The Nigerian police in Lagos have assaulted a photojournalist and arrested 60 demonstrators during a protest in Lagos as the country marked 60 years of independence on October 1, 2020.
The protest tagged #RevolutionNow and organised by the Coalition for Revolution, was to express citizens' displeasure with recent electricity and fuel price hikes, as well as poor governance. Hundreds of protesters, mostly youth, took to the streets of Lagos, as well as other cities like Abuja and Osogbo, demanding good governance and a reverse to the old prices of electricity and fuel.
"Nigerians are tired of bearing the burden that (President Muhammadu) Buhari keeps piling on us; they must reverse the increase in fuel price. We have made a lot of demands and until they listen to us, we will continue to protest," said one of the protesters, Agba Jalingo, who is also a journalist and victim of harassment by the Nigerian authorities.
About one and a half hours into the protest, it was disrupted by the police who intervened forcefully, leading to one of the leaders of the Coalition for Revolution, Mr Kunle Ajayi, asking the demonstrators to go home. But as the protesters were leaving, some policemen in a patrol van drove into the scene and arrested dozens of them. The security officers also attacked journalists who were covering the event.
In the process, a police inspector named Innocent Adadu, hit The PUNCH newspaper's Olukayode Jaiyeola on the head with a baton. Jaiyeola's colleague at the scene, Deji Lambo, said the former collapsed immediately, with blood gushing out of his head. Lambo told the MFWA that other police officers came and took Jaiyeola to the Police Clinic in Ikeja, the state capital, where his injured head was stitched.
The journalist told MFWA that he was still receiving treatment and had yet to recover from the traumatic experience.
"I'm still trying to get over the trauma and pain. I hope to be fine soon. My camera is still with them and they are telling me they can't locate it," he told MFWA.
Narrating what led to his assault, Jaiyeola said he tried to intervene when a policeman was harassing another journalist covering the protest.
"I saw one of them harassing my colleague and I tried to let them know that he was a journalist. I didn't engage in any scuffle. Before I knew what was happening, a police inspector hit my head with a baton several times. I fell down and blood started gushing out of my head," he said.
Jaiyeola, however, said he was not going to let the incident affect his morale.
The assault on Jaiyeola and arrest of protesters have since sparked outrage. Malachy Ugwumadu, a civil rights lawyer and ex-President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, told MFWA that the police had no right whatsoever to assault anyone, even in the course of arrest.
"According to Section 6 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, there is no power given to the police to assault anyone, even in the course of arrest" the lawyer said. "As a country, we have passed the stage where a policeman will pretend to not know that journalists have the constitutional right to freely express themselves, according to Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution" he added.
The lawyer told MFWA that he was representing the demonstrators who were arrested.
"I'm representing the protesters and as we speak, I'm at the Magistrates' Court at Yaba (in Lagos). We have applied for their bail and processing it," he said.
A civil society organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), also condemned the attack on Jaiyeola and the arrest of protesters.
"Nigerians have every reason to peacefully protest. Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Nigeria has ratified both treaties," SERAP's Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the police have apologised for the assault on Jaiyeola and ordered an orderly room trial of the police officer (Adadu) who assaulted him. In a statement made available to MFWA, the Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Hakeem Odumosu, described Adadu's conduct as unprofessional.
"Preliminary findings carried out by the CP and eyewitness' accounts from senior officers on the ground revealed that the cop suddenly attacked the journalist, without any previous altercation or confrontation. This propelled the CP to order for his trial in order to serve as a deterrent to others who are fond of engaging in unprofessional and unethical conducts," the statement read.
The MFWA condemns the police assault on Jaiyeola, the harassment of other journalists, and the arrest of protesters. The police ought to know that protest is a legitimate means of expressing dissent by citizens.
We find the arraignment of the protesters before court as frivolous and urge the police authorities to take steps to ensure that such acts of aggression are not repeated. In this respect, we welcome the decision by the police authorities to subject the errant police officer to the service's disciplinary procedures.