Arrest The Rogues Not The Reporters

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Nigerians must be wondering why the Police arrested Mr Emmanuel Atswen, a Benue State reporter of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), over a report he authored in which he brought to the attention of the public the rot in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp at the International Market in Makurdi, the State capital.

In that report, it was clearly stated that the IDPs had on September 12, protested against alleged continued diversion of relief materials meant for them, and blocked the main entrance into the camp to stop vehicles loaded with the assorted relief materials, from driving out. Instead of acting on the information contained in the report and investigating it to find out who the culprits are, the security agencies are busy muzzling the media who are doing their legitimate duty of exposing Nigerians who are so shameless as to take advantage of their distressed compatriots for pecuniary gains. Efforts in the past to illicitly check journalists along the line of their official duties did not work and it will not work this time. If anything, the harassment of that NAN reporter and, indeed, other journalists out to bring to a halt the inhuman exploitation of the IDPs by officials of government put in charge to attend to their welfare will give wider publicity to the evil practice.

In all the IDPs’ camps, the story is the same. Government officials are diverting relief materials and selling them in the open market. Curiously, some of those materials are branded, yet it has not deterred the thieves from stealing them. The IDPs are going through immeasurable hardship not in the hands of the terrorists who displaced them, that is bad enough but, unfortunately, in the hands of those who claim to be out to assuage their pains. It has become a case of falling from frying pan into fire. Those suffering masses who ran away from terrorists into the arms of supposed friends who are turning out to be worse enemies are asking themselves what went wrong.

International donor agencies have consistently expressed, publicly, their anxieties over the plight of these Nigerians and how officials of government and professional do-gooders masquerading as non-governmental agencies (NGOs) are ripping them off. They have not stopped pointing out the humanitarian catastrophe the IDPs camps have become not because enough materials- food, medical supplies, clothing and other items, were not made available but because corruption is looming large in those camps. Officials operate, syndicate-like, and with tentacles that stretch to the topmost level of the bureaucracy.

That the IDPs decided to take their wellbeing in their own hands by intercepting the outflow of materials meant for them is proof that their frustration is running over. The least they expect from the security agencies and also all Nigerians, including the media, is assistance in the form of bringing the stealing in the camps to a stop. The journalist who reported the diversion believed that he was doing his duty of calling a spade by its real name which is that the camp officials not only in Makurdi but across the country where there are IDPs camps are nothing but incorrigible thieves. The police should arrest and arraign them for who they are. Is it not instructive that the Benue State government had earlier removed one of the camp managers over alleged irregularities?

Also, the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) boss had petitioned NAN, the employers of the reporter, over the same story, demanding N3 billion as damages, even though neither his name nor his agency were mentioned in the report. The appropriate thing to do is for him to continue on that path of due process. Why is anybody resorting to self-help by using the police to intimidate and harass a journalist performing his lawful duties of exposing corrupt practices in government circles in line with the principles of the change agenda of the Buhari administration which has zero tolerance for such malfeasance? If the President himself could not spare his own Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who are those light-fingered imps in the IDPs camps to expect to get away with their misbehaviour?

In our opinion, it is time the government took a holistic look at the issue of the Internally Displaced Persons with a view to solving it on a permanent basis. Its good intentions in setting up the camps as a stop gap measure have been abused and compromised. We think that what the government should do is to encourage the IDPs to go back to their homes and assist them to start life afresh. Keeping them in make shift camps is proving counter-productive especially as those camps have been turned into havens for roguery and cesspool of corruption.