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Under IGP Kayode Egbetokun’s Leadership, Nigerian Police Worse Off As Media Oppression Tool

IN the last six months, more than 24 Nigerian journalists have faced a form of harassment while carrying out their constitutional duties. Officers of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), under the leadership of the Inspector General (IGP) Kayode Egbetokun, were the most prominent perpetrators, accounting for nearly half of the verified cases of harassment.

President Bola Tinubu appointed Mr Egbetokun as acting IGP in June last year, and the appointment was subsequently confirmed by the Police Service Commission (PSC) in October.

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On Mr Egbetokun’s watch as the IGP, the police officers have harassed and intimidated journalists without consequences – and he has been loudly silent about it.

Most of the press attacks have followed a similar pattern and continued unabated.

No officers involved have been sanctioned or reprimanded, which many journalists and activists believe could have encouraged the police to carry out even more harassment.

The attacks range from arbitrary arrests, detention and invitations for no genuine reason. In many cases, the police invoke the Cybercrimes Act, which security agencies, particularly the police, sometimes instigated by influential people within and outside government, have used to clamp down on journalists and activists despite its recent amendment.

In February, the National Assembly amended sections of the law after the ECOWAS court declared them inconsistent with Nigeria’s obligation under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and best practices.

ECOWAS Court of Justice in session.

Section 24 of the 2015 law, used to prosecute citizens for “insulting” or “stalking” public officials, has been amended in the updated version – the Cybercrimes Act 2024. The amendment better clarifies the offence the provision is aimed at as computer-based messages that are pornographic or knowingly false. Yet, the police have continued to use it to harass journalists.

Worried by the persistent harassment of journalists, a Nigerian newspaper, ThePunch, noted the worrying development echoes “military-era media clampdown“.

Attacks on journalists

The police have been involved in at least 11 recorded attacks on journalists this year, according to Press Attack Tracker, a project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).

The organisation has verified and recorded at least 24 cases of attacks of various forms on journalists carrying out their constitutional duties as guaranteed by section 22 of the Nigerian constitution.

The continuous harassment of journalists would impact the overall quality of Nigeria’s democracy, said CJID’s Deputy Director, Journalism Project, Busola Ajibola.

Busola Ajibola, gender inclusion advocate and the Deputy Director, Journalism Program at CJID
Busola Ajibola, gender inclusion advocate and the Deputy Director, Journalism Program at CJID

Mrs Ajibola, who oversees the Press Attack Tracker, worries the persistent intimidation of journalists may force them to self-censor themselves from indulging in critical investigative reporting.

“When journalists withdraw into self-censorship, and they feel deterred from investigating and reporting on very critical issues on corruption, human rights abuses, lack of transparency, we would see a very serious impact of their withdrawal on the quality of the democracy that we are practising,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson for the Nigerian Police Force, Olumiywa Adejobi, a chief superintendent of police, he asked that the reporter text him.

Weeks after our reporter sent him the text, Mr Adejobi has yet to respond to the questions our reporter asked him in the message. He has yet to respond to another reminder sent by our reporter on Monday.

Tales of harassment, arrests and detention

One Thursday afternoon in May, a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Emmanuel Agbo, received a strange phone call from a police officer from the Intelligence Response Team (NPF-IRT), a police formation directly under Mr Egbetokun.

The police officer at the other end of the phone identified himself as Ezemba Ezekiel and asked the reporter to come over to the IRT office to clarify a petition written against him.

The police officer would later, on request, send a formal invitation letter to Mr Agbo, inviting him over a yet-to-be-published story about a land dispute in Abuja.

Though the newspaper’s lawyer honoured the invitation in Mr Agbo’s stead, it was clear that the police officer only wanted access to the evidence the reporter had gathered for the story and how he sourced them.

Arrests based on petition

Before Mr Agbo’s case, a journalist with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Nurudeen Akewushola, faced similar harassment.

The police detained him alongside the Executive Director of the ICIR, Dayo Aiyetan, over a story he published. The story, which detailed how pieces of land allocated for the construction of police barracks were illegally sold, also accused two former inspectors-general of police and other senior personnel of the force of bribery.

Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director, International Center for Investigative Reporting (Abuja, Nigeria)
Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director, International Center for Investigative Reporting (Abuja, Nigeria)

During interrogation, Mr Akewushola noted that the police’s interest was in his sources as they specifically asked him to reveal them. He declined to reveal the sources in adherence to journalistic ethics.

In May, another journalist with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Daniel Ojukwu, was ‘abducted‘ by the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre (NPF-NCCC) and held incommunicado for about two days at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Lagos before his family located him. Mr Ojukwu spent nine days in police custody in Lagos and Abuja before he was released.

Like Mr Akewsushola, Mr Ojukwu’s ordeal was triggered by a petition written against him for a story he wrote. The journalist had authored the story detailing how the Office of the Special Assistant on Sustainable Development Goals (SSAP-SDGs) to former President Muhammadu Buhari allegedly paid N147.1 million to a restaurant to build classrooms in breach of Nigeria’s procurement laws.

Reducing quality of democracy

Mrs Ajibola of the CJID feared the adverse effect the attitude of the police would have on the country’s democracy.

She said the police’s intimidation of journalists might force journalists to over-self-censor themselves from writing critical investigative reporting.

She noted that the IGP’s silence on the police has emboldened his officers to continue to harass journalists.

“Nobody punishes them. Nobody penalises them. Nobody is fined. Nobody is questioned. So they’ve gotten so emboldened that they are now inviting a journalist for a yet-to-be-published report. I have never heard of it that you invite a journalist for a report that is yet to be published,” she added.

In the absence of sanctions, the police have continued their attacks on the press.

More harassments

Around 2 p.m. one day in January, personnel of the NPF forced themselves into the studio of a television station, ABN TV and arrested a guest, Donald Udensi, featuring on a live programme.

The police, in the process, damaged the station’s broadcast equipment, including a laptop, camera, and microphones, the Director of the Radio and TV station, Ifeanyi Okali, said.

The police claimed that Mr Udensi’s older brother had written a petition against him over a family matter.

“Despite repeated pleas by our staff to the officers to allow the programme to come to an end before the guest could be arrested, they insisted (on) whisking him away while the live programme was on,” Mr Okali said.

“We find this very provocative and indeed an act of overzealousness by the officers who obviously acted in clear contravention of the rule of engagement.”

In February, Kasarahchi Anaigolu, a reporter with The Whistler newspaper, set out to monitor a police raid on Bureau de Change operators at the Wuse Zone 4 area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Before she could record the raid with her phone, the police threatened, assaulted and arrested her.

“I have been arrested, and I am at the SARS headquarters (FCT Anti-violence Crime Unit). I was arrested for recording the raid on the Bureau de Change guys,” the reporter raised the alarm in a series of voice messages to her editors on WhatsApp.

In another case, on a Wednesday evening in May, stern-looking operatives of the NPF stormed the home of Madu Onuorah, the Editor-in-Chief of the Globalupfront Newspaper. They whisked him away, leaving his wife and children in panic.

Without access to families or his lawyer, Mr Onuorah was transported over 400 kilometres to Enugu State, where he was questioned and finally released.

The Enugu State Command’s spokesperson, Daniel Ndukwe, said Mr Onuorah’s arrest was due to a petition a United States-based reverend sister wrote against him over a defamation allegation.

SLAPP cases

Meanwhile, other journalists have been hit with Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits for exposing corruption through investigative reporting. SLAPP suits are strategically filed to stop journalists or media houses from further reporting on an issue.

Journalists of the Informant247, a local newsroom in Kwara State, are some of those.

On 7 February, police charged four journalists of the platform with conspiracy and cyberstalking under the infamous Cybercrimes Act and defamation under the penal code, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) reported.

They included the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, Salihu Ayatullahi, and the Managing Editor, Adisa-Jaji Azeez. The rest are Salihu Taofeek and Taye Damilola.

The platform published two stories authored by Messrs Azeez and Damilola alleging corruption in implementing projects at the Kwara State Polytechnic.

The police had earlier detained Messrs Azeez and Ayatullahi after they responded to an invite by the police headquarters in Ilorin, Kwara State, following a complaint from the rector of the polytechnic, Jimoh Mohammed. A magistrate’s court granted both journalists bail after their lawyer raised a fundamental human rights issue.

‘Not a human right friendly IGP’

IGP Egbetokun is not a ‘human-right friendly’ Inspector General of Police, and activist and lawyer Deji Adeyanju said.

He said the police under Mr Egbetokun have become a tool used to intimidate and harass journalists.

Rights activist and Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju
Rights activist and Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju

He said the police, created by colonial masters as a tool of oppression, have not gotten over that mentality of bullying, intimidation and harassment.

Mr Adeyanju said that although police harassment may weaken the morale of journalists, the major challenge is its adverse effect on Nigeria’s democracy.

“It’s regrettable and unfortunate that, although his tenure is about to come to an end, he will be remembered for all the various human rights abuses that the police have been used to carry out, which include suppressing and intimidating journalists in the country,” he said.

Rebranding, educating the police

Mr Adeyanju said the police had suffered “almost everlasting reputational damage in the country”.

He noted that the conduct and attitude of the Inspector General of Police concerning issues of public interest impacts how citizens perceive the police.

He added that the police need to rebrand by focusing more on actual policing to earn the people’s trust.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ajibola said there’s a need to educate the police force about the role of journalism in a democracy.

She noted that even high-ranking police officers do not know the role of journalists in a democratic society.

“If at the high ranking of the police, they think that a journalist –for performing an accountability role that the constitution has obligated him or her to perform– if they think that person is a criminal or they think that person is a suspect, then we have a problem,” she said.

She said civil society organisations and the media must jointly engage the IGP to help him understand how the security agencies perceive the media.

“Do they even see the media –people who do investigative reporting– as performing a constitutional obligation for which they have to be protected, not arrested? If they don’t, then we need to educate them,” she added.

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