There is a thick fog of grief at the family residence of Tordue Salem, a Nigerian journalist who vanished a month ago, and only declared dead on Thursday night.
Elizabeth Kuraun, the deceased journalist’s elder sister, was overwhelmed by grief when PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited Godab Estate at the Life Camp area of Abuja, where Mr Salem lived until his disappearance on October 13, 2021.
As family friends and neighbours thronged the house, grief-stricken Mrs Kuraun expressed disbelief over the tragic fate that has befallen her brother.
Mr Salem, until his death, was the Vanguard newspaper journalist covering the House of Representatives.
“I only got to know about my brother’s killing through media reports last night (Thursday),” Mrs Kuraun said.
“There was neither any formal communication from the Nigerian police nor from Tordue’s employer (Vanguard Newspaper) that my brother has died,” the distraught sister of the deceased journalist told this reporter as her eyes reddened in anger on Friday afternoon in Abuja.
Vanguard Newspaper had, on Thursday, broken the tragic news of Mr Salem’s passing, saying details about his death remained “sketchy.”
But by Friday afternoon, the Nigeria Police Force announced that Mr Salem was allegedly killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Police spokesperson, Frank Mba, while parading the suspect, Itoro Clement, a 29-year-old driver, on Friday, said investigation by the Force Intelligence Bureau, led to his arrest.
Mr Clement admittedly confessed during the media parade that he knocked a pedestrian down arround Mabushi, Abuja about 10 p.m on October 13, the day Mr Salem went missing in Abuja.
He said he never bothered to wait to attend to the victim because he presumed he was an armed robber, since, in his reckoning, the area was known to be a hive of criminal activities.
The police spokesperson explained that Mr Clement was driving a 2004 Toyota Camry with number plate BWR 243 BK.
He said Mr Clement confessed to have hit the deceased journalist around Mabushi area in Abuja but fled for fear of being robbed.
The suspect also claimed to have reported the incident at a police check, where he was advised to report himself at the Wuse Police Station in Abuja, but ignored the advice and went home.
Mr Salem hailed from Benue State, North-Central Nigeria.
His remains were found on Thursday, November 11, nearly a month after he was declared missing.
Sources in Abuja, who pleaded anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the issue, told this reporter that they received phone calls from the police on Thursday, requesting to know what clothes Mr Salem was wearing on the day he vanished.
“I received a phone call from the police asking me what clothes Tordue (Mr Salem) was wearing on the day he went missing,” a source said.
A family friend, who visited the Wuse General Hospital morgue in Abuja to ascertain the veracity of Mr Salem’s death, said the remains depicted “someone who was physically tortured to death.”
The source, who did not want his name mentioned, disclosed that upon enquiries, morgue attendants “informed us that Mr Salem’s corpse was brought to the Wuse General Hospital on the day without providing details of the said date.”
On the issue of the deceased journalist’s identity, he was registered as an “unknown body” despite Mr Salem bearing his Keystone bank debit card, a Union Bank debit card, an ID Card issued by Vanguard Newspaper, an NUJ ID Card, and a temporary ID Card from the National Assembly Media Corp,” the source explained.
Mr Mba confirmed sources’ claims that there were items found on Mr Salem which disclosed deceased’s identity.
He added that the journalist’s remains were found at about 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, 11 November 2021 at the Wuse General Hospital Morgue in Abuja.
This has fuelled speculations amongst Nigerians that Mr Salem might have been murdered, while authorities blame the gruesome killing on an unconnected incident as a cover-up.
When this reporter visited the Wuse General Hospital, Abuja, on Friday, its Medical Director, Sa’ad Idris, was not available for comments.
The unanswered questions
Journalists, who attended the parade, picked holes in the police spokesperson’s explanation concerning the circumstances that led to Mr Salem’s death.
Channels Television reported that journalists asked why the management of Wuse General Hospital (where Mr Salem’s body was found) did not report the incident for long since documents belonging to the late reporter were on him.
