Lockdown: Confusion as security agents detain journalists, medical workers

Posted by News Express | 21 May 2020 | 348 times

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•IGP Mohammed Adamu

Journalists and medical workers on essential duty in the evening of yesterday, got more than they bargained for in the hands of the Nigeria Police enforcing the nationwide lockdown and curfew put in place to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, as they were harassed and intimidated.

During President Muhammadu Buhari’s last media briefing, he specifically stated those who should be exempted during the lockdown and curfew, including journalists and medical workers who can prove that they could not work from home and as such were exempted from the restriction of movement.

Recently, when the Lagos State Police Command gave a counter-order to overrule that of the Presidency and detained some journalists, there was public outcry that forced the Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu to clear the air that journalists were exempted.

The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), DCP Frank Mba, on behalf of the IGP, cautioned the Lagos State Police Command and the thereafter journalists were advised to carry on with their legitimate duties.

But on Wednesday, the police went contrary to the president’s directives and declared that journalists and other essential workers should be arrested if they breached the curfew restricting movement between 9pm and 6am.

Although there were rumours that security agents enforcing the curfew had been instructed to get tougher and deal with anybody that flouts the order, many journalists were skeptical as it seemed unrealistic that the police who they regarded as partners in progress would go after them like common criminals.

In the latest directive from the police high command to the Assistant IGPs and state commissioners of police across the federation, the IGP was quoted as saying that all essential duty personnel, including the media, must comply with the curfew banning movement from 8pm to 6am.

A police source that spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak with the press, said: “The IGP has instructed a total lockdown. It is expected of every essential duty personnel to comply with this directive. He (IGP) just finished briefing commissioners of police. It had been agreed that those on essential duty must comply with the curfew. We mean business this time around. Journalists and other essential duty workers were exempted, but in the new order, nobody is exempted.

“We have been told that, once it is 8pm, we lock down. We thought it was only on interstate travels, but we have just been informed that it is within the state also. So, nobody is exempted. We don’t know how to manage the issue because those on essential duty comprise medical workers, journalists and others. It is a serious issue. Anyway, police job is one of discretion, and we will apply wisdom. But the IGP’s directive is a total lockdown. It is a tough one.”

There were fears and apprehension over the new order as essential duty workers would be severely affected if their movement were curtailed by the curfew. So, the journalists contacted the FPRO, Mba, who issued a vague statement that did not specifically state whether the media and other essential workers were exempted or not.

He said: “The Inspector-General of Police, M.A. Adamu, has ordered strict enforcement of the national curfew and inter-state movement restriction orders emplaced by the Federal Government as part of measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The IGP gave this directive to the zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and state commissioners of police during a virtual conference held on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

“The conference availed the force leadership the opportunity to engage the strategic managers, assess the security situation in the country, review operational strategies and take decisive measures aimed at evolving customised security solutions to cope with crime trends and other security challenges relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The IGP, while evaluating security reports from various state commands, charged the commissioners of police, particularly in states with recent incidents of attacks on communities, to rejig their security architecture to forestall further attacks and keep the communities safe and secure for the citizenry. The IGP also expressed concerns over reports bordering on human rights infractions between the public and personnel of the force. He, therefore, called for mutual respect between the public and members of the force and charged the strategic managers to place more premium on the supervision of police personnel under their watch.

“The virtual conference is the first by the Nigeria Police Force since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.”

In Lagos, despite the statement, many journalists going home after the day’s work yesterday met a brick wall, as policemen barricaded the roads.

More than 50 journalists and medical workers had to sleep in their vehicles, while some were turned back; some vehicles were impounded for violating the lockdown and curfew order.

The journalists, including Brown Chimezie and Femi Adeoti, staff of the Sun Publishing Company, were harassed and forced to sleep in the vehicles. Some TV broadcasters were also turned back to their offices or made to sleep on the roads.

Speaking about the harassment, Martins Ayira said: “It is quite unfortunate that in this age of technology, our police is still in confusion on a simple directive from the Presidency, which specifically stated that journalists and medical workers were exempted from the lockdown and curfew orders. Why must the IGP give a counter-directive  to that of the Presidency; does he know more than the President? I thought it was a rumour, but when I was maltreated and assaulted by the police in Ijeshatedo area of Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway, I was shocked. I was trying to explain to the officers who barricaded the road and they cocked their rifles warning that I would be shot at I came near them. I made a retreat to my car where I slept till morning. I think the police used the opportunity to showcase their hatred for the media. Even if the IGP gave the directives, why can’t the officers use their discretion to do the job?”

In the Alagbado, Gbagada, Isheri and Agege, Lagos, many journalists and health workers were harassed and either compelled to at the checkpoints in their cars or turned back to their offices.

President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris  Isiguzo, has condemned the police harassment of journalists saying: “I was surprised with what I heard concerning the treatment meted out on journalists. We learnt that some of our members were detained at checkpoints. Even in war situations, journalists are not shot; they are allowed to do their duty.

“We have reached out to the police high command and the police rescinded their decision. They have put up another press release stating that journalists and other workers on essential duties are exempted. The IGP has cleared the air on the issues and I know the police have an effective and proper channel of communication to pass the message to all police formations.”

Benjamin Okoh, an online publisher, said journalists are like enemies to the police: “We are endangered species to the law enforcement agencies, especially the police. So, we should not rely on the statement credited to the police. The police should be trusted like the fox. Let’s be very careful and guard ourselves jealously. Don’t argue with the police, if you can’t help it, sleep in the office or at the checkpoint, instead of losing your life through ‘accidental discharge.’

“How come the IGP gave a verbal counter-order to a written one by the Presidency and the order was obeyed without using discretion? It shows that there is more to it than meets the eye. Why did the police issue two different press statements within a few hours?”

In the latest press statement from Mba, tagged “COVID-19 statement of restriction,” the police said: “All essential workers, including medical personnel, firefighters, ambulance services, journalists, etc, are exempted from the restriction of movement associated with both the partial lockdown and the national curfew across the federation.

“The Inspector-General of Police, IGP Mohammed A. Adamu has, therefore, directed all zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and command commissioners of police to give effect to these exemptions while enforcing the restriction orders.” (Daily Sun)



Source: News Express

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