Exactly one year after security forces unleashed deadly violence on protesters, killing a dozen on October 2020, the police in Nigeria have struck again, this time against the press corps covering nationwide processions to commemorate one year of the brutally-quelled #EndSARS agitations. The original protests organised across Nigeria in October 2020 to demand the disbandment of the highly repressive Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Police, was met with a brutal crackdown at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, leaving at least 12 dead.
For the second year in succession, the month of October has turned out to be particularly repressive, with journalists bearing the brunt of a police crackdown on #EndSARS memorial processions across Nigeria on October 20, 2021.
A statement issued by the International Press Centre (IPC), MFWA’s partner organisation in Nigeria, condemned the serial arrests, assaults and harassment of journalists covering the processions.
The IPC named Taiwo Okanlawon, a correspondent of PM News correspondent and the two-man crew of Arise TV, Adefemi Akinsanya and Ope Adenihun, as victims of physical assault by the police at the Lekki Toll Gate. The Arise TV crew was also censored by being ordered to pull down the drone they were using to cover the event. Taiwo Okanlawon was briefly detained by the police who said he had no identification as a member of the press.
Other victims of police abuse at the same venue included Abisola Alawode, a reporter for Legit.ng, an online news portal.
‘It is highly regrettable the security agencies continue to fail to recognise journalists as frontline workers during crisis situations”, Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said in the statement.
A report by Legit.ng said Abisola Alawode, described as a video journalist, was arrested by the police while he was doing a live video coverage of the procession. Backing its account with video evidence, the online newspaper reported that the police bundled its journalist into their vehicle, leaving him no time to produce his professional card as demanded. It quoted Alawode as complaining that he was beaten by the police in the van and that, as a result, he could not see properly with one of his eyes. The journalist was released after being detained for about five hours at the police station.
The Vanguard also reported BBC correspondent Ebere Ekeopara as narrating that the police in Enugu forced her and her cameraman to sit on the floor in the middle of the road after seizing their camera, microphone and other working equipment.
In Osogbo, capital of Osun State, the police barred a correspondent of The Punch Newspaper, Adebimpe Olajiga, from covering the protest.
The security agents also arrested, brutalised and arraigned Daily Post correspondent, Sikiru Obarayase. “Six policemen arrested me at Freedom Park on the instruction of Chief Superintendent of Police, Oyegbade Akinloye, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Dugbe Division, the journalist told The Daily Post.
Obarayase said a police officer hit him with a gun butt when he was taken to the station and was subjected to further abuse at the station when he refused to sign a statement written by the police to indict him.
“Twelve policemen brutalised me during my stay at the station. They threatened to kill me if I chose not to cooperate with them,” narrated Obarayase, adding “I sustained an open wound on my knee, wrist, lost my earpod and some cash. I feel pains all over my body but I thank God I’m alive.”
The police hurriedly arraigned the journalist at the Osogbo Magistrate Court on the accusation of taking an unauthorised video of the DPO during the protest, under Sections 249(5) and 356 of the Criminal Code Cap 34. Laws of Osun State.
The charges were however dismissed and the case struck out by the presiding Magistrate, A. O. Daramola, after the accused pleaded not guilty.
The MFWA calls on the Nigerian authorities to investigate the attacks on the journalists covering the #EndSARS memorial protests and bring the perpetrators to book.