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IN DEFENCE OF CIVIC SPACE: SP MATILDA NGBARONYE AFFIRMS ROLE OF POLICE TO PROTECT NATIONAL INTEREST

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By Oki Samson

In the light of the heavy backlash and blames that Nigerians heap on the men and officers of the Nigeria Police at the slightest opportunity, the DPO of Ilupeju division, SP Matilda Umiah Ngbaronye has urged Nigerians to take a different look at their efforts.

She made this clarification during the recent Civic Space Guard Project organized by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Luminate Group, the Open Society for West Africa and the Ford Foundation covered by Members of the National Association of Online Security News Publishers, NAOSNP.

Though, not a member of the panel at the conference, the strong and eloquent police officer, SP Matilda Ngbaronye would not allow her voice to be hushed.

She stood stoutly in defence of her career when she reiterated that the Police was trained to protect national interest and security. ‘On national interest and security, that is what our law asked us to do. That’s what we are trained to protect.

If we get intel, whether it is Ok by you or not, we have to because other citizens who don’t know what you are doing will be affected. For example, if you are protesting on the road, it will affect motorists, so whose right prevails. Where your rights end is where another’s begins. So no matter how bad you think the Police have done, look at the good that we have done. Let’s take away the bias and the pains.’

‘I was here in Lagos as Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, under AIG Hakeem Odumosu (retd) during the Endsars protest and I am going to tell you that the protest could have gone worse because when the hoodlums hijacked the protest, even the people who started it could not do anything.’

The Founder/Director of Research and Policy at Spaces for Change (S4C), Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri however disagreed with the ‘protection of national interest’ view mentioned by SP Matilda Ngbaronye. She opposed ‘the mantra called national security and interest is the most popular refrain used to justify attacks on the media’ in the Civic Space Guard Project themed ‘Hushed Voices and the media’s defence of the civic space’.

Ngbaronye who was former Deputy Police PRO at the Lagos State Command during the tenure of AIG Hakeem Olusegun Odumosu faulted, ‘Everybody that has come out has given a speech against the Police. I know about human rights and freedom of speech. You have said the rights are being trampled upon by Nigeria Police. People are pointing at the many things the Nigeria Police has done wrong but nobody has highlighted the good things that they have been doing.’

The PR-savvy police officer who drew standing ovation and applause for the Nigeria Police in the audience-participatory event added: ‘Yes, you need to fight for your rights and it matters a lot but let me tell you why you need to inform the Police to organize a protest, and know that it is peaceful protest that is allowed. Imagine that 5 groups want to protest in different locations in Lagos, how do we know if you don’t inform the Police and how do we protect you if you don’t tell us when we are not magicians?’

‘During the Endsars protest, for example, we were not told that the agreement to protest was a unanimous decision. Everybody uses the toll gate – motorists, people walking – and you decided to shut down the tollgate and some people were aggrieved and complained.

There was an advice to use a part and the Police will be there so that if anybody comes to hijack, we will handle it but the protests became violent, lives were lost, police officers’ lives were lost and till date, even in this gathering, nobody has mentioned the story of the police officers that died. Also innocent citizens lost their properties because of a wrong move.’

Affirming his stance on peaceful protests, social media influencer Debo Adedayo aka Mr. Macaroni who spoke at the conference noted: ‘Like I have always said, we are not enemies of the Nigeria Police. We only demand that they treat the people with civility, dignity, and respect. That’s all we demand. Nigerian government has violated rights to life, freedom of expression, movement, and protection of lives and property of the citizens.’

Also, lawyer and human rights activist, Barr. Inibehe Effiong remarked: ‘For Police, we are not against you. I have a brother who is a Police officer, I have members of my family in the military. But the problem we have with the Police is that even when you are fighting for their rights, they are still trying to kill you.’

Posing a different view, Head, Weekend Crime Desk of The Nation Newspaper, Mr. Olukunle Akinrinade pointed out that evacuating protesters because of a purported infiltration is nebulous. ‘Intelligence should be explicit enough. We have nothing against the Police but we have something against the authority. When you are not civil to me, do you expect me to be civil to you?’

Advising Nigerian youths and the entire citizenry, ‘We all know that something is wrong from all parties and stakeholders.

Please if you want to do a protest, let the security officers know. Tell them we want to protest, we want to do it here, and we need security. If you don’t tell them, they won’t know. I don’t know if we will tag it permission or information, whichever one you use because your own lives and properties need to be protected.

Next time, when we want to fight for our rights, let us do it the right way. Now Twitter is back, the manner in which you fight for your right goes a long way to determine the attention you get’, SP Matilda Umiah Ngbaronye concluded.

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