The police, on Friday, held PREMIUM TIMES judiciary reporter Ameh Ejekwonyilo at their office at the Supreme Court in Abuja for about four hours for using his phone to film a scene on the court premises.
Two of the police officers – Peter Ekele and Mary Ogbome – attached to the Supreme Court police station, seized Mr Ejekwonyilo’s phone and took him to their nearby office on the court premises.
“The police officers seized my mobile phone. They arrested me at about 11:35 am. I repeatedly asked for my offence, but they could not tell me any,” Mr Ejekwonyilo narrated. “It took the intervention of my editors, the Director of Information of the Supreme Court, Festus Akande, and the