Mr. Benedict Uwalaka, our photojournalist in Lagos; was on Thursday brutalised by workers at the mortuary of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. He relates his experience to Paul Dada:
Tell us what happend.
I went to LASUTH to cover the handing over of the remains of those who died in the Dana Air crash to their relatives. We journalists that came were quite many. As they were about giving some people the remains of their loved ones, we tried to move forward. Some of us photojournalists, especially Kola Olasupo of Thisday, ran to take shots. I was behind him.
They stopped him but I was able to take some photographs. The photograph I even took was that of the ambulance because they brought an ambulance and drove it into the mortuary area. They used another vehicle to block the ambulance.
Maybe they were trying to prevent journalists from seeing what was happening. But I was somewhere behind Olasupo when I took my shots. As I was leaving, I saw them coming and yelling, “What did you snap? Show your camera! Bring your camera!”
Immediately I heard that, I quickly removed the memory card. A guy in black shirt was in front of them and he was dragging the camera with me. Then somebody came from the back and hit me. As I turned, he equally hit me on the face. Blood started oozing out from me; all of them were hitting me.
As they were hitting me, the security men were pulling me, saying “come, come”. But others were hitting. I saw one of them and tried to prevent him from hitting me. But he went to pick an object and hit my head with it. I later learnt that it was a bottle that was used. That was what happened.
Did the security men who were calling you make any effort to intervene?
They were telling me to leave the place but I had to tell them that my camera had been seized.
Did you know how many people that beat you?
You know blood was oozing out of my face. The person I saw clearly was the guy who put on black shirt. He was the one who led those demanding that I release my camera. He was the one dragging the camera with me until someone came to hit me from the back.
This was what gave him the chance to take my camera. They were hitting from everywhere. Someone hit me on the leg and I fell. Actually, I don’t know how many but I do not think they were fewer than four.
What efforts did your colleagues there make to intervene?
Initially they wanted to fight back. But I think they had second thoughts that fighting them back would not be a wise thing to do. So they resorted to recording what was happening with their cameras. At the same time, they were persuading them to stop beating me. They also asked them to return my camera to me. Those were the efforts they made.
When did the hospital’s management intervene?
After they had finished beating me, one of them now went to pick an object which could be used to apply electric shocks to people and he wanted to use it on me. But my colleagues held him back. My colleagues now said we should go to the police station and report. Although they told me to come for treatment, my colleagues advised that we should go to the police station to report because these people could give a fake medical report.
When we came back from the police station, I saw our general manager for the Lagos office. But I did some tests and I paid more than N3,000 for them. They even told me that I would get drugs at my own expense. However, after I was visited by the Lagos commissioner for information and the chief medical Director of LASUTH, I was given the drugs free.
What did the commissioner for information tell you?
He said that I should take it as one of the hazards of the profession and promised compensation for what I had lost.
What were the things you lost?
I lost my camera and my dual-SIM phone.
What was the condition at the hospital?
After doing the x-rays, they said there were no serious injuries. They said they would discharge me but the hospital’s management said I should be kept in the hospital for 24 hours for the purpose of observation. But I had to leave when they brought a patient into my ward and he was howling like a dog.
I was afraid he could be dangerous at night. The hospital’s toilet was bad. Also, I had not taken my bath and there was dry blood on me. Besides, I had lost my phone and could not contact my family, so I had to leave.
Story by Bola Dauda