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ICT4D Week 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018

Damnation of SARS in Nigeria? - ITREALMS

 'Flies that does not exhibit caution, joins the corpse into the grave' African proverb.
Condemnation of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was awash in the media over forceful arrest and harassment of journalists to disclose source of damning report purportedly enmeshed with errors as part of correspondence by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris. REMMY NWEKE in this report wondered if that will bring about the needed change in SARS given the avalanche of undercurrents.

Preamble:
Yes, it started like a drama, every Tuesday, one national redirection; after the siege of the National Assembly the previous Tuesday and defection gale of some Federal legislators, the previous week.
That on Tuesday, while the Nigeria Police arm of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was perfecting the arrest and harassment of Samuel Ogundipe of Premium Times, his Editor-In-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, and Education Reporter, Azeezat Adedigba, the noble office of the acting president, Prof. Yomi Osinbajo, decided on its fate by directing Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris to reform SARS and restrict operations within its mandate, amidst recent social media campaign with the hashtag #EndSARS on its high-handedness in policing Nigeria entity.

Premium Times reporter, arrested:
Ogundipe was arrested over a report on a correspondence sent by IGP Ibrahim Idris, to acting President Osinbajo on the sacked Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, even as Daura was dismissed a week earlier by Osinbajo for illegally deploying DSS operatives to the National Assembly in a show of bully force.

The Publisher, Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, confirmed the arrest of Ogundipe to ITREALMS, and demands by SARS for the source of damning and error-filled report the IGP Idris, sent to Osinbajo on the sacked Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura.

“Premium Times hereby calls for the immediate release of its reporter, Samuel Ogundipe, who was detained on Tuesday by Nigeria Police over a report. On the day the Nigerian presidency was complaining about the excesses of a unit in the police, the same unit was forcing a Premium Times journalist to disclose his source,” Olorunyomi said, stressing that Messrs Mojeed and Ogundipe were driven from SARS headquarters in Abuja to IGP Monitoring Unit at Force Headquarters where Mr Ogundipe was made to write a statement, whereas a Deputy Commissioner of Police at the IGP Monitoring Unit, Sani Ahmadu, was heard directing lawyers to ‘rush to court’ to obtain a warrant to detain Mr. Ogundipe.

Unacceptable abridgement of professional privileges:
Condemning gestapo manner in which the Police took Mr Ogundipe into custody, he insisted on his immediate and unconditional release, labeling the detention as gross violation of his rights, the Nigerian laws and all democratic tenets; and is an unacceptable abridgement of his citizenship and professional privileges.

“This heavy-handed treatment of a journalist against whom no case of violation of the law has been made is an embarrassment to Nigeria and advertises the country as disdainful of its own laws and democratic practice. We wonder what the Inspector-General of Police, Idris Ibrahim, finds attractive in making Nigeria a laughing stock at a time the eyes of the civilised world are on the country as it approaches a milestone in the development of its democracy,” Olorunyomi said, and called on then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to direct the Police to release Mr Ogundipe immediately and unconditionally.

The National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abdulwaheed Odusile, also condemned the arrest of Ogundipe, declaring that NUJ was horrified by the constant harassment and molestation of Journalists by the Police and other agents of the State and requested that such should abate forthwith.

Odusile noted that confidentiality of sources is necessary for good journalism to flourish and Journalists should not be coerced into revealing such sources, insisting on immediate and unconditional release of Samuel Ogundipe and an end to all forms of impunity against the media.”
#FreeSamuelOgundipe hashtag trends gains moment:
About 24 hours later, the Nigerian Police spokesman, Jimoh Moshood denied knowledge of the arrest and detention of Premium Times journalist, Samuel Ogundipe, just as the hashtag #FreeSamuelOgundipe on Twitter trends since Tuesday, August 14, 2018.

Speaking on AIT programme, Kakaaki, Wednesday morning, Moshood, insisted, no Nigerian is beyond being arrested by the police when an investigation is being carried out, and denied knowledge of arrest of Mr. Ogundipe.

“I am not aware of the details of the matter. But what I can say is that any Nigerian, whether a journalist or any member of the public can be invited by an investigating officer to come around so that he or she can clear themselves of any allegations against them. Since you are telling me now, I will find out exactly what is happening,” Mr Moshood was quoted as saying, meanwhile the hashtag #FreeSamuelOgundipe on Twitter has trended since Tuesday with many tweeting at the police.

