Three Enugu-based journalists, Petrus Obi of Everyday NewsNgr, Ignatius Okpara of the African Examiner, and Clinton Umeh of Journalists 101, have been invited by men of IGP’s Monitoring Unit in Abuja after they authored stories about the conditions of Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital and Mental Health Nursing in Enugu State.
According to Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the journalists, in a letter signed by DCP A. A. Elleman, Head of the IGP’s Monitoring Unit Unit, were expected to appear before the police today.
The journalists were invited to answer questions bordering on allegations of “criminal conspiracy, cyberstalking, injurious falsehood, conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace and criminal defamation with intent to incite…” levelled against them by Dr Monday Nwite Igwe, the Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu.
They had authored stories 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, both of which Dr Igwe supervises.
According to MRA, journalists have been invited over the time and often forced to apologise to the instigators of their arrests. Where they refused, “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against them as part of their punishment until the instigators of their arrest are satisfied, whereupon the charges are withdrawn and they are allowed to go.”
MRA CONDEMNS THEIR DETENTION, SAYS POLICE NOW A SHIELDING TOOL FOR PUBLIC OFFICIALS
Reacting to the incident, MRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Ayode Longe argued that 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. 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.”
“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,” he added.
He argued that in a nation where there are thousands of violent and other serious crimes committed every year, it is difficult to comprehend how reports written by journalists in Enugu about a public institution located in Enugu have turned into an issue for which the journalists are being called to Abuja.
The MRA boss added that by devoting energies and resources to chasing after journalists carrying out their constitutional functions, the police are 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.
“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 stated.
Publisher of WikkiTimes, Haruna Salisu Mohammed and one of his reporters, Idris Kamal Ibrahim, were in 2022 detained without legal cause for 48 hours at the Bauchi Police Headquarters.
While in custody, they were assaulted by high-profile criminals at the direction of the Bauchi police. This came after WikkiTimes reported on the threatening messages received by Hussaini Musa Gwaba, the late chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Bauchi State, prior to his mysterious death.
The details surrounding his death remain a mystery, but WikkiTimes’ investigation revealed that federal lawmaker Yakubu Shehu Abdullahi was unhappy with Gwaba’s appointment as party chairman. Abdullahi subsequently filed a petition with the Bauchi State Police Command against WikkiTimes, resulting in the unlawful detention of Haruna and Kamal. They were criminally charged with cyberstalking but were later released on bail by Magistrate Baba Sekoni Abdulfathi, and the case is still ongoing in Bauchi.
Earlier this year, Haruna was also arrested by Bauchi police operatives while covering the presidential election at Duguri, Alkaleri LGA.
The MRA boss also recalled that on July 27, 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 the State Governor, Hope Uzodinma. He added that 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.
These are a few of many cases of abuse of power and illegal detention of journalists by police operatives acting on the order of some politically exposed persons.
MRA SEEKS INTERVENTION OF IGP
The rights group, however, called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, to put an end to the growing trend of public officials and other powerful individuals using his officers to silence and punish journalists who publish reports about them.
It noted that the law enforcement agency has become a tool in the hands of such people to shield themselves from scrutiny.
“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,” the statement read.
It stated further that it could “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.”