This is despite widespread condemnation that greeted the journalist’s disappearance last Month.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abuja chapter, had led a protest march to the police force headquarters in Abuja, demanding the journalist’s whereabouts.
Similarly, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Assembly, where he worked until he went missing, called attention to his plight.
Also, journalists asked if the police were going to include the Wuse hospital management in the prosecution.
The identity of the person who deposited the late journalist’s corpse remains unknown.
Responding, Mr Mba said the police would address issues of negligence on the part of the hospital management,while assuring that the policemen at the Wuse checkpoint on the night of the accident would be held to account after all the facts of the matter have been gathered.
Benue govt kicks
The Benue Sate government has expressed shock over Mr Salem’s death.
Samuel Ortom, the state governor, said “he was pained how the former Vanguard reporter suddenly disappeared but was found dead by unidentified persons in an undisclosed location in Abuja.”
According to a statement issued on Friday by Mr Ortom’s chief press secretary, Nathaniel Ikyur, the “mysterious recovery of the body of the deceased reporter was suspicious and deserves to be thoroughly investigated.”
Mr Ortom appealed to the heads of the police and State Security Service (SSS)
“to unravel the mystery surrounding the gruesome murder of the Benue-born journalist.”
NUJ demands independent inquiry, autopsy
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) FCT Council has tasked the gederal government to empanel an independent probe into circumstances surrounding Mr Salem’s death.
In a statement, on Friday, Emmanuel Ogbeche and Ochiaka Ugwu, chairman and secretary of Council respectively, said they were disturbed by the death of Mr Salem and the account of the police was not in sync with credible investigation.
“The death of Mr. Tordue Salem opens another dark chapter for journalism and journalists in Nigeria and we are grievously saddened by it,” the statement reads.
“While the NUJ appreciates the effort of the police in finding the corpse of Mr. Salem, as a union we are not persuaded by the account of the police as it poses more questions than answers.
It is in this regard that we urge President Muhammadu Buhari to order for an independent inquiry into the tragic end of Mr. Salem.
“The NUJ also demands for an independent autopsy so as to allay the fears of thousands of journalists and citizens across the country that indeed the late Mr. Tordue was a victim of a hit and run driver.”
According to the union, the very fact that the family of the deceased as well as the leadership of the union were not contacted prior to the public announcement of the finding of his corpse remains suspicious as well as the identity of whoever deposited it at the morgue.
The statement expressed the fear that without concrete action and bringing to book those responsible for the dastardly act, more journalists will be in grave danger and further weaken democratic ethos and the ability to hold government accountable.
“The NUJ is deeply concerned that the space for press freedom is fast shrinking, with the authority and political officeholders using draconian laws as well as new measures to silence critical voices and independent media”.
It cited rising threats to press freedom to include authority and political officeholders to harass journalists by smearing critical coverage as fake news and new laws related to digital communication, which would effectively silence journalists from holding government accountable to the people.
The union called on the international community to focus on Nigeria and help to bring to account all those responsible for media abuse, intimidation, harassment and even murder.
Amid growing concerns over the safety of Nigerian journalists, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, lauded the President Muhammadu Buhari-led regime for providing an “enabling environment for journalism to thrive.”
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the officials spoke at an event marking the 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in Abuja.
The duo spoke three weeks after Mr Salem was declared missing in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
Recently, journalists were manhandled and barred from covering proceedings in the ongoing trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) by government security operatives.
Last month during the one year anniversary of the nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality and human rights violations, armed police personnel teargassed and arrested journalists in Lagos and Abuja.
Some of them were arrested at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos during the memorial procession to mark the one year anniversary of the shooting of peaceful #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the location in October 2020.
Despite a plethora of instances of clampdowns on journalists, Mr Malami said the Buhari-led government had helped Nigeria exit the ignoble class of countries with the worst records of crimes against journalists.
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