Journalists Harassed, Intimidated and Forced to Sleep on the Road as a Result of COVID-19 Lockdown

Nigerian Policemen
Nigerian Policemen

In the evening of May 19, 2020 over 50 persons comprising journalists and medical workers were harassed, intimidated and prevented from returning home in Lagos by policemen who barricaded the roads while enforcing the nationwide lockdown and the 8pm to 6am curfew put in place to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus. Some had to sleep in their vehicles while other were turned back.

In the Alagbado, Gbagada, Isheri and Agege areas of Lagos, many journalists and health workers were harassed and either compelled to sleep in their cars at the checkpoints or turned back to their offices.

Among the journalists who suffered the attacks were Brown Chimezie and Femi Adeoti of the Sun Publishing Company, who were harassed and forced to sleep in the vehicles. Some TV broadcasters were also turned back to their offices or made to sleep on the roads.

Another journalist, Martins Ayira who suffered in the hands of the police narrated: “I thought it was a rumour, but when I was maltreated and assaulted by the police in Ijeshatedo area of Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway, I was shocked. I was trying to explain to the officers who barricaded the road and they cocked their rifles warning that I would be shot at I came near them. I made a retreat to my car where I slept till morning. I think the police used the opportunity to showcase their hatred for the media. Even if the IGP gave the directives, why can’t the officers use their discretion to do the job?”

Adding his voice to police attitude, Benjamin Okoh, an online publisher, said journalists are like enemies to the police: “We are endangered species to the law enforcement agencies, especially the police. So, we should not rely on the statement credited to the police. The police should be trusted like the fox. Let’s be very careful and guard ourselves jealously. Don’t argue with the police, if you can’t help it, sleep in the office or at the checkpoint, instead of losing your life through ‘accidental discharge.’

Mr. Chris  Isiguzo, President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), condemned the police harassment of journalists saying he was surprised when he heard about the treatment meted out on journalists pointing out that “Even in war situations, journalists are not shot; they are allowed to do their duty.

He said: “We have reached out to the police high command and the police rescinded their decision. They have put up another press release stating that journalists and other workers on essential duties are exempted. The IGP has cleared the air on the issues and I know the police have an effective and proper channel of communication to pass the message to all police formations.”