When Police’s not Your Friend

ω I’m yet to recover from the shock, says NAN correspondent punched in the eye by a presidential guard

From ROMANUS UGUWU, Abuja

Although, Mrs Taye Adeni, a transport correspondent with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has read severally about police brutality and may have reported such aberration at a point in her decade-old journalistic career, she never envisaged, not even in her wildest imagination, that she could one day become a victim and the subject of a newspaper report of police impunity.

Last week, she got a taste of police impunity, when she was punched almost into a coma by a mobile police officer attached to the Presidential guards.  She sustained a severe facial injury, the pain so severe she feared she had gone blind in the immediate few minutes after the assault.  The photograph of the barbarity, showing the victim being helped to her feet by members of the Red Cross, appeared in print and electronic media last week. A week after the ordeal, Adeni is still reeling from the shock.

Raw deal from a rough cop

Adeni was in the company of other reporters at the Kaduna venue of the commissioning of the Inland Dry Port by the President. She was there legitimately to cover the event. As the journalists were waiting to be granted access to the place, suddenly, all hell was let loose, and before she knew what was happening, Adeni found herself on the ground, almost blinded by punch thrown at her by one of the security detail.

She recounted the incident during a chat with Saturday Sun. “I was among the journalists the Ministry of Transportation invited from Abuja to cover the inauguration of the additional new locomotives and coaches at the Rigasa train station and commissioning of the Inland Dry Port at Kakuri, both in Kaduna State last week.  Immediately after President Muhammadu Buhari presented his speech at Rigasa, we hurriedly left the venue without waiting for the locomotive commissioning in order to enable us to meet up with the event in Kakuri. As planned, we got to the venue ahead of the President to avoid the security personnel denying us access to the venue. But on arrival, officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) at the gate refused us entry into the premises of the event on the excuse that there was no seat or space for us to sit inside.

“An Information Officer in the Ministry of Transportation who led the team of journalists tried in vain to explain to the men of the paramilitary agency that we were duly accredited to cover both events and that we came all the way from Abuja for the event.

“While the explanation was ongoing and as we waited for the outcome, an armed police officer just emerged from nowhere and started shouting and threatening to push everyone out if we didn’t get away from the entrance of the gate. True to his threat, all I saw was the officers jacking up one of my colleague by his shirt, pushing and shoving him violently. Before I could realise what was happening, I got a hard punch in my right eye and I fell down.

“I started crying because I thought I had gone blind when I could not open my eyes or see anything while still on the ground. I felt so terribly sad and angry because I was not among those discussing with the security personnel. I was just innocently standing close to them and waiting to know the outcome of the discussion and never saw the punch coming.

“I could not believe that this could happen to me for no reason other than coming to do my legitimate job in Kaduna. I did not even say anything to suggest that I provoked anyone let alone being rude to the mobile policeman in question to warrant such brutality.

“He just emerged from nowhere and started shouting and threatening that he was going to start pushing out all the journalists standing.”

Red Cross to the rescue

“The punch hit me and I found myself on the ground, and as my senses returned, I noticed that I was being helped to my feet by persons I later knew were members of the Red Cross. They helped me out of the scene to give me medical assistance. As I was being led away, I could hear my colleagues confronting the policeman that assaulted me and the other security agents to let them realize the gravity of what the policeman had done, and why he must apologize. I heard later that the same policeman threatened to shoot at them and unleash tear gas on them.

The Red Cross medical team gave me first aid, including an injection, but when I returned to Abuja, I went to the Garki Hospital to see an ophthalmologist.”

Adeni, who is in her second year on the transportation beat, said: “This is my first encounter with security forces since I started practising journalism in 2008.”

She considered the experience so harrowing as to say “I do not pray for my enemy to go through this ugly experience.”

She is still struck by disbelief. “I have only heard about police brutalising journalists until it happened to me in Kaduna. I have not recovered from the shock.”

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Author: Uche Atuma