The heavy presence of security operatives at different locations in Lagos State on the morning of the #June12thProtest as I moved round Lagos hinted that the protest would be disrupted — an idea I shook off my mind because I thought the Police would have learned from the tragedies that emanated from the disruption of recent demonstrations. But events that unfolded revealed that security operatives especially the police do not learn.
At the Gani Fawehimi Park at Ojota, Regular Policemen, Mobile Police and their counterparts in the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) arrived before the protesters. Journalists were also waiting for the demonstrators.
‘YOU ARE PLAYING WITH YOUR LIVES’
As my colleague, Gabriel Ogunjobi and I took a tour of the location to strategise on how to effectively cover the protest for FIJ, we suddenly sighted operatives of the State Security Service in unmarked pickup vehicles.
While they looked at us suspiciously, they did not talk — unlike operatives of the CTU who barked at us as we walked by them.
“You are playing with your lives. Better go home,” Ugo Nnakwe, a light-skinned CTU officer shouted as he pointed at us looking irritated.
For a minute, images from the night of October 20, flashed through my mind. I took a mental note to find a safe place to report from when the protest starts because if it was night and Nnakwe had the opportunity, he would kill protesters.
Some policemen led by Isa Yusuf, who claimed to have studied journalism, made attempts to chase away journalists, but we resisted, telling them that we were doing our jobs backed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic.
“What is wrong with you people? Why do you like to intimidate people?” Yusuf asked.
Suddenly, I saw protesters approaching from Ketu on the Bus Rapid Transit Lane. Police vehicles accompanied them on the other side of the road. While policemen at the park stood up, journalists rushed towards the protesters.
PEACEFUL PROTEST, TEAR GAS, PANDEMONIUM
As the protesters chanted and displayed their placards, a policeman, Tunde Adeniran, told them that they should honour him by being peaceful. Some leaders of the protesters assured him of a peaceful protest.
The demonstration continued for a while and in split seconds I saw tear gas smoke everywhere and heard sounds of gunshots. I ran. Everyone scampered for safety. Then the police began chasing protesters.
‘THEY CAUSE PROBLEMS’ – POLICEMEN TO FIJ REPORTER
As I took cover between two kiosks, I watched as police officers pursued protesters. I saw protesters get arrested.
While I waited for the commotion to end, a policeman approached me but went away when I identified myself as a journalist.
Another officer whom I had informed I was a journalist insisted on arresting me when his colleague instructed him to do so.
“Catch that one. Na dem dey cause trouble (they are the ones causing problems),” a policeman said, pointing at me after I identified myself as an FIJ journalist.
Two police officers grabbed and dragged me to their vehicle as I continued shouting that I was a journalist. Ignoring attestations from a reporter that they had arrested a journalist, the policemen threatened to beat me.
DELETE POLICE PICTURES AND VIDEOS
In their vehicle, a police officer insisted I handed my identity card to him before he would take a look at it. I refused to give it to him because from experience, policemen would throw away the identity card and deny you gave them.
The officer demanded that before he would allow me go, I should delete all pictures and videos of the police I took at the protest. I refused, trying to buy time to transfer the pictures and videos on my phone.
“Drop that call. Is it because we are looking at you, that’s why you are making call,” another police officer said as I informed my editor, ‘Fisayo Soyombo, of the situation on the phone.
I was allowed to leave after Tunde Adeniran arrived and told them to release me.
COMMISSIONER OF POLICE’S RESPONSE
When Hakeem Odumosu, the Lagos State commissioner of Police, arrived after the pandemonium had subsided, I asked him whether there was an order to police officers to prevent journalists from covering the protest.
“Nothing like that,” Odumosu said. “Nobody has been ordered to arrest journalists. Tear gas was not aimed at journalists… If somebody out of his own stupidity is telling you to not record tear gas or delete the one you have, your colleagues will have it.
“So there is no instruction to anyone to prevent any journalist from doing his job. Rather, we are to protect you because it is in that protection that you are protecting us.”
The Police Commissioner said that the CTU officer, Ugo Nnakwe, who told FIJ reporters that they were playing with their lives, was “overzealous”.
“In every family there is a Judas, so if any policeman has gone beyond the callings of his duty now, we take action. We have disciplinary procedures.”
The police officers at Ojota allowed journalists freedom to work after the Commissioner spoke. But I was left wondering why the officers needed a direct instruction from their boss to understand that journalists should not be targeted during protests.
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