September 25, 2017 started like any other bright and promising day in Ibadan. Because of a few happenings in town, it was one of those days that journalists look forward to; abundance of good stories in the air, developing stories reaching the peak and trending issues getting the attention of genuine stakeholders.
For me, my interest in the midst of this long list of story lines was the trending Olubadan chieftaincy review crisis. Every day, new dimension is introduced to the crisis. Since the Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi installed 21 new kings in Ibadan which is opposed by the Olubadan of Ibadan land, Oba Saliu Adetunji, Ibadan has dominated the headlines in the media space. There had been shots fired from concerned stakeholders to either justify the governor’s move or sympathise with the Olubadan who maintains that it will be better to preserve the Ibadan chieftaincy system for now.
The most popular event of the day was at the Olubadan palace in Popoyemoja area of Ibadan, where the monarch was to install new Baales. Despite the opposition of the promoted high chiefs, who now wear royal crowns, and letter from the state Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters that the installation should not hold, the Olubadan was adamant. To him, the authority to appoint Mogajis and Baale resides in him without having to bend to the opinion of the members of the Olubadan-in-Council if they oppose it. It was like daring the government.
So, the event at the palace provided a good ground for story gathering on the latest news concerning the Olubadan chieftaincy crisis. But promising as the event seemed, there was danger lurking in the air.
I had a few things to do before heading to the palace and immediately I reached the city centre where the Ibadan Punch office and most media outfit offices are located, I rushed over what I had to do. I was conscious of the time the event at the palace would begin but to be sure that I was not too late, I was in touch with some of our colleagues who were already at the palace just like two other colleagues, Demola Babalola of ThisDay and Jeremiah Oke of Daily Trust, were in touch with me.
We agreed to meet at the Lekan Salami Stadium gate at Adamasingba where we took off to the palace. We also agreed that it would be better to go in one vehicle instead of taking two or three cars there. My car was chosen, so we met at the agreed venue and drove through the Molete route. It was easier going to the palace through that route because it is not always busy and there are plenty of spaces to park on the Olubadan palace street.
While we journeyed, we discussed about the Olubadan chieftaincy crisis and Babalola pointed out that there were many interested parties, which deepens the crisis on a daily basis. We also talked about the unending war of words between the Olubadan palace, the high chiefs that accepted to be elevated to the kingship status, and the position of the Osi Olubadan, Rashidi Ladoja, who refused to wear the crown or accept to be accorded kingship status. We also discussed the political dimension to the issue. What we did not envisage was that violence was about to be introduced and that we could be heading for a war zone.
When we arrived at the palace around 11.30 am, I decided to park about 100 metres away from the palace to avoid being trapped in the traffic that could build soon after the event when many people who came in their vehicles would be leaving at the same time. It turned out to be the wise decision that saved the three of us in the car from being shot or killed.
At the time when 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. It was driven down the street before it stopped in front of the palace.
As the vehicle reached the gate of the palace, I was also approaching the gate with my colleagues on foot. Babalola was in the front, followed by Oke with me coming behind them. Suddenly, there was a shot fired towards the palace. Instinct told me that because there was a traditional event inside the palace, it was possible that the gun shot was part of the traditional rites by hunters or something. But I was wrong.
Because Babalola was in the front, he saw what I did not see immediately. He called out to us, “gunmen, gunmen, gunmen, run, run, run.”
As he was shouting, we were facing the hoodlums, more rounds of gunshots were fired and commotion ensued. To save my life, I ducked inside the dirty drainage channel in front of the palace. Oke was the first to go in, I managed to squeeze myself in almost immediately and slid in under a foot bridge and I found myself on top of Oke.
Behind me, I saw Babalola falling over several times inside the ‘gutter’ and immediately struggling to roll inside the dirty water to safety while expended bullets dropped inches away from us. I heard the gunmen changing their magazines as people ran into the houses around the palace. A Toyota jeep that was about to enter the palace was shot at but the driver managed to drive through the palace gate while the gate was quickly shut and locked.
I had a bruised hand but it did not matter. I did not feel the pain. My two mobile telephones were soaked in the dirty water and even though I was conscious of it, I did not make any attempt to move because I did not want to attract the gunmen to where we were hiding. It could trigger fatal moment and possibly death.
While I knew that a big story had evolved, I could not summon the courage to peep and see faces of the attackers. All I saw was the fire coming from the hoodlums’ guns. Beside me was a car parked with the driver hiding inside. Like me, he was caught in the fire as he arrived at the palace. Perhaps the hoodlums sighted him, one of them lowered his gun and rained a few bullets on the car, shattering its glass windows. But the owner escaped. He jumped out of the car into the drainage channel, hiding just a few feet away from me.
I heard the gunmen asking those in the palace to come out and engage them. One of them said, ‘se bi eni pe e fe j’oye ni. Koni daa funyin’ (But you said you want to install chiefs. It will not be well with you).
After about five minutes, the driver of the gunmen’s vehicle moved a few feet forward, coming to rest a few inches from where I was hiding with others. More shots were fired and then, the vehicle sped away. As it was going, shots were being fired. Babalola then called me and said that they had gone. I did not trust his judgment, so I remained in the channel until I heard people coming out from their hiding.
I saw youths throwing stones at the gunmen’s vehicle as it was disappearing. Realising that they were being chased on the narrow street, they fired more shots and this time, we ran into a house behind the palace. 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.
When we returned to the palace, I realised that the former Secretary to the Oyo State Government, Sharafadeen Alli, was the owner of the Toyota jeep that was driven hurriedly into the palace after a bullet pierced through its black glass window. He would have been killed if he was not sitting beside his driver.
The experience capped a black Monday in Ibadan and the job hazard faced by journalists in the course of carrying out their duties. The experience also encapsulated the length desperate people can go to cause disruption, destruction and possible death of innocent people.