Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has accused Police authorities in Adamawa State of condoning and encouraging crimes against journalists following the failure of the State Police Command to arrest and prosecute men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who invaded the State secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Jimeta on April 2, 2020, where they brutalized a dozen journalists, illegally arrested and detained them at the SARS detention facility.
In a statement in Lagos, MRA gave Police authorities 14 days to arrest and initiate criminal proceedings against the SARS agents involved in the incident, failing which, the organization said it would issue a formal report to the United Nations Secretary-General and request him to bring the matter to the attention of the UN General Assembly so that appropriate action can be taken against Nigeria for crimes against journalists in violation of several UN instruments.
According to MRA’s programme director, MrAyodeLonge, at about 6.28 pm on April 2, the Officer in Charge of SARS in Adamawa State reportedly went to the state secretariat of the NUJ where he met reporters in the process of filing news reports to their different media organizations, using the internet services at the press centre due to the closure of business centres around the city.
Shortly after arriving at the press centre, the SARS officer started making phone calls and a few minutes later, six Toyota Hilux vans filled with heavily armed police operatives invaded the press centre and started beating and forcing journalists into the vehicles. In all, 12 journalists, including the state chairman of the NUJ, Mr. IshakuDedan, and 11 other journalists were taken to SARS’ detention facility where they were detained.
The journalists were, however, released after two hours in custody on the orders of the State Commissioner of Police, Mr AuduAdamuMadaki, who also directed the police officers involved in the arrest to apologize to the NUJ within three days.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the failure of the Police authorities to sanction its officers for their egregious action, Mr Longe said: “By failing to take any punitive or disciplinary action against the police officers involved in the outrage, the Police authorities have ensured impunity for crimes against journalists in breach of Nigeria’s international commitments and obligations, a situation which is bound to encourage similar action in future as it sends a message to policemen everywhere that there will never be consequences for them for such unacceptable behaviour.”
He noted that there was no justification whatsoever for the Police officers to have gone to the NUJ secretariat because when President MuhammaduBuhari announced the lockdown in response to the Coronavirus on March 30, 2020, he was clear that it would only apply to Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun States and specifically exempted journalists and media workers from the lockdown.
In addition, Mr Longe said, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, went further to clarify that journalists and media workers only needed to show their identity cards and should be allowed to go about their professional duties freely to access places of work and assignment venues during the COVID-19 lockdown.
He remarked that “It is ironic while SARS operatives were brutalizing and arresting journalists who were apparently engaged in their professional pursuits at the NUJ secretariat, a place of business for media professionals, on a false allegation that they were socializing, a birthday party for one of the police officers was actually going on at about the same time at the police officers mess located on GaladimaAminu Way in the same town with over 100 people in attendance.”
Mr Longe contended that given the facts and circumstances, it was apparent that the police officer who led the invasion of the NUJ secretariat, was nursing a grudge against journalists and merely used the lockdown as an excuse to launch an unwarranted assault on the NUJ Secretariat and the journalists he met there.
Observing that such attacks on journalists had become too rampant, he re-echoed last month’s joint statement by Mr David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression; Mr Harlem Désir, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and Mr Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; to the effect that “the right of access to information means that governments must be making exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists, as journalism serves a crucial function at a moment of a public health emergency, particularly when it aims to inform the public of critical information and monitors government actions.”
Mr Longe called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, to restore discipline within the Force, saying the constant resort by policemen to brutalizing journalists and other innocent citizens with impunity was no longer acceptable.