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Editors, rights group deplore incessant attacks on journalists by security agents

By Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
31 March 2020   |   3:45 am
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned the harassment on Sunday, of drivers of newspaper distribution vans by overzealous security agents in some states...

Journalists. Photo: PIXABAY

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The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned the harassment on Sunday, of drivers of newspaper distribution vans by overzealous security agents in some states.

In a statement by its president and secretary, Mustapha Isah and Mary Atolagbe, the association said: “It should be noted that the media is a strategic partner in national affairs, with the constitutional mandate of providing information to the populace.”

It added: “The body of editors hereby restates that media personnel are rendering essential services and journalists should be commended for carrying out their constitutional mandate of sourcing stories and monitoring compliance with government directives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world, instead of being harassed. 

“The guild, therefore, implores state governments that have declared one form of a lockdown or the other, being measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, to appropriately educate the security agents drafted to enforce the restrictions, on the essential nature of media duties. 

“The guild is worried that some security agents, who may not be sufficiently knowledgeable about the operations of media houses, may find it difficult to determine the categories of print and electronic staff who cannot work from home.

“In the light of this potential friction, the guild is calling on the Nigerian government to exempt all categories of media staff from the COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions and hereby enjoins journalists to carry their means of identification as they undertake their duties, to eliminate the chances of being harassed by security operatives.”

In the same vein, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) yesterday condemned the increasing assaults on journalist by law enforcement agents in the course of their duty. It, therefore, called on the Federal Government to uphold the fundamental rights of the media practitioners.

In a statement, the group’s Programme Director, Ayode Longe, stated: “We are constrained to remind the Federal Government that it has obligations under various international instruments which it has voluntarily acceded to, particularly Article 66(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, to ensure respect for the rights of journalists.

“We are gravely concerned by the rampant cases of attacks by law enforcement and security agents on journalists carrying out their professional duties as well as the obstruction of such duties,” adding: “This situation is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.”

Besides, Longe cited the latest of such ugly incidents to include, “the attack on March 28, 2020 by an operative of the Department of State Services (DSS) on the Imo State correspondent of the Leadership newspaper, Angela Nkwo-Akpolu, while she was taking pictures of a hotel in Owerri where guests were forcibly quarantined by security agents allegedly because the hotel failed to comply with government’s directives on checking the spread of COVID-19.”

In yet another incident, Longe noted: “At about 4.00 am on March 30, 2020, a group of soldiers manning a checkpoint at Mbiama, a border town between Rivers and Bayelsa states, attacked a circulation vehicle belonging to the Punch newspaper, which was on its way to distribute copies of the newspaper in states in the South-South zone, and damaged the car.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has advised media practitioners and workers in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to access their workplaces and beats with valid identity cards during the 14-day lockdown ordered by President
Buhari in the affected locations.

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, gave the admonition in a statement yesterday in Abuja.

He said journalists were to continue providing essential services during the period.