By Emeka Nwokocha
My attention has been drawn to a barbaric act of violence meted out to our colleague, Comrade Akpokona Omafuaire by some marauding policemen attached to Ovwian/Aladja Divisional Headquarters in Udu Local Government Area of Delta State.
I strongly condemn the dastardly act and sternly call for the prosecution of the perpetrators of the wicked act.
Without mincing words, the ugly incident evidently plays out a lawless society, where some people with questionable characters in police uniform parade themselves as small gods and outlaws.
In fact, the brutal act is quite despicable, even as it raises serious question as to why any sane policeman would be so callous and discourteous to the extent of inflicting serious injuries on Comrade Akpokona Omafuaire with cutlass and other weapons.
To say the least, this extreme case of cruelty is intolerable, and should have no place in our society. This is one assault too many!
It is pertinent to note that flagrant violation of the rights of journalists in Delta State by errant policemen is regrettably becoming a recurring decimal over the years. In the past years, our colleagues had been brutalized by overzealous policemen with impunity across the state and nothing happened – they go scot-free and flaunt their ego, leaving their victims (journalists) in agony to nurse their wounds. More journalists would subsequently be humiliated by these gang of outlaws. The cases are too numerous to recall.
Just recently, in the same odious manner, our colleagues were brutalized by some policemen. Comrade Omafuaire tasted the bitter pill when some disgruntled policemen attached to Ovwian/Aladja Police Division manhandled and battered him with cutlass and damaged his car.
Even when he identified himself as a veteran journalist on official assignment, the policemen in uniform were recalcitrant, not even a whiff of fear pricked their mind. They had a field day battering our own and belittling the importance of our prided journalism profession. Who knows the next victim?
No doubt, the daring posturing of the policemen evidently tells they have no regard for journalists. I think the time has come for NUJ to protect the integrity of our noble profession jealously and also protect its members from attacks in the society.
There is no gainsaying the fact that, most cases of assault on our colleagues resulting from police highhandedness were usually “trashed out” at kangaroo meetings between the police and our union. Then, apologies would be made by the police to douse tensed nerves. Even compensations for injuries and losses incurred by the victims (journalists) would not be given.
No doubt, the leadership of our union, headed by the Chairman, Comrade Mike Ikeogwu, severely condemned the barbaric act and had issued a press statement calling on the Commissioner of Police, Mr Mohammed Hafiz Inuwa, to immediately fish out the policemen involved in the molestation of Comrade Akpokona Omafuaire, destruction of his car and appropriate sanction meted out to them. The statement posted further warnings that the culprits, Sergeant Godspower and others, in the show of extreme power must be fished out, otherwise NUJ will severe ties with the police in the State.
I must not hesitate to note that the prompt reaction by NUJ Delta State is quite commendable, but my concern is hinged on the fact that the dispute resolution mechanism we often subscribe to anytime our colleagues were brutalized and harmed by policemen does not accord our prided profession any respect and honour.
It has never helped in preventing recurrence of the police assault on journalists. On that note, I strongly call on NUJ Delta State Council to jettison any dialogue with the police in this recent case of serious assault on Comrade Akpokona. NUJ should go for the jugular using potent legal instruments. These ‘evil’ men in police uniform are on the prowl, they have stirred the hornet’s nest, so NUJ should try a bite this time around, not dialogue!
Truth is, our integrity and fame seem to be waning in the eyes of policemen in the state. That is the blunt truth! Ideally, journalists ought to be well respected by policemen and the entire society. Therefore, we in the journalism profession must stand firm to take our place of pride in the society.
On that note, l proffer the following suggestions for due consideration:
Firstly, NUJ should snub calls by the top brass of the police for a kangaroo settlement anytime our colleagues had been ruthlessly battered and disgraced by policemen. Even when such calls would be considered, a legal action must override whatever decisions reached at the meeting.
Secondly, NUJ should do the needful by constituting a high powered legal team to drag the “idiots” before a court of law with punitive charges hanging over their necks. Let me sound it clear that the police are inexplicably being vindictive towards journalists in Delta State. They intentionally would want to brutalize journalists because they are cocksure nothing will happen. In their wickedly framed mindset, they take journalists for a ride and treat them with disdain. But that uncivilised act must stop now! We must change that infantile narrative now and begin to “pepper” the idiotic policemen to serve as deterrent to others.
Thirdly, NUJ should compel the Delta State Government through the Commissioner of Information to make an official statement condemning brutalization of journalists by policemen in the state while mandating the Commissioner of Police to fish out the “evil men” who carried out the heinous act to face the full weight of the law.
Fourthly, enlightenment campaigns to promote the rights and safety of journalist should be activated by NUJ via symposiums which will be attended by the police and military personnel, Para-military organisations, government officials, Civil Society Organisations (SCOS), Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs) and other relevant institutions.
Fifthly, a regular radio and television programmes aimed at promoting the safety of journalists in the state and Nigeria at large should be created to sensitize the public and the security agencies in Nigeria.
Sixthly, now that Comrade Akpokona is rescinding any settlement apparently initiated by the police, and would pursue the case in court, NUJ should give him the necessary backup and be in the frontline to ensuring his fundamental rights are enforced.
Finally, I firmly state that as this act of bestiality becomes the modus operandi in the police force, we must take the bull by the horns to protect our journalists and promote press freedom in Delta State and Nigeria at large, in tandem with international best practice.
I give credence to the above submission with this inspiring statement of wisdom by Edmund Burke, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
If we do not tame these roaring monsters in police uniform we will surely be hounded and clipped with their murderous claws, and the entire society will be cowed and subjected to perpetual slavery.
We must hold strongly to this unifying creed always: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” … I humbly SUBMIT!
I am just seething in my cocoon…
Comrade Emeka Nwokocha is a Journalist and Human Rights Activist based in Delta State