If there was ever a country where journalists’ rights are never protected, I think and believe Nigeria is one. As a matter of fact, the provisions made for the press in the 1999 Constitution are ‘old commandments’ that have been replaced by a new set of unscripted rules and regulations.
Prominent among these newly fabricated rules is the one that clearly shows that, as a journalist, your freedom, in terms of covering a protest that is of national concern and interest, is limited.
My first encounter while covering the well-intentioned gathering at the Lekki Toll Plaza to commemorate the second year anniversary of the monumental #EndSARS protests of October 2020 was with a female photojournalist.
She was coughing strongly and severely shedding tears. Yes, we had just escaped two gun shots and tear gas fumes from the police.
“Oh, sorry,” I said to her after we found a shed that we thought could protect us from police brutality.
Like all other journalists who were on ground, I could tell that she was also passionate about covering the protest. From my position, I could see she had taken a lot of pictures at the gathering.
“Are you a journalist as well?” she asked.
“I think some of my colleagues have been taken by the police; I need to go and see them.”
What the journalist, whose name I never got to know, perceived as a colleague’s arrest from afar was actually the harasmment of Oba Adeoye, an Arise TV journalist, by some soldiers.
While Adeoye was being harassed, Eniola Daniel, a reporter with TheGuardian, was being brutalised by the same soldiers. Daniel was beaten up to a point that he suffered a deep cut on his right leg.
Daniel had arrived at the Plaza very early in the morning of October 20 to cover the event. Dutifully and responsibly, he had met with the leader of the police squad and had identified himself as a journalist.
Daniel had thought that by doing that, the police would be “his friend”. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
“I thought there was not going to be any problem since I already identified myself as a journalist but then five overzealous officers dragged me and started kicking me and I fell,” Daniel had said.
“I was assaulted badly. While I was coughing, another policeman was kicking me.”
One of the policemen, who had indiscriminately fired the tear gas in the air to disperse the crowd, tagged Daniel and all other protesters as criminals.
The harassment suffered by journalists at the gathering is another testament to the fact that there is no press freedom in Nigeria. Simply put, journalists are not the “enemies of the people” and the “police are not citizens’ friends”.
We the journalists, having a full knowledge of our constitutional calling as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, will continue to speak and defend the truth. We should not be overcome by forces which are not beyond our power.
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