Certainly, there is no love lost between the press and the police in Nigeria. It is no wonder then that the Inspector General of the Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, appears to be at daggers drawn with the press, hounding journalists like criminals. Although the journalist from the stable of Premium Times recently held in police detention, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, has been released, it still rankles that he was traumatised before reprieve eventually came. The eventual release of Mr. Ogundipe was at the instance of the Nigerian Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) petition to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and the bail granted by the court of law. Ogundipe was detained over the publication of the IGP’s letter to the Acting President in respect of the police investigation of the Department of State Services (DSS) siege to the National Assembly in the bid to make him disclose his sources.
The NUJ aptly noted that such hounding of journalists had become a pastime of the IGP, citing the cases of two journalists, Daniel Elomba and Izuchukwu Elomba who were abducted from their homes by Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officials on the orders of the IGP and detained for 10 days over an article allegedly published against the IGP in their online news platform. The case of Abdulahi Krishi, the Daily Trust National Assembly correspondent who was abducted for 24 hours on March 13 by SARS officials was also cited by the NUJ in its petition. Nigerians have also condemned the denial of freedom and manhandling of two journalists, Musikilu Mojeed and Azeezat Adedigba, by the police.
It is difficult to comprehend the logic behind sending an outfit dedicated to combating armed robbery, SARS, instead of the regular force after reporters, knowing full well their usual sadistic style. It would seem that the IGP was actually bent on enforcing the sadistic and tortuous method in order to break the resolve of those he hounded. Pray, why would the IGP equate reporters with armed robbers in a democratic administration? The moves going on for some years now since he assumed office have without doubt detracted from the democratic credentials of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. Although the administration prides itself on being human rights-friendly, the disposition and attitude of the IGP clearly belies such a claim. The police, in concert with security agencies like the DSS, behave without any qualms or restraint. They scoff at law and order.
For instance, it took the change of guards at the DSS leadership to secure the release, last Wednesday, of Jones Abiri, a journalist detained for over two years. Mr. Abiri was detained by the DSS without trial over allegations that he was linked to armed militancy in the Niger Delta. Despite local and international pressure, the Federal Government, through Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, claimed that no journalist was under detention anywhere in Nigeria, and even went ahead to rationalise Abiri’s illegal detention. This is the kind of behaviour that usually precedes a dictatorship and it is now crucially urgent for the administration to review its democratic credentials by repudiating this obnoxious and reprehensible development. The long duration of the incarceration of Mr. Abiri by a supposedly democratic administration beggars belief. His emaciated frame upon being granted bail is a testimony to the poor human rights record of this administration.
It is of course unfortunate that these security agencies have become a law unto themselves as they flagrantly ignore and disobey court orders at will. We commend the NUJ for the courage displayed in its petition, but the petition would have been unnecessary if the right thing had been done in the first place. The resistance to the assault on journalists must be sustained until security agencies realise that they are not to be treated like criminals on the death row, with their fundamental human rights summarily suspended. Even a criminal is entitled to certain fundamental human rights until he is pronounced guilty by a competent court, let alone reporters going about their legitimate duties.
We condemn the manhandling and harassment of journalists by the police and the DSS. Only authoritarian regimes with hideous records resort to this manner of handling journalists and it invariably reveals a cowardly and patently dark agenda in the underbelly of any administration which endorses such inquisitions.