The Platform


As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, this entry has been produced in a bid to promote press freedom in Nigeria. Journalist Mohammed Taoheed shares his brutal ordeal at the hands of those who thought journalism is a crime.

“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” – Albert Camus

ILORIN, Nigeria – This is a factual account of what happened to me in August of last year in Ilorin, a modestly large city in northcentral Nigeria where I was attacked by some hooligans who thought I was a political spy sent to eavesdrop on them.

It was a Sunday afternoon. I had set out for field work after I took a short nap. I was covering environmental health as I recently did an undercover story on the topic. Before I left, Tobi, my host, had cautioned me that I should be careful.

I started from a small community where I interviewed Sarumi, who was smoking hemp, who talked to me about the local market women who had been dumping all their waste into the nearby river each day. He told me to take a photo of the riverbank to ensure the implementation of local environmental laws.

With joy, I entered the market. After several futile attempts to get the contact details of the market leaders, I made a U-turn at the Microfinance Bank. I wanted to take a bike, but my mind hinted that a walk would be better. I bought two bottles of water and took my phone out to take photos of anything that caught my attention.

When I got to the main road, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what I was looking for. Household waste littered the roads, I stopped every five minutes to take photos. All the while, locals gazed at me with confusion.

Hooliganism on the rise

Confirming my account, a resident who spoke with me after the ugly incident but whose name I agreed to withhold, told me that hooliganism has become alarming and terrifying in Ilorin. He argued that whenever there is an increase in development or any appearance of an economic crisis, there is always a record of high crime rates – like hooliganism – in such a place.

“You see, this improved development called civilization or inflation caused this crisis. As for me, it is not good at all,” he told me.

Equally, he maintained that this anti-social behaviour would only be caused by “some bad boys” who entered the area from elsewhere. “Those who attacked you are not from [here], I swear. No local would do that, it is only [an outsider]. I am an Igbo but with my long stay in Ilorin, I can tell you that this place is well-rooted in the Islamic religion,” he stressed.

“Hold him well, he is a political informant!”

I was telling myself that my skills in photography had improved after I took a picture of an old man when I saw these two large men beside a parked vehicle. They were both wearing long white ankle-length shirts with long sleeves that buttoned up to the neck. They were talking about a matrimonial issue.

As I was approaching them, I sensed that I needed another source to feature in my story in a bid to add more context. Studying their seriousness, I waited some time for them to finish their discussion, but I had to interrupt them to ask for directions because I was unfamiliar with the area.

As Suleiman Aji opened his mouth to answer my questions, I could not stand the overpowering smell of alcohol, but I had to endure because I was the one who came to him. Then, a man who greeted them told them that I was taking photos of them. This was immediately after our conversation. They grabbed my phone and forced me to open it. When they checked and saw that I was not photographing them as they alleged, they slapped me across the face.

“I will smash this stone on your head. Do you want to take photos of us? You have brought bad luck to yourself because you are going to die. This is a death zone if you don’t know. It is my area. If I kill you, nothing will happen. Kneel down, you don’t know that you’re in the soup. Which politician are you working for? Who sent you? I know you are a political informant,” he shouted. “I will kill you! You think you are smart?”

I was still on the ground trying to explain that I am not what he thought when he took out a shimmering knife from his trousers, and threatened to slit my throat if I did not delete any sound or video recordings. I thought I was dead when he screamed as he saw a picture of Gov. Nyesom Wike on my phone. He cursed at me in Yoruba.

“Egbon [brother], didn’t I tell you that this boy is a spy? Which governor is this? I will kill you today, olofo omo [one who has no glory],” he threatened while gnashing.

Responding to the question, the short man said: “It is Sanwo-olu.” Then he turned to me: “So you come from Sokoto? But you told us that you are living in Agbo-Oba. You will pay today.”

But an unknown savior came to my rescue

Not long after the older man left, Aji told me to stand up. Who knows maybe his brother went to get a gun. The whole situation seemed surreal. I was already offering my last prayers and did not notice when I was in front of a stout but short man who claimed to be an official of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). The pot-bellied man doubted whether I could actually be a spy. He gave some strict warnings and ordered my attackers to leave me alone.

“If you do this in Gambari [another residential area known for hooliganism], they will kill you immediately. They just killed two of our boys and we too are very angry now, if you don’t know. I only doubt what you are. But if those boys find you again here, know that it is death,” he said.


I commend Gidado Shuaib, the Editor-in-Chief of News Digest, and his team for nominating the main story for an award that same year. I especially want to thank Yakubu Mohammed, the Editor of WikkiTimes Newspaper, my close friend and mentor, for his repeated calls and advice to sail through. I also want to thank Yinka Olaito, the Managing Editor of Nigeria Grassroots News, for his support in producing the main story. And lastly, I want to thank my fellow journalists and everyone that cared about my health and safety on that frightful day.


Mohammed Taoheed is a freelance journalist based in northwest Nigeria where he studies Law at the Usmanu Danfodiyyo University, Sokoto State. Taoheed is interested in development, conflict, politics, and social justice.