Press freedom in Nigeria has taken another punch as one Mr Emmanuel Atswen, a reporter of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), was arrested by the Benue Police Command over a report on the protest by IDPs at the International Market camp in Makurdi.
NAN reports that the IDPs, on Sept. 12, protested against alleged diversion of relief materials, and blocked the main entrance into the camp to stop vehicles loaded with the assorted relief materials, from driving out.
Some of the protesters, who spoke with NAN, said that they were prompted to protest because such diversion had become more persistent, insisting that it was not the first time camp officials were loading materials from the camp”s warehouse.
Atswen, who was at the camp when the protest took place, not only filed the story, but took still and video pictures of the protesters.
He also spoke with the Commissioner of Water Resources and Environment, Mr Joseph Utsev, who promised to investigate the protest.
The state government had earlier removed the camp manager over alleged “irregularities”.
Miffed by the protests, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr. Boniface Ortese, recently closed down all the camps hosting victims of the Benue floods, after claiming that they had been taken over by hoodlums.
Atswen, who was arrested on Friday in Makurdi, is being accused of “defamation of character and falsehood”.
One Mr Offor, the police officer investigating the case, turned down pleas by journalists and lawyers to release Atswen on bail, and ignored arguments that the offences he was being charged with were bailable.
NAN reports that prior to Atswen’s arrest, the SEMA boss had petitioned NAN over the same story, demanding N3 billion as damages, even though neither his name nor his agency were mentioned in the report.
The NAN management, in a press statement on Saturday in Abuja, however, said that it was standing by its protest story, and reiterated its commitment to reporting the truth always.
The NAN management declared that the said story did not violate the tenets of the journalism profession.