Outcry against assault on press freedom:
Reacting, the Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, described the arrest, harassment and detention of journalists as a “clear assault on press freedom and a threat to the safety of the detained journalist and his colleagues.”

He reminded Police that 2011 Freedom of Information Act (FoI) in Section 16 subsection C, confers on the media 'Journalism Confidentiality Privileges' and as such should desist from engaging in unconstitutional acts, asserting, “We condemn the arrests and detention of the concerned journalists and hereby demand the immediate release of Mr. Ogundipe.”

Journalists ethically bound to protect sources:
Equally, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Africa Programme Coordinator, Angela Quintal, reacted from Johannesburg, South Africa, saying, “CPJ is gravely concerned  by reports that Premium Times journalist Samuel Ogundipe was detained by Nigerian Police for his report. 

“Samuel Ogundipe must be released immediately without any condition and be allowed to report without fear of reprisal; Journalists are ethically bound not to disclose their confidential sources and the fact that police reportedly arrested him because he refused to name his source is outrageous,” CPJ said, insisting that “Samuel Ogundipe, is a journalist who is protecting his sources, and not a criminal. He must be freed now.”

Nemesis of notorious SARS:
For Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), via its Publicity Secretary, Olumide Iyanda, condemned the arrest of Ogundipe by SARS and harassment of the online newspaper’s Editor-In-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, and Education Reporter, Azeezat Adedigba, both of who have been released.

GOCOP noted with disappointment that the Police action was carried out on the day Acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the restructuring of the dreaded SARS, which is notorious for blatant human rights abuses. Thus, it considered the circumstances of the journalist’s arrest as a damning indictment of the President Muhammadu Buhari Government, which has been accused by several groups and individuals of gross abuse of citizens’ rights.

Ogundipe lauded for professionalism:
GOCOP pointed out that Ogundipe’s commendable refusal to disclose the source of his report is the reason the Police held on to him in flagrant disregard for the Nigerian Constitution, which states that the Press shall at all times be free to hold the government accountable to the people.

Besides, GOCOP condemned the arrest and harassment of journalists in whatever form, urging Nigerian Government to lecture its security agents on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, which confers ‘Journalism Confidentiality Privileges’ on the media, hence, requested release of Ogundipe, other journalists held by the Police and other government agencies without further delay.

Overhauling SARS, Applause for IGP, but …
Though President, Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr. Ona Ekhomu, applauded IGP Idris on adherence to overhaul SARS, whose has become synonymous with human rights abuses, depicts the government was responsive to the concerns and complaints of citizens.

He underscored the fact that new administrative measure centralizing SARS in IGP’s office was a mistaken strategy which will deepen lack of accountability of the unit, and said the problem with SARS is excessively violent behavior which involve brutality, torture, high-hardened extra-judicial murders and so on.

For him, it was a ‘big mistake’ to relocate SARS from FCID to Operations Directorate, pointing out that SARS, as a tactical/detective unit naturally and operationally resides in the Investigations Directorate. Reform, he said, must be aimed at improving process activities, service delivery, and quality of service but reform should never be for its own sake.

“However, due to poor supervision and a culture of corruption, the squad went rogue - torturing, maiming and killing as alleged by the #ENDSARS campaigners and Amnesty International. The strong-arm tactics of SARS has tainted the entire police force and created a gulf between the people and the police agency. That is why people ‘fear’ the police, and refused to give information that could help in solving crimes. Unfortunately, citizen trust and co-operation are vital in effective policing,” he lamented.

Summary:
There is no doubt, SARS has taken an overhaul, which happened after a long time and #EndSARS campaign as well as outcry from all quarters and particularly by the media.

Although the overhaul by the current IGP Idris may not be holistic, there is room for improved relationship between the security agencies and Police precisely and the public, who they claim is their friend. The question is whether the public actually believe in the prism that “Police is your friend” and if they, populace, accepted the friendship claim after all, rather than the fear-induced relationship.

Noteworthy is the allegations of poor supervision and a culture of corruption, which led to the squad becoming a ‘rogue agent’ for torture, maiming and killing.

In addition, is examination of the evident strong-arm tactics of SARS which left Police with tainted gulf between the people and the police agency, and which adversely affected citizens’ trust and co-operation vital for effective policing, so the earlier this is dealt with directly, the Osinbajo dream of reformed SARS to finally damn its highhandedness on citizens may be a short-lived political mirage.


*Remmy Nweke/ED,Ops

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