to ensure his unconditional release from prison, but we would need him to stay strong and alive.
Part of his worry however, was that the individual who gave him the story, a notable indigene of Kaduna state has openly apologized and taken responsibility for the story and the gentleman is currently free and about even if there is a case against him in court also.
I left him in very high spirit after almost an hour with some of the wardens signaling us to round up our discussion as the allotted time has since been up but for their gracious generosity. Me, as a sharp Lagos guy immediately understood what that meant and assured the OC that his reward is not in heaven as he is not a teacher. I reached for my wallet and gave my new gentle friend and guide, Andrew some notes for all the wardens in the visitor’s room. Their faces immediately gave way to smiles and they greeted me warmly on my way out.
Remember the set at the gate? O yes! They were there and patiently waiting too. I repeated the earlier ritual and received a cocktail of good wishes from the men standing guard at the Kaduna Prisons.
Luka Binniyat, my friend and colleague was a major critique of the Kaduna state government; my findings revealed that he was still his radical self under the government of the late Patrick Yakowa with whom he later became friends. The current Government of Kaduna state led by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is in court with four different Journalists in the state including Luka Binniyat. Infact the Governor was said to be present in court at one of such hearings and dropped his immunity to stand in the witness box, against a journalist! This is how broken the relationship is between members of the fourth estate of the realm and the Nasir El-Rufai led government.
Though Luka Binniyat, a pure example of a victim of circumstance may continue to languish in jail for now, but darkness has never been known to prevail over light. He is in good spirit and bears no grudge either against the Vanguard newspaper which he served meritoriously for thirteen years without a single query, the Kaduna state government, which he has professionally reported like no other journalist according to Executives of the NUJ who spoke with me, or those fair weather friends and colleagues who have always professed love and camaraderie only to engage in a conspiracy of silence as he experiences probably the most trying period of his professional life.
His case comes up for hearing at the High Court in Kaduna on the 9th of October, 2017. Leading the prosecution team is a SAN engaged by the KDSG. I however, wish to use this medium to urge all journalists of goodwill in Abuja, Kaduna and also Lagos to strive to be present in Kaduna state for the court proceeding against our friend and colleague.
I call on everyone who has ever claimed to be a friend or colleague of this very amiable and fun loving gentleman to rise up and be a part of our peaceful procession to the High Court in Kaduna on Monday 9th of September year of our lord two thousand and seventeen.
I also call on the NUJ at the center to liase with and support the Kaduna state NUJ in this regard. As this is not a case about right or wrong, but one of superiority of government over the press. Again, this is another test case for the popular slogan in virtually every union including ours “An injury to one is an injury to all” lest it becomes just a slogan.
I wish to thank all those who have supported our cause with kind words, encouragement and finances. Of special mention is Mr. Elisha Y. kurah, SAN, who upon hearing that the state government had secured the services of a SAN immediately offered his services to our friend and colleague pro-bono. A big thank you also to Ballasam Gloria Mabeiam Esq, who has continued to render legal counsel and advise accordingly.
Finally, an appeal to the management of Vanguard Newspaper irrespective of all that may or may not have transpired to at least for old time sake get to the bottom of this case and get Luka freed. For certainty posterity will judge us all and the fact simply remains that a Journalist is languishing in Jail for three months and counting. That is the issue here and every other issue pales into oblivion at the realization of this gross anomaly. This is no time for horse-trading or semantics of right and wrong, this is simply time to stand and be counted for Press freedom, justice and common sense.
Yemie ADEOYE is a journalist, the publisher of Biztellers.com.ng and host of the Energie Platform show. He writes from Lagos.