Halt the harassment of journalists on election duty

March 25th, 2019

Public discuss arising from the just-concluded supplementary election in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau, and Sokoto states were less than salutary. From the available information, several people lost including voters and party agents their lives, while several others experienced serious attempts on their lives. The obvious facts were that thugs were freely imported from nearby states and freely unleashed on the unsuspecting electorate in the several states, and these thugs dealt lethal blows to law and order, inflicting pain, anguish and blood on the hapless electorate.

However, these orgy of violence were not just restricted to the electorate. Election observers, including gentlemen of the press, were not spared. They were attacked in some instances, in gruesome manner and even detained by law enforcement agents. In some instances, it was reported that some journalists were even “kidnapped” and taken to some remote and obscure places and ordered at gun point to delete all the video and audio recording regarding the violence perpetrated by the thugs, which they had recorded.

For instance, it was reported that the news crew of the Africa Independent Television (AIT) were “kidnapped” by no less a personality than a Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG). The crew was luck that they DIG that “kidnapped” them was genuine, and not one of those fake officers parading about during the elections. They were taken to the Dig’s office in Kano, ordered at gun-point to delete all their video and audio recording and released after two hours in the police gulag.

It should be pointed out that last Friday, the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), ACP Frank Mba, had issued a press statement where he stated that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu had deployed DIG Anthony Ogbizi Michael to Kano State to police the supplementary election along with two other Commissioners of Police (CPs). With the deployment, Kano which is already one of the Zonal Commands of the Police had one DIG, the Zonal AIG and three CPS providing security coverage to the citizenry during the supplementary election. Ironically, it was this same DIG, the highest officer in the rank that “kidnapped” the AIT crew and subjected them to suffer such unprofessional punishment for answering a call to duty. According to the Head of the News Desk in Daar Communications, Mr. Adebayo Boudurin, “our news crew were arrested and detained by the DIG in Kano, who took them to his office, ordered them to delete all they had recorded on gun-point and subsequently released them after two hours, following the intervention of well-meaning Nigerians. The DIG later apologized for the misdead, but we had lost everything we had recorded in the course of that very official assignment”.

Not just the AIT, the TV Continental posted to Kano on same official coverage of the supplementary election equally gave chilly and mind-bugling account of an ugly encounter with thugs. According to them, some thugs had accosted them and told them to move out of the polling area, which they quickly did and all these were done while the police and other security agents were around without them batting an eyelid.

According to the report of The Centre for Democracy and Development’s (CDD), Election Analysis Centre (EAC) put together by its observers deployed to the five states, and tasked with observing and reporting on the polling process, including opening times, accreditation and voting, the collation processes, and the level of compliance of INEC ad-hoc staff, voters, security operatives, politicians and their supporters, and other stakeholders with the 2019 INEC electoral guidelines and regulations, extant electoral laws and international standard for conduct of credible elections, showed they were deeply worried over the quality of the elections.

The report signed by Idayat Hassan, Director, stated that: “The CDD is immensely worried about the quality of elections, in particular, the renewed thuggery and brigandage being visited on the polity by the political class. These shameful acts are not just capable of truncating our democracy but importantly eroding the trust of the citizenry in the democratic process itself”.

It added that “the elections again pointed out the need for a broader electoral accountability framework and in particular, the political will to pursue accountability by the political leadership”, concluding that “it is time for Nigeria and her partners to put an end to electoral impunity if democracy must be preserved”.

The report added: “The new weaponisation of thuggery is extremely disturbing and disappointing following twenty years of uninterrupted democracy in the country. CDD will also want to point out that the way thuggery was instrumentalised in the elections queries the essence of the massive deployment of security agents to guard the polls. In several instances, the security (officials) was reported to have turned a blind eye to the act of brigandage perpetrated by these political thugs.

“In Kano, violence and disruption of polling was widespread as an army of thugs reportedly took over polling activities in several LGAs, including Nasarawa, Dala, Karaye and Gaya. Initial evidence suggests there was a deliberate deployment of political thugs in the supplementary elections, to suppress voters, intimidate officials and skew the polls in favour of some political actors”.

They added: “The 2019 electoral cycle has seen significant intimidation, harassment and attacks on voters, journalists, observers and INEC officials. In the Kano supplementary elections, party agents and thugs intimidated and attacked voters and observers in the course of exercising their franchise or monitoring the process.

A CDD observer in Gama LGA, Gwagwarwa 5 centre, PU 010 A & B, with 756 registered voters was harassed by a sizeable crowd when he tried to take pictures of the voting process. In Gama LGA, KofarMazugal, Masaka Primary School centre PU 051 with 752 registered voters, stones were thrown at our observers to prevent them from observing the voting process. Our observers reported that APC party agents were in large numbers compared to few PDP agents across Kano state. The intimidating presence of political party agents made polling units unsafe for voters and stakeholders alike.

“In Minjibir LGA of Kano State, a journalist from the National Television Authority (NTA) was attacked, and his car was vandalised when covering the polling process. Similarly, political thugs harassed a Television Continental (TVC) crew covering the elections. We also received a reports of an attack on INEC ad-hoc officials and party agents in Zaki Biam, Ukum LGA, Benue state”.

The AUTHORITY totally condemns these attacks and calls for unbiased investigation of these reports. We further add that people who are in the habit of attacking journalists are those who have a great deal to hide. They are the real enemies of democracy and should not be allowed to continue to occupy sensitive positions in the society. If party thugs attacked journalists, it is bad enough, but when a top-ranking security operative takes it upon himself to curtail the legitimate duties of a journalist, it cries of blue murder and should not be swept under the carpet. The DIG and his men need to be thoroughly investigated. Their actions are an aberration and a contradiction to the National Pledge they chant everyday as they begin their daily schedules. People who have no respect for the National Anthem, National Pledge and the Constitution should not be assigned any duty in Nigeria. It’s time we stopped these intimidation and harassment of journalists in the country; especially harassment coming from people bestowed with higher responsibilities.

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