Almost at the same time the acting President made public his order to the Inspector General of Police to immediately start a comprehensive overhaul of the dreaded SARS, officers attached to the unit arrested three journalists working for online news medium Premium Times.
That act completely obliterated any goodwill the public might have felt towards the Police or the government. Clearly, the police still remain the police.
Though the two of the journalists were later released, a third, Samuel Ogundipe, was held (and is still being held) at the force headquarters in Abuja. The police refused to release him because they wanted to know how he laid his hands on a report that appeared in Premium Times.
The report was the findings of the preliminary investigation by police on the events surrounding the National Assembly siege by men of the SSS two weeks ago.
The police wanted to know who Samuel Ogundipe’s source was since the report was not yet a public document. Before his arrest though, the police had frozen his bank account without a court order or probable course.
The arrest of Samuel Ogundipe and the demand that he divulges his source strikes at the heart of journalism around the world. It is right that Ogundipe’s refused to say revealed his source.
Journalism and the work done by reporters is crucial to the growth of any democracy. As the watchdog of the society, reporters are the sentinels that keep elected officials and government employees within the boundaries of legality.
Apart from those in government, people in the private sector are aware of the importance of the media in ensuring they operate within the laws of good corporate governance.
Without the press to beam their searchlight on all aspects of society, the collusion between politicians, the elites, and big corporations would consign the poor and the helpless to a life of servitude without remedy.
Central to the important jobs journalists do are their sources. These are people who for one reason or the other cannot use the official channels to report what they know is inimical to the society.
And the only way this relationship can be sustained is if sources are protected. The best democracies and their free press thrive on these sources. That relationship is what makes the press in the West very powerful.
Governments there respect these relationships and it is an unwritten and sacrosanct rule that sources can’t be revealed and must be protected no matter what.
It is ironic that a government that promulgated the whistleblower policy to encourage people to expose corrupt politicians for reward, would stand idly by and allow the police the abuse a fundamental aspect of that policy: the protection of the identity of whistleblowers.
This is not the first time the police are acting like they operate in an alternate universe where government policies play no part in what they do.
This all boils down to the orientation of the police.
The police as it is constituted, are conditioned to protect the interests of the elites and rulers of the country. That is why they think it is normal to hire out their men as security guards to the so-called ‘big men’.
With enough money and influence, anybody can order the police to do their bidding. To hell with the courts and laws of the land.
Clearly, the country needs a reformed police force. It is not just the SARS that needs to be re-organized; the entire police, from top to bottom, need some serious education about civic engagement with the public.
The unfortunate part is, mere directives won’t do the trick. The culture of abuse of power and human rights violations are so ingrained it might require a complete clear-out of every single policeman and start from scratch before Nigeria can get the police force our democracy deserves.
That said, Nigeria News is joining the rest of the world in calling for the unconditional release of Samuel Ogundipe.
If they have a grouse against him or his employers, we have enough laws in the land to take care of that. They should charge him to court instead and see what the Judiciary says about it. That is the proper thing to do.
The arrest of Ogundipe is completely obnoxious and is against the tenets of our Constitution. #FreeSamuelOgundipe.