In Nigeria, those in positions of authority (no matter how small) behave in a manner only associated with the Stone Age. The Nigeria Police Force, an institution vested with the responsibility to maintain law and order, are rather known for brute and most uncivilised force. But it becomes more worrisome when those who are supposed to interpret the law and protect innocent citizens join in demonstrating this brute force. Last Wednesday, six journalists were manhandled by a magistrate and policemen in a Lagos court. PAUL DADA recounts the ordeal.
It was supposed to be a day like all other days. I had at least three matters to monitor in court. The case of the managing director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, over a contempt charge; the case of Francis Atuche, the former big boss of the defunct Bank PHB at a Lagos High Court in Ikeja; and the continued hearing in the trial of Erastus Akingbola of the defunct Intercontinental Bank PLC.
I opted for Akingbola’s case, brought before Justice Habeeb Abiru, while looking forward to getting the information on proceedings from other courts from my colleagues. My intention as I left the courtroom in the company of Francis Iwuchukwu of People’s Daily was to go and write my story. But Gbenga Ade of Raypower 100 FM reminded us that there was going to be a coroner’s judgement regarding deaths allegedly caused by Dangote trucks last year at Berger area of Lagos State.
The venue was to be the Family Court situated within the Magistrate’s Court premises. The magistrate in charge was Mr.
So Francis and I proceeded and joined Shola Soyele of Channels Television and her cameraman who I simply know as Paully, as well as Adewale Busari of Silverbird Television. We moved to the balcony of the building of Family Court complex. There we met Olatunde AbdulWahab of Vanguard r. Other journalists joined us later.
Inside the courtroom, which did not seem to be in session, came the voice of a plump young woman who rudely asked us to leave where we were. The young woman, whom we later identified as Rose, a police prosecutor, was so loud that Busari felt he had to correct her. Busari asked why she should talk to us that way, seeing we were adults.
An argument ensued until a fair-skinned woman whom we later identified as Mrs. A.A. Oshoniyi, a magistrate, rather than douse the flame, fanned its embers further. She went ahead to order a police orderly to arrest Wahab and Busari. In response, Wahab asked if that was the right way to conduct a trial.
A female police officer, Mariam Joseph, swooped on Busari, grabbed his cloth and was about to drag him away.
On the order of the “very powerful” magistrate, Paully the Channels cameraman, who was recording the scenario, was pounced on by Rose. Some of my colleagues tried to prevent the camera from being seized. They, however, seized his tape.
Meanwhile, Wahab, who is the chairman of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC) for Ikeja had contacted the office of the Chief Registrar. He told us to leave so that we could complain to the Registrar.
Suddenly, there emerged other armed policemen who manhandled the journalists. At this time, I was a few yards away from the scene. The female prosecutor, who earlier shouted at the journalists, arrived at the scene in the company of uniformed police officers.
Without asking any question, the police officers swooped on the journalists, beat them with gun butts and drag them on the floor.
One of the police officers, Olakekan Ajayi dealt a heavy blow on Wahab Abdullah of Vanguard newspaper and that emboldened other officers who wasted no time in assaulting the journalists.
"Because you are journalists does not make you above the law.
I will deal with you mercilessly," Ajayi, the police officer, while still raining punches on Wale Busari, shouted.
An unidentified Ajayi’s superior also instructed, "Use maximum force on him."
Few minutes later, the police officers drove the journalists off to Area F police command.
My role in the crisis was mainly to persuade my colleagues to calm down. But I happened to be among the six journalists violently moved into the bus. I was trying to buy a recharge card when I was told I would be among the “culprits.’’ I was forced into the bus in a very crude manner that betrayed the lack of civil education of the police officers.
We were taken to Area F police station in a 14-seater police bus with registration number, Lagos XJ 812 Epe.
The scuffle continued at the Area F Police Command as the police officers further unleashed their anger on the journalists, especially Busari, alleging that we rudely resisted arrest.
Meanwhile, one Shola had called Dele Adeshina, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who arrived at the police station in the company of Sebastin Hon, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria to the office of a police inspector, where we were being held. After some time, we were taken to another office. The Police Inspector made unsavouring remarks about Shola’s dressing, not minding that she is married. And Gbenga’s phone had been seized by the policemen.
We were later made to meet with the area commander, Noah Adesoyin who I must confess was unlike the junior officers in the way he addressed us. Everyone was made to tell their own side of the story. He spent time to remonstrate with the offensive police officers and a social worker who was supporting them.
He, however, said that he could not release us since our arrest was ordered by a magistrate. At this point, Adeshina said that he had called Mr. Adegbamigbe Omole , the outgoing chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch to meet with the magistrate, and that she had agreed to release us.
Omole himself came to the area commander’s office to inform us that the magistrate had ordered that we be let go.
I will not forget that Mr. Adeshina also took time to advise the junior police officers present, on the need to be civil even when carrying out arrests, as it is done in other climes. He wondered why junior officers lack the same courtesy their superiors have.