17 February 2013

Nigeria: How Attack On Polio Workers Landed Kano Journalists in Court

Kano — The attack on polio vaccinators in Kano last week, leaving 10 health workers dead, brought to a sad end a four-day campaign exercise to eradicate the disease. But for two journalists working with the Wazobia FM station in Kano, the attack marked the beginning of their travails.

Last Thursday, a Magistrate's Court sitting in Gyadi-Gyadi area of Kano metropolis granted bail to two staff of Wazobia FM station in Kano, two days after they were first arrested for allegedly inciting the killing of polio workers in the state, through a programme aired by the station.

Yakubu Musa (presenter), Mubarak Sani Muhammad (reporter) and the former director general of Kano State Films Censorship Board, Alhaji Abdubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, were arraigned on Monday February 11, 2013 by the police to answer allegations of criminal conspiracy, abetment, inciting disturbance, intentional insult, obstruction, defamation of character and injurious falsehood, contrary to Sections 97, 85, 114, 399, 148, 392 and 393 (1) of the Penal Code. They all denied the allegations.

The court was told that Rabo had on February 4, refused to allow polio officials immunize his children and when the district head of Tarauni Local Government went to find out his reasons the next day, he conspired with the two journalists who aired a local programme called "Sandar Girma" and discredited the polio immunization program, defamed the character, reputation and personality and insulted the district head in addition to instigating the attack on the polio officials.

The court had adjourned ruling on the bail application brought by the defendants' lead counsel, Musa Aliyu, to February 14, 2013 and ordered them to be remanded in police custody.

The court further ordered that they should be given unconditional access to their lawyers and members of their families, in addition to all constitutional rights as provided by the Nigerian Constitution for accused persons, while in police custody.

When the bail application came up for ruling Thursday, Senior Magistrate Ibrahim Bello admitted them to bail in the sum of N100,000 each and two reliable sureties.

The trio was first arrested by the police on Sunday on allegations that they packaged and aired a programme in the radio station inciting the killing of the polio workers in the state. Also arrested by the police over the allegation was a veteran journalist and head of the stations local content, Muhammad Suleiman Gama.

Confirming their arrests on Monday, the station's head, Malam Sani Bello Kankorofi, told Sunday Trust that the police had sent an invitation letter to the radio house, asking its three staff to report to the police headquarters.

He said the police detained the staff as they arrived the police headquarters, without informing them reasons for their arrest.

The younger brother of Rabo, who also confirmed the arrest to our correspondent over the phone, said his brother was fasting when he was detained, adding that "when we brought him food to break his fast, they refused to allow him to eat and turned us back." He said at a point, the police threatened to shoot them.

Hours later, the state commissioner of police, Ibrahim K. Idris, confirmed at a press conference that the police was holding four suspects for inciting the attack on polio workers, saying, "It is not an issue of journalism; it is an issue of suspects of criminal intent. When investigation is completed, we will brief you on it."

Kankarofi, however, told Sunday Trust that the arrest of the journalists was politically motivated, drawing analogy from an attack on policemen escorting polio officials in the state in October last year.

"We have asked their accusers to tell us which programme was aired to warrant the attack on policemen escorting polio workers recently and they could not answer," he said.

He recalled that their reporter, Mubarak, had been assigned to interview Rabo on marital practice said to be common with members of the latter's extended family.

"While the reporter was inside Rabo's house interviewing him, some people started knocking violently at the door and when they came to check out, they met the district head of Tarauni, the Interim Management Officer of Tarauni in the company of polio officials and PDP thugs," he said.

He said an altercation ensued between Rabo and the visitors, which the reporter tried to record. "It was at that point that the district head of Tarauni ordered the PDP thugs to beat up the reporter," he said. "They seized his recorder and handset and wiped out all the contents, including all the files we recorded since we began operation in Kano."

The station head further explained that immediately after the alleged assault, the station's management accompanied the reporter to Farm Centre Police Station, located nearby to file formal complaint. "We reported the case to them and the DPO told us that he was not even aware there was polio exercise going on," he added.

Kankarofi explained that when Yakubu Musa went to retrieve the reporter's gadgets at the Kano State government house, he was almost attacked by thugs.

It was after the alleged attack on the journalists that Musa presented a programme called Sandar Girma, for which they were arraigned in court.

The station's head disclosed to Sunday Trust that after airing the said programme, Kano State deputy governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, visited the station and pleaded with the management to stand down its scheduled repeat, which it obliged.

Kankarofi noted that the deputy governor gave them an appointment to "address" the controversy. "Gama, Yakubu and I went and sat down with the deputy governor, who was in the company of the commissioners of health, women affairs and other government officials," he recalled.

"We discussed the matter elaborately and pointed out to them, areas they should improve on, in the fight against polio. We specifically told them that there was no adequate enlightenment campaign and suggested to them to introduce certificates that can show who has been vaccinated or not, so that effective monitoring can be achieved.

"They accepted all our recommendations and promised to sponsor enlightenment campaigns for six months period. The deputy governor also pledged to foot the medical bills of our staff that was to be attacked," he said.

However, he said instead of enjoying free medical treatment, the reporter and his colleagues were arrested. "I think the people who attacked our staff should be the ones arrested," he argued.

Narrating the incident before his arrest, Sani (the reporter) told our correspondent that he was inside the residence of Rabo conducting an interview when the polio officials arrived in the company of the said district head.

"We were chatting with Rabo when the polio team arrived alongside the Interim Management Officer of Tarauni local government, the district head of Tarauni and some thugs I suspect to be PDP members, because they were wearing redcaps. They entered the house and asked us to stop what we were doing. On realizing that altercation had ensued between the two sides, I started recording. When they realized what I was doing, the district head ordered that I be ejected from the house.

"I tried to explain to them, but they refused to listen and threw me out. They also slapped me to a point where I could not make out where I was. My ears went numb," he said.

However, Senior Special Adviser to the Governor Rabi'u Musa Kwankwaso on Media and Publicity, Jaafar Jaafar had denied that the journalist was assaulted, saying no rational person would believe that a respected ruler of the class of the district head could order attack on journalist.

He also denied that PDP members carried out the alleged attack on the ground that any individual can wear a red cap.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had in a statement issued by its Africa Advocacy Coordinator, Mohamed Keita, said it was troubled by the "serious criminal charges lodged against" the journalists.

"We are deeply troubled by the very serious criminal charges lodged against Wazobia FM journalists over a radio programme that raised critical questions about the Kano state government's handling of a polio vaccination campaign," it said, calling on authorities to drop the charges. "Authorities have presented no evidence to substantiate these accusations. The charges against Wazobia FM journalists should be dropped."

Hearing in the case against the three will continue on March 13, 2013, the Magistrate's Court ruled.

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