..Bar, detain essential workers, journalists for alleged violation
..Victims recount ordeal
..NUJ, NMA condemn act
.As NMA issues sit at home order to members
By Olasunkanmi Akoni
It was a harrowing experience on Tuesday evening for journalists and other essential workers in Lagos when they were denied movement by armed policemen on the pretext of enforcing the Federal and State Governments’ directive on 8.pm to 6.am curfew, aimed at curbing spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
The situation led to arrest and detention of some journalists following harassment encountered in the hands of hostile policemen at various areas in the state either after the close of work or on their way to resume work in their respective offices.
As early as 7.45 pm, against the 8.pm curfew period when enforcement is expected to commence, those on essential duties such as; health workers and journalists, got stranded in the chaotic long queues as police barricaded major roads preventing most motorists from moving.
Efforts to prevail on the police to allow essential workers passage fell on deaf ears as they were adamant, claiming they were enforcing fresh directive from the state Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Commissioner of Police, CP, Hakeem Odumosu not to allow passage of even medical staff, let alone journalists, claiming they were not exempted.
The Presidential Taskforce on COVID 19, had announced exemption of essential workers including doctors, other health-workers, Journalists, food suppliers, among other identified sectors for the second phase of the ongoing gradual easing of lockdown.
However, a statement titled, “special information to residents” credited to the Permanent Secretary of the state Ministry of Information and Strategy, Mr Shina Thorpe, earlier released on Tuesday, read: “Dear all, I have it on good authority that the Lagos State Police Command will commence strict enforcement of the 8pm to 6am curfew as directed by Mr. Governor.
“To this end, residents of the State are enjoined to factor the travel time to their destinations into their daily operations.
“No excuse will be entertained from anyone caught after 8 pm and defaulters will be made to face the full weight of the law.
“Please ensure compliance and stay safe.”
The worst-hit areas include Ago Palace way, Oke Afa, Isolo, Ikotun, Egbeda Road, Ikeja, Ebute Metta, Surulere, Third Mainland Bridge, Obalende, Agege, Ifako-Ijaiye, Ogba, among others.
Journalists who protested against the act were either manhandled or detained for several hours into the early morning before they were later let off.
Some journalists from Business Day Newspapers, at the close of work on their way home around 9 pm, were accosted, arrested and detained in the process.
“I had a smooth ride home. But my other colleagues, including the news editor, were no so lucky. They were stopped, arrested and detained for several hours, late into the night before eventually let go,” one of the journalists told Vanguard.
Mr. Henry Ojelu, Journalist from Vanguard, narrated thus, “I left my Apapa office early around 7pm so as to beat the usual rush by motorists. Unfortunately, I got stuck somewhere around Ago Police Station because they have virtually blocked the highway, which has no alternative.
“Some of us who are essential workers approached the policemen on the need to open up the blocked toad for us to pass but they refused bluntly, saying they were working on the order from the above.
“At that point, after several hours, I was able to make a U-turn and went back to Apple Junction, Mike 2 to join the Oshodi Apapa Expressway to connect to my house at Jakande Estate Isolo.
“Unfortunately, I ran into another road block at Oke Afa Bridge where we started another round of pleading for several hours after been identified as a journalist. The state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, did not respond to several call attempts to his phone line.
“Fortunately, around 12 midnight, a convoy of policemen was passing and when the barricade was removed we had to rush to drive past before the policemen could remount the barricade. I got home around 15 minutes to 1pm. It was a terrible experience since enforcement of the lockdown in the state.”
NUJ, NMA react
Reaction to the development, Chairman Lagos State Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Dr. Quasim Akinreti, condemned the act and described it as “overzealousness” on the part of the law enforcement officers.
Akinreti, who is also a member of the
Special Joint Security Taskforce Committee on COVID-19, said the situation has been escalated to the high authorities in Abuja to resolve the conflicting issue.
NUJ Chairman, however, urged journalists and media practitioners to remain calm despite and embark on their normal professional work inspite of unnecessary provocation from the policemen.
“We have engaged the police authorities in Abuja and the Inspector General of Police has sent signal down to the state police command to allow essential workers free movement during curfew. I think there was an initial miss up in the operation of the directive issued by the state police command, but I can assure you, all the knotty issues have been resolved. Journalists are exempted and not affected by the curfew. They can go about their normal daily activities.”
Also, the Lagos State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA has directed doctors in the state to proceed on an indefinite sit-at-home order to protest what they described as ‘conflicting directives by the government and incessant police harassment’ on medical doctors and other health workers amid COVID-19 battle.
In a press statement made available to Vanguard, and jointly signed by the State Chairman of the NMA, Dr Saliu Oseni and the Secretary, Dr Ramon Moronkola, the sit-at-home order is expected to begin, Wednesday, 20th May, 2020 from 6.pm
The medical doctors maintained that it was no longer safe for their members to continue to provide healthcare services under the present confused arrangement.
They said the development became necessary as a result of the numerous complaints of police harassment from their members who were either going home after close of work, and some on transit to heed to emergency calls at the various hospitals.
They lamented that, “As a direct result of the conflicting directives of the government and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, the NMA was inundated yesterday (Tuesday, 19th of May, 2020) evening of several cases of harassments and intimidation of doctors and other health-workers by officers and men of the Lagos State Police command. The healthcare workers were either resuming duty, returning home, or on-transit to heed an emergency call.
“There was a most disturbing case of an ambulance conveying an injured patient which was prevented from moving to destination while the attending health-workers were harassed and temporarily detained.
“You will recall that this same ugly situation had occurred sometimes in the early phase of the ongoing lockdown/restriction of movement based on similar conflicting directives from the State Commissioner of Police. It took the intervention of the Governor of the State, following a petition by the Association, for normalcy to be restored.”
The Lagos NMA further said that until the Government and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police will wish to operationalize the lockdown/restriction of movement directive, vis-à-vis the status of essential workers, “NMA has resolved that it is presently unsafe for members to continue to provide healthcare services under the present confused arrangement.”
They further demanded for a written statement, signed by Government and the appropriate Police Authorities, with clear terms on the status of essential services, including healthcare services and its providers.
The medical doctors insisted that the statement must be issued and advertised in the social and mainstream media, as well as a copy submitted to the Secretariat of the Lagos State Branch of NMA before they will call off the sit-at-home order.