The recent assault on journalists in Kwara state covering activities of the factional All Progressives Congress (APC) in the just concluded primaries has again raised the question of safety for the men of the pen profession. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the ugly trend that is fast becoming the norm.
On Thursday in Ilorin, the news of the physical assault by suspected political thugs on a chief Correspondent of Daily Trust newspaper, Mrs Romoke Ahmad, troubled the leadership of the Kwara State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and several members of the journalism profession in the state.
The ruffians said to be loyal to one of the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship aspirants in Kwara state were allegedly reacting to a report of alleged bad publicity against their principal by the reporter.
According to the account, Mrs Ahmad was beaten and some of her valuables were damaged in the process while she went to cover a protest rally at the party’s secretariat along Murtala Muhammed Way, Ilorin. The curious aspect of the whole drama was the audacity exhibited by the assailants, who lured her to the venue under the pretence that she officially come and cover the event.
Narrating her experience to newsmen, the female journalist said she was deceived to attend the rally, adding that a brother to the aspirant, one Muhammed Kudu, was earlier seen discussing with the thugs and pointing at her before the incident.
“I was invited by one of my colleagues to cover a protest at the APC Secretariat. On getting to the scene, one Muhammed Kudu called me and said he asked them to invite me for a purpose. I demanded for the purpose but he refused to tell me and said I will know later.
“He later called some thugs and discussed with them. They ran to me and started shouting, saying that I was the one who wrote a story about Abdullahi Yammah that he decamped. I asked them which story, they could not say anything but instead invited other thugs and Yammah’s supporters who had come for the rally and started beating me. They destroyed everything on me while the thugs went to my car to take note of my vehicle number and threatened to deal with me mercilessly”, she added.
Although, this was not the first time that journalists would be assaulted in the state by suspected political thugs, the sequence of the attacks this time around is worrisome and called for relevant authorities to ensure the safety of the men of the fourth estate of the realm while going about their constitutional duties.
On Saturday, about a week before Mrs Ahmad’s incident, reporters of TVC News, Channels, AIT and Core TV and their cameramen in the state were similarly attacked by thugs suspected to be members of All Progressives Congress (APC) while covering the governorship primaries of the party in the state. The incident, which happened at Oko-Erin ward located at Ilorin Grammar School, saw the affected reporters beaten while their cameras were nearly damaged by the suspected hoodlums.
The journalists had to run for their dear lives as the suspected hoodlums ran after them during the incident. Their grudge was that they were against the presence of the journalists in view of the manner they were allegedly collecting money from the aspirants taking part in the primary before they can queue behind any one of them. It took the intervention of some good Samaritans at the venue of the primary for the affected journalists to escape from the scene.
Since both incidents occurred, chairman of the faction of the APC whose members carried out the act, Basheer Bolarinwa or the leading member of the party in the state who is ironically the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed have not considered it expedient to apologise on behalf of the party or reach out to the body to express concern. It was as if nothing has happened and yet some of those affected could have been killed in the process.
These reports and several other skirmishes between journalists and political thugs on one hand and the pen pushers and security operatives at the other end in the attempt to gain access to official assignments even after due identification have significantly increased in the last few months.
For stakeholders in the journalism profession, the current trend in Kwara, especially coming from the Lai Mohammed faction of the APC where journalists have turned the prime target of politicians and their thugs in the course of their constitutional duties, must stop or else there will be a boycott of the political party’s activities.
Reacting to the incident, the Kwara state leadership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), condemned in strong terms the unwarranted attacks on its members by supporters of the APC during the party’s Governorship Primaries in Ilorin.
In a statement jointly signed by its Chairman and Secretary, Mallam Umar Abdulwahab and Tayo Ayanda respectively, the NUJ said “We want to state clearly that the leadership of the union vehemently frown at a situation whereby political thugs, any group of persons or individual assaults, brutalise and molest our colleagues while carrying out their constitutional duties.
“The action of the APC supporters is unacceptable for whatever reason, as the era of intimidation and harassment of journalists are over.
“The leadership of the NUJ will no longer stand and fold its arms and watch its members being harassed by political thugs.
“We therefore call on APC leadership to call their members to order to forestall a re-occurrence of the act or else, the leadership of the NUJ shall have no option than to stop all coverage of all the party’s events” the Union added.
Ironically, the Kwara Council of NUJ on 30th September 2018 had staged a peaceful protests simultaneously with others councils across the country against press freedom violation and unwarranted attacks on Journalists and media houses in Nigeria.
However, the trend seem to be a return to the past of similar incidents in the state where journalists have been targeted by thugs of political parties for exposing fraudulent and untoward activities of the political process. Ironically, most of these assaults came from the APC elements as then members of the PDP, raising the question of their penchant for violence against journalists in the state.
For instance in 2014, a reporter of Channels Television in Kwara State, Mr. Akeem Garba and his crew were assaulted in Ilorin while they were covering the State Assembly primary of the Peoples Democratic Party at Ilorin West Local Government Area of the state.
Garba and his crew had gone to Yebumot Hotel, Ilorin, venue of one of the congresses when some thugs attacked them. Garba said the clothes of his cameraman were torn while their camera was smashed.
Narrating the incidence, Garba said, “This morning, when I got to Yebumot Hotel to cover the congress, my cameraman was filming while the delegates were just going inside the venue. About 15 thugs pounced on us and asked us: Who are you? Who sent you? All the explanations that I gave to them that we are from Channels TV did not yield any positive result.
“They were beating us right in the presence of the security operatives and they were just looking at us as if somebody’s life was not as stake. After the intervention of some elders of the party, we were left alone… but another group of thugs, about 20 in number, pounced on us again and really smashed our camera again. We had to run to a petrol station for cover.”
Although when contacted over the present situation, the state police command Public Relations Officer (PPRO) Ajayi Okasanmi, decried the attack on journalists by the suspected hoodlums, adding that the command would beef up security in the state to avoid any attack on well meaning citizens.
And just as Mrs Ahmad has demanded after lodging a complaint and writing a petition against the governorship aspirant and his brother, Kudu, over threat to her life, her children and property, the Police must act and summon the aspirant and his brother including the thugs to give explanation for their actions and also sign an undertaking that nothing should harm her, her children and property.
While the action of the police is being awaited, the serial attacks on journalists from the factional APC or any other party in Kwara state must not repeat itself because they cannot continue to work in an atmosphere of threat and intimidation. And just like Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed said while addressing members of the NUJ during a peaceful rally to Government House, journalism is the institution that democracy rests upon and the voice of the voiceless, adequate, proper and unfettered access to information would guarantee the safety of lives and property of Nigerians. But are politicians and public office holders in places of authority ready to subject themselves to scrutiny? In the meantime, all stakeholders concerned must do the needful to ensure journalists are protected in Kwara state and more must be done on the issue of their safety.