Journalists and medical workers on essential duty yesterday got more than they bargained for in the hands of the Nigeria Police enforcing the nationwide lockdown and curfew put in place to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, as they were harassed and intimidated.
During President Muhammadu Buhari’s last media briefing, he specifically stated those who should be exempted during the lockdown and curfew, including journalists and medical workers who can prove that they could not work from home and as such were exempted from the restriction of movement.
Recently, when the Lagos State Police Command gave a counter-order to overrule that of the Presidency and detained some journalists, there was public outcry that forced the Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu to clear the air that journalists were exempted.
The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), DCP Frank Mba, on behalf of the IGP, cautioned the Lagos State Police Command and the thereafter journalists were advised to carry on with their legitimate duties.
But yesterday, the police went contrary to the President’s directives and declared that journalists and other essential workers should be arrested if they breached the curfew restricting movement between 9pm and 6am.
Although there were rumours that security agents enforcing the curfew had been instructed to get tougher and deal with anybody that flouts the order, many journalists were skeptical as it seemed unrealistic that the police who they regarded as partners in progress would go after them like common criminals.
In the latest directive from the police high command to the Assistant IGPs and state commissioners of police across the federation, the IGP was quoted as saying that all essential duty personnel, including the media, must comply with the curfew banning movement from 8pm to 6am.
A police source that spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak with the press, said: “The IGP has instructed a total lockdown. It is expected for every essential duty personnel to comply with this directive. He (IGP) just finished briefing commissioners of police. It had been agreed that those on essential duty must comply with curfew. We mean business this time around. Journalists and other essential duty workers were exempted, but in the new order, nobody is exempted.
“We have been told that, once it is 8pm, we lock down. We thought it was only on interstate travels, but we have just been informed that it is within the state also. So, nobody is exempted. We don’t know how to manage the issue because those on essential duty comprise medical workers, journalists and others. It is a serious issue. Anyway, police job is one of discretion, and we will apply wisdom. But the IGP’s directive is a total lockdown. It is a tough one.”
There was fear and apprehension over the new order as essential duty workers would be severely affected if their movement were curtailed by the curfew. So, the journalists contacted the FPRO, Mba, who issued a vague statement that did not specifically state whether the media and other essential workers were exempted or not.
He said: “The Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A. Adamu, has ordered strict enforcement of the national curfew and inter-state movement restriction orders emplaced by the Federal Government as part of measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The IGP gave this directive to the zonal Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and state commissioners of police during a virtual conference held on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.