Public officials using Police to silence, punish journalists–MRA

Media Rights Agenda, MRA, on Monday called on the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mr. Kayode Egbetokun, to put an end to the growing trend of public officials and other powerful individuals using the Police to silence and punish journalists, who publish negative reports about them.

MRA added that the law enforcement agency has become a tool in the hands of such people to shield themselves from scrutiny.

The body in a statement by its Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, in Lagos, said: “Section 22 of the Constitution imposes a duty on the media and also gives it the freedom to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people and it is certainly not the function of the Police to prevent the media from performing this duty or exercising this freedom.

Media Rights Agenda

“The recurrent pattern of the Police being used to impede the media’s performance of a constitutionally mandated function constitutes an egregious abuse of Police powers.”

According to Longe, “It is even more obscene that this abuse of the powers of the Police is sometimes done in the name of the IGP’s Monitoring Unit of the Nigeria Police, thereby bringing the highest office in the Nigerian Police into disrepute.”

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He said in the latest manifestation of this abuse of Police powers, the IGP’s Monitoring Unit in Abuja, in a letter by DCP A. A. Elleman, Head of the Unit, invited three journalists, Mr. Petrus Obi of Everyday NewsNgr, Mr. Ignatius Okpara of the African Examiner, and Mr. Clinton Umeh of Journalists 101, who are all based in Enugu, to report in Abuja on August 14, 2023, to answer to allegations of “criminal conspiracy, cyberstalking, injurious falsehood, conduct likely to cause breach of public peace and criminal defamation with intent to incite” leveled against them by Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe, the Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu.

Longe noted that the invitation followed news stories and articles published by the journalists about happenings at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu, including the closure of the hospital’s School of Post Basic Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in Enugu, both of which Dr. Igwe exercises supervision over.

He argued that it was hard to understand how reports published by journalists in Enugu about a public institution based in Enugu has become a matter over which the journalists are being summoned to Abuja and is a priority for the IGP’s Monitoring Unit in a country plagued by thousands of violent and other serious crimes.

He added that by devoting their energies and resources to chasing after journalists carrying out their constitutional functions, the Police is misusing resources that ought to be used to fight the real criminals, including terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, hired assassins, armed robbers, murderers, human traffickers, rapists, and other violent criminal and diverting such resources to aid personal vendettas.

He said: “Clearly, rather than give a public explanation of his actions in response to the reports published by the journalists, in the best tradition of accountability as a public officer who should be accountable to the people, or initiate civil action for defamation against the journalists to vindicate his reputation, if he believes that he has been unjustifiably maligned, Dr Igwe has chosen to enlist the services of the Police in silencing and punishing these journalists for seeking to hold him accountable and thereby avoid having to account for his actions.”

He explained that MRA’s experience from tracking and documenting such abuses of Police powers indicates that no investigation is ever conducted to verify the truth or otherwise of the stories or articles published by journalists who have been victims of this practice and that upon honouring the invitation from the Police, they are detained for days and forced to apologise to the instigators of their arrest and where they refuse to apologise, spurious charges are filed against them as part of their punishment until the instigators of their arrest are satisfied, whereupon the charges are withdrawn and they are allowed to go.

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Mr. Longe also recalled that on July 27, 2023, Mr. Chinonso Uba, popularly known as NonsoNkwa, a broadcast journalist with Ozisa FM, in Owerri, Imo State, was arrested by hooded armed men believed to be operatives of the Nigeria Police acting on the orders of Governor Hope Uzodinma, adding that Mr. Uba has remained in detention till date without being charged before any court in clear breach of the law which requires that suspects be charged to court within 24 hours of arrest.

MRA called on the Inspector-General of Police, the Police Service Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, and the National Assembly, in the exercise of their oversight functions, to launch an investigation into this pattern of Police abuse of their powers to silence and punish journalists and media organizations carrying out their constitutionally assigned duties and urged the entire media community in Nigeria as well as the human rights community to join efforts to put an end to this ugly development.

It offered to provide a list of journalists from different parts of the country, who had been invited by the Police, including by the IGP’s Monitoring Unit in Abuja, on unfounded allegations of various crimes simply because they published stories and reports about public officials and other powerful individuals revealing different acts of wrongdoing or misconduct to back up is claim of a clear pattern of abuse of Police powers to silence and punish journalists.

MRA also called on the Federal Ministry of Health and other relevant Federal authorities to investigate the happenings at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu as well as its School of Post Basic Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing.

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