On December 29, 2021, some mobile policemen attached to the Police Special Fraud Unit (SFU) in Lagos manhandled Mr. Toni Ufoh, a reporter with The Punch newspaper, who had gone their office to interview some prospective tenants allegedly defrauded by a developer, Mr. Adewale Tunde. The policemen also deleted pictures he had taken of the victims from his smart phone which they confiscating along with his identity card.
Toni had gone to the SFU offices to interview the defrauded prospective tenants and was speaking with some of the victims within the SFU premises when he was confronted by the policemen, who accused him of filming the SFU building. They manhandled him and seized his smart phone and identity card.
Recounting his experience, Toni said, “About three policemen, one in camouflage and the others in mufti, approached me as I was speaking to one of the victims of the fraud at the SFU office gate. They asked to see what was in my phone and I explained to them that I was a journalist and I came to interview some of the victims of the housing scam. They demanded to see my identity card, which I promptly showed them. Immediately, they seized it and took me to their security post.”
“One of them searched my phone for the recorded video but could not find any, so he checked the picture folder where he saw a picture of the fraud victims where they had gathered, and he deleted it.”
“Despite appeals made to the officers by the fraud victims, some of whom informed them that I was a journalist who only came to interview them, they failed to return my phone and identity card after waiting for several hours. The policemen took me to their office and threatened to lock me up with criminals who would deal with me severely.”
When the acting Punch Metro Head, Samson Folarin, spoke to one of the officers on phone and urged him to release the items as the reporter was only doing his job, the unnamed officer said the SFU Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Zango, approved of the attack on the reporter. He asked “What warrant him to come here and interview people?
“We have already informed the CP; the CP is already on his way over the matter. We don’t know what can happen. This was how they burnt our stations. What makes him come to interview or video on police premises?”
When all efforts made to retrieve Toni’s gadgets failed, The Punch Newspapers petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba, over the attack.
The petition by Punch Editor, Ademola Oni, dated December 30, 2021 condemned the “unwarranted, provocative, uncivilised, crude and barbaric attack” on the reporter.
Charging the IGP to intervene and sanction the errant policemen, Ademola said attacks on Punch journalists by men and officers of the Nigeria Police Force had become frequent.
The petition said: “We also demand that these overzealous policemen be punished for taking the laws into their hands by attacking an innocent Nigerian, obstructing a journalist from carrying out his lawful duty, and dragging the image of the Force in the mud through their crudeness and brazen display of their self-imposed power.”
But the SFU spokesperson, Eyitayo Johnson, who had earlier claimed ignorance of the attack, said the report of the attack on the reporter was a ploy to whip up public sentiments.
Eyitayo said in a statement that the reporter did not get approval from the office of the public relations officer before doing his job.
According to Eyitayo, “He was observed to be taking pictures of personnel and visitors to the unit, video-recorded the activities within the unit for (close to an hour) and even conducted interviews of complainants in a case under investigation.
“All these were done without obtaining authorisation from the management of the unit or the simple courtesy of liaising with the office of the Public Relations Officer.”
The seized items remained with the operatives for six days before they were returned.