On May 31, Toba Adedeji, a reporter for The Nation newspaper, was covering a protest when he was shot by a trigger-happy police officer in Osogbo, the capital city of Osun state in southwestern Nigeria.
A group of youths had converged on a bridge in the Olaiya area of the city on April 11, 2022, to protest against the alleged extrajudicial killing of a youth by a policeman.
The protesters reportedly blocked the road and prevented vehicular movement, chanting protest songs and demanding justice for the deceased whose funeral was being performed.
About 30 minutes into the protest, police operatives reportedly stormed the scene and shot into the crowd and journalists covering the protest with the aim of dispersing them.
Adeshina Abubakar, the chairman of Osun state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), who also was at the protest scene, told the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) by phone that the police fired live bullets at the journalists and protesters.
“The policemen arrived in a minivan and started shooting intermittently into the air. Everyone started running for their life. Then one of the policemen directed his gun towards us and shot at us. Suddenly, I saw Toba limping on one leg. He had been shot on his [left] thigh,” Abubakar said.
Abubakar said they had to quickly rush Adedeji to the Osun State University Teaching Hospital in the city, where he was stabilised. The MFWA understands that the journalist is still undergoing treatment and that a five-year-old pupil who was returning from school was also injured by a stray bullet during the protest.
The MFWA reached out to Yemisi Opalola, the spokesperson for the police in Osun state, but she did not respond to enquiries.
However, in a statement on 31 May, Opalola said the Osun commissioner of police, Olawale Olokode, had ordered an investigation into the circumstances that led to the alleged shooting of Adedeji.
“He [Olokode] urges everyone to believe in the police and allow justice to take its course, as the affected journalist is alive, hale and hearty, having visited his home last night [31 May] after he was treated and discharged from the hospital,” the statement read.
“He [Olokode] also warns against incitement and peddling of fake news, as this has criminal implications,” the police added.
Abubakar, the NUJ chairman, pondered how the police could say Adedeji is hale and hearty when the journalist is still receiving treatment at the hospital and when there is no official communication between the police and the journalists’ union.
“The police also warned against fake news and this makes us wonder: Are the police implying that Toba was not shot or that they did not fire live bullets?” Abubakar asked.
To this end, the NUJ chairman said journalists in the state have henceforth ceased to cover police events. Apart from this, they are also seeking the redeployment of Olokode, the commissioner of police.
“Toba’s case is one too many. We have observed that abuses by men of the police command have increased since the assumption of office of the police commissioner [Olawale Olokode]. We have already petitioned the Inspector General of Police to redeploy the commissioner within seven days,” Abubakar said.
He said the journalists’ union will take legal action against the police should their demands not be met by June 7.
Meanwhile, the Osun State Council of the NUJ has directed the media to boycott all police activities over the incident and its aftermath. A statement by the Chairman of the Union, Comrade Wasiu Ajadosu, and the Secretary, Comrade Bukola Elufadejin, condemned the impenitent statement made by the Command, saying the import of the statement did not indicate any regret over the barbaric act.
The police shooting has drawn a barrage of criticisms from civil rights groups and citizens who believe the Nigeria police have yet to learn their lessons even after the nationwide #ENDSARS [anti-police brutality] protests in 2020.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), a civil rights group, said “it is an act of terrorism for the police to turn their guns against media workers whose profession revolves around bringing information about the activities of government to the people.”
Gboyega Oyetola, the governor of Osun state, in a statement also reprimanded the police, describing the shooting of journalists and unarmed citizens as “completely unacceptable, irresponsible and condemnable.”
He demanded a thorough investigation of the shooting by the police authorities, with a view to ensuring that the culprits are decisively dealt with in accordance with the law.
The MFWA condemns in its entirety the unprovoked attack against Adedeji and other unarmed civilians and reminds the Nigerian police of the provisions of Section 22 of the constitution which guarantee the right to freedom of association of citizens.
The police authorities should also swiftly arrest the officer(s) who shot live bullets at the journalists and protesters and prosecute them in accordance with the law.