Sunday , December 4 2022

Cruel fate of a journalist hunted by internet fraudsters

His weapon is the pen and he cherishes it more than the latest smartest AK47. His natural knack for investigative reporting gets his adrenaline going. But his story has pathetically turned out to become the hunter now being hunted for preaching the gospel of a safe society for all.
The man amidst of the storm is Ola Kehinde-Balogun, a fearless reporter with one of the leading national dailies, who is renowned for writing exclusive and investigative stories on criminal and other illegitimate activities across the breath and length of Nigeria. His flowing ink has fished out and painted both the high and low in the society. But whether he still wears the garment of bravery or not is a story that will be told or muted with the passage of time.
He has been recently attacked on different occasions by some hooligans, suspected to be internet fraudsters, whom he had, hitherto, written a detailed story against their illicit and clandestine activities. 
It will be recalled that on January 5th, 2017, as reported by a national newspaper, Kehinde-Balogun had exposed how the fraudulent elements cleverly manipulated their unsuspecting victims’ psychology, to outsmart them of huge sums and expensive valuables.
The story was like stirring the hornet’s nest as it became a reference point for public discourse among policy makers and security agencies.
Immediately the story was published, his once enjoyed peace and safety was suddenly stolen and the hapless journalist had to go underground for some period to continue his cherished job. He lamented that all efforts to get the police involved in tracking his trailers met brick walls.
Sensing danger after getting a hint that some persons were after him for the widely applauded story, he narrated to National Dailies, that like the speed of lightning, he dashed into a nearby police station in Lagos to lay a complaint. Days became weeks and weeks of waiting snowballed into months without the Force making a single arrest of any of the suspects. While the delay continued dangerously, the reporter’s life was constantly bombarded with threats from his masked tormentors. Threatening calls were continuously dropping like thunders of snows on his phone from unknown locations.
As the wait for the security agents to do the needful and track down the suspects continued, the journalist was sleeping with an eye opened in many undisclosed locations. Safe that the journalist has quickly relocated his family members to an undisclosed safe haven. He sensed dangers everywhere he went and his premonition was first displayed on January 17, 2016, about two weeks after the story was published, when his hunters launched the first attack on his home.
The hapless victim, who narrated his ordeal to National Dailies from his hiding in the United States of America, said he fled Nigeria on Feb 07, 2017 when the attacks became irresistible.
According to him, his father’s house in Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital was invaded by these unscrupulous elements, demanding for the journalist’s whereabouts from his aged father. After many exchanges of threats from the gang members, the journalist’s father’s high Blood Pressure simply resurfaced, suspected to have led to his death. 
His wife, Mrs. Temitope Kehinde-Balogun and the kids – Teledalase and Olorunjedalo were not also spared in the seemingly reprisal threats. He stated that he had to quickly move them from the city of Lagos to an unknown location. 
On this very faithful day, January 17, 2017, which has remained indelible in Kehinde-Balogun’s memory, the assailants came and struck but the journalist escaped by the whiskers. They, as gathered, were out, primarily for the reporter’s life. They wanted to silence him forever so that they could freely carry on with their nefarious activities or so it seemed. For the fraudulent men, the reporter’s revelations were like clogs in the wheel of cyber crime’s ‘progress’ in the country.
But what appeared like providence smiled on him as the journalist was said to have left the house not quite long, when the assailants bombarded the house. The allegedly commissioned assassins stormed his apartment in commando-style and the shout of “where is the stupid journalist” rent the air. 
His confounded neighbours alarmed from their windows to the unexpected and unwanted visitors that the journalist had not been coming home regularly for a while now. The information might have sounded incredible and infuriated the agents on assignment of destruction. They – three-armed-men ransacked the target’s apartment in search of their target, but he was nowhere to be located. Shooting sporadically into the air, they hurriedly left the scene as they had hurriedly come.
The news of ‘criminals’ in Kehinde-Balogun’s compound had spread so fast reaching him where he was. By the time the dust raised by the gunshots settled, the reporter said his feeble legs dragged him further away from home, for the fact that the agents might still be lurking around somewhere to ensure a successful completion of their devilish intent.
This was even as he learnt a crowd had gathered at his house and many of the sympathisers out of fear sent concerns, ushering him to take a longer cover from wherever he might be.
Many days afterwards, he sneaked into his apartment to see for himself, how his apartment was torn apart in few minutes by the agents on assignment. He said what seemed a dark cloud fell from nowhere to embrace him in his moment of amazement and grief. He was gripped with the fear of why he was being hunted. 
The journalist was already overwhelmed with the threat to life. He said he was too shocked to accept the blunt truth that his life could have been snuffed out for dutifully discharging his job. 
His next door neighbours later urged the journalist to listen to the account of eye witnesses and do the needful to ensure his life is secured. Confusions and fear were united in tormenting the respected reporter for a long time even as his cry to appropriate authorities did him neither relief nor render any hope. 
Hear him: “After that January 17 invasion, they kept tormenting me with threats. Everyday of my life, death was hanging on my neck for committing no particular crime. My passion is to make Nigeria a safe society for the citizens and foreigners alike. Nigeria’s reputation has been battered before the international community. I could not watch the abnormalities to continue when I have a statutory role to play as a journalist.” 
On another occasion, he told The Nations that some young men, on January 30, 2017, had attempted to pour acid on him but thanks to his constant vigilance, the acid would have disfigured or killed him. He said he took to his heels immediately he sighted the men approaching, suspecting that they were after him and he was right.
“It became so worse that I have been sleeping at one friend’s place or the other. These are truly trying times for me,” the reporter lamented.
Sadly, he disclosed that the fraudsters’ brutal confrontations and threats to his father as they bombarded his house on February 11, 2017, alongside other frantic calls to the poor man gave his old father a heart attack. He said they openly told his father that his son – the journalist was stepping on their toes and disrupting their source of living of stupendous wealth.  
“My father was rushed to hospital after constant emotional trauma from threats to produce his son or face the bullet. After battling with the illness for some days, he gave up the ghost on March 07, 2017,” he mourned.
Kehinde-Balogun revealed to National Dailies that his father’s death dealt a devastating blow on him. He described it as a death of an innocent man in a country where evil triumphs over good. 
When asked if he would still continue journalism in the midst of his travails, Kehinde-Balogun’s voice was laden with anguish and he quickly let out a long sigh.
As he sobbed like a toddler, declaring: “I think it is time to quit since my safety is no longer guaranteed, though I still love the job deeply. But what is the use of passion for a job that put one’s life on the line while society does nothing to protect one. I can begin to count how many journalists have been so summarily murdered for doing a good job. And the society has moved on as though nothing has happened. My innocent family members are also threatened. It is too much for me to bear.” 
Many stakeholders and concerned Nigerians had in the past, cried out over how the menace was persistently eating the fabrics of the Nigerian society.
It is not just worrisome but disheartening that even many notable musicians who are seen as opinion moulders now sing praise cyber crime’s activities with album titles such as: “Yahoosay”, (literally translated as: only yahoo fraud has it all), “Mofe Chache”, (I want to fraud) “Owo Nikan Lolese” (money at all cost) and so on. 
“Even such musicians that benefited from the spoils secretly rose against me. It’s a clique of fight, and they monitor my phone and location and movements making my life a hell while the security agencies looked the other way,” he lamented.

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About Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a writer with passion for cutting-edge news

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