Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a prominent advocate for press freedom, has called upon the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Kayode Egbetokun, to halt the alarming rise in cases where public officials and influential figures exploit the police to intimidate and punish journalists who expose negative stories about them. The organization asserts that this misuse of police authority undermines the media’s crucial role in holding the powerful accountable.
In a statement release issued today by the Communications Officer, Media Rights Agenda, Mr Idowu Adewale in Lagos, MRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, emphasized that the Constitution’s Section 22 not only charges the media with the responsibility of ensuring government accountability but also safeguards its freedom to fulfill this duty. Longe condemned the recurring incidents of law enforcement agencies obstructing the media’s constitutionally mandated function, describing it as an egregious abuse of police power.
Mr. Longe further criticized the disconcerting practice where the misuse of police powers is often attributed to the IGP’s Monitoring Unit, thereby tainting the reputation of the highest office within the Nigerian Police Force.
The latest instance of this misuse involves the IGP’s Monitoring Unit in Abuja, as revealed in a letter signed by DCP A. A. Elleman, the Unit’s Head. The letter invited three journalists – Mr. Petrus Obi of Everyday NewsNgr, Mr. Ignatius Okpara of the African Examiner, and Mr. Clinton Umeh of Journalists 101, all based in Enugu – to appear in Abuja today to address allegations leveled against them by Dr. Monday Nwite Igwe, the Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu. The accusations included “criminal conspiracy, cyberstalking, injurious falsehood, conduct likely to cause breach of public peace, and criminal defamation with intent to incite.”
The allegations stemmed from the journalists’ coverage of events at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, including the closure of its School of Post Basic Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, which Dr. Igwe oversees. MRA questioned the rationale behind summoning journalists from Enugu to Abuja for matters pertaining to a local institution and questioned why such cases take precedence over addressing more pressing issues, such as violent crimes plaguing the country.
Mr. Longe expressed dismay at Dr. Igwe’s decision to employ the police to silence journalists instead of engaging in open dialogue or seeking legal recourse for defamation. He noted that this trend diverts precious police resources away from tackling genuine criminal threats and contributes to personal vendettas.
MRA called upon the Inspector-General of Police, the Police Service Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, and the National Assembly to initiate an investigation into these instances of police overreach, and to ensure the protection of journalists exercising their constitutional responsibilities. The organization urged the media and human rights communities to unite in combating this concerning trend.