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Media Rights Group accuses police of conspiring with public figures to muzzle journalists

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Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a prominent media advocacy group, has urged Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, to address the escalating concern of influential figures exploiting law enforcement to suppress journalists reporting negatively about them.

The group alleges that the police have transformed into a tool, allowing powerful individuals to evade scrutiny.

MRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Ayode Longe, emphasized that “Section 22 of the Constitution entrusts the media with the responsibility to ensure government accountability to the public. The police should not hinder the media from fulfilling this role.

The recurrent misuse of police authority to obstruct the media’s constitutional duty is a grave abuse of power.”

Longe further stated, “It’s disconcerting that this misuse of police power sometimes employs the guise of the IGP’s Monitoring Unit, tarnishing the highest office in the Nigerian Police.”

In the latest case of alleged abuse, the IGP’s Monitoring Unit in Abuja summoned three journalists, Petrus Obi, Ignatius Okpara, and Clinton Umeh, based in Enugu, to appear before them. They are facing accusations of “criminal conspiracy, cyberstalking, injurious falsehood, conduct likely to cause breach of public peace, and criminal defamation with intent to incite.”

These allegations stem from reports about the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu, including its School of Post-Basic Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, both under the supervision of Monday Nwite Igwe, the Medical Director.

Longe questioned why Enugu-based journalists reporting on a local institution are being summoned to Abuja. He highlighted the incongruity of prioritizing this case over the backdrop of the nation’s more pressing issues, such as violent crime.

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MRA’s Deputy Executive Director expressed concern that resources meant for tackling serious crimes are being diverted toward restraining journalists from carrying out their lawful duties. He criticized the focus on stifling journalists instead of apprehending violent criminals, terrorists, and other lawbreakers.

Longe noted, “Instead of transparently addressing the media’s reports or seeking legal recourse if defamed, Igwe seems to have chosen police intervention to silence these journalists, sidestepping accountability for his actions.”

MRA’s experience indicates that these instances rarely involve thorough investigations into the journalists’ reports. Following compliance with police invitations, journalists are often detained, coerced into apologizing to their accusers or slapped with dubious charges, which are later withdrawn upon appeasing the instigators.

Recalling a recent incident, MRA pointed out the case of Chinonso Uba, a broadcast journalist, who was arrested by armed individuals believed to be linked to the orders of Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma. Uba remains detained without formal charges, violating the legal requirement for suspects to be charged within 24 hours of arrest.

In response to these concerning developments, MRA called on various authorities, including the Inspector-General of Police, the Police Service Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, and the National Assembly, to launch an investigation into this pattern of police overreach and suppression of journalists.

The group also rallied the media and human rights communities to join forces in combating this unsettling trend.

MRA offered to furnish a list of journalists from across the country who had faced similar unfounded allegations by the police, thereby bolstering their argument of systematic abuse of police power.

Additionally, MRA implored the Federal Ministry of Health and relevant federal bodies to probe the affairs of the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Enugu, including its School of Post-Basic Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing.

(Edited by Oludare Mayowa; omayowa@globalfinancialdigest.com; Newsroom: +234 8033 964 138)

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