The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Usman Alkali Baba, on Thursday, said his leadership of the Nigeria Police Force has zero tolerance for the abuse of the rights of journalists and other citizens, and that it would clamp down heavily on erring officers.
The IGP told a visiting team from the International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria, that the Nigeria Police respects the role of journalists in the development of society, and would collaborate with the media to advance safety, security, human rights, justice and equity in the country while also protecting the rights of journalists.
“The Nigeria police and media are partners and we are both working towards the same goal, though from different prisms,”Mr Baba said. “It is therefore very important to the Nigeria police that while the media goes about its duties, it can do so without fear and in total security.”
“In this regard, let me thank you for coming to the Police headquarters, and I have heard your concerns. Let me also assure you that we shall take firm action against officers who violate the rights of all citizens, but most especially the rights of journalists. Our doors are open, and you can report such violations to us.”
The IGP also appealed for more cooperation from the media to help in creating greater awareness of the role of the police in society.
“We need the help of the media to create more understanding of the role of the police. We need the people to understand and respect boundaries especially during protests and during disasters. We also need journalists to place integrity above sensationalism; we need them to confirm stories and especially causality figures before going to the press so that they do not mislead the public.”
Speaking earlier, the President of IPI Nigeria, Musikilu Mojeed, expressed concern that in the build up to the 2023 general elections, there appeared to be an increase in the violation of the rights of journalists as they are arbitrarily arrested, harrassed and detained.
According to Mr Mojeed: “For carrying out their constitutional duty and upholding the people’s rights to know, Nigerian journalists are routinely harassed, assaulted, arrested, detained, incarcerated and sometimes killed.”
He cited this arbitrariness as the reason for Nigeria’s low ranking in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, stating that Nigeria was ranked 120 out of 180 countries surveyed, scoring just 39.69 points.
“The ranking described Nigeria as “one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested or even killed,” he said.
Mr Mojeed asked the IGP to caution his men and ask them “to stop the practice of allowing themselves to be used by politicians, public office holders and other individuals who happen to be on the wrong side of media reporting. Such individuals should be advised to seek redress in court instead of coming to the police. Your men too should understand journalists’ role in society and desist from attacking them in the course of their work”.
He cited a few instances of abuse within the last six months: “Just last week, two reporters from Daily Trust newspapers were summoned, detained and humiliated for hours by the FCT Command of the police over a March 20, 2022 publication entitled “10 Dangerous Criminal Spots to Be Wary of In Abuja, Lagos.” The journalists were punished for providing credible intelligence for their country’s law enforcement.”
“Earlier on February 24, a detachment of the police arrested, harassed and detained the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, based on a petition by a politician, Ned Nwoko, that his website defamed him and his wife, even when it is clear that defamation is a civil wrong for which Mr. Nwoko could seek redress in court.”
“Last December 13, the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Fisayo Soyombo, was detained here at the Force Headquarters over a story said to be critical of the police”.
Mr. Mojeed, who is the Editor-in-Chief/Chief Operating Officer of PREMIUM TIMES, said “going forward, IPI Nigeria will demand accountability in any case of harassment. For a start, we are opening a BLACK BOOK to document all security personnel and other individuals involved in the harassment of journalists in Nigeria. The records so gathered will be shared periodically with embassies, and all relevant international and human rights groups across the world.”
The IPI Nigeria delegation to the Police headquarters included the body’s Secretary and Treasurer, Ahmed I. Shekarau and Rafatu Salami, respectively, the Chief Operating Officer of Peoples Daily, Dr. Hammed M. Bello, the Chairman of the Editorial Board of Blueprint, Hajiya Zainab O. Suleiman, and the Publisher of Newsdiaryonline, Mr. Danlami Nmodu.
The visit by the IPI Nigeria team to the IGP is the first in a series of engagements with government authorities, as part of efforts to enhance the operating environment for journalists and media organisations in Nigeria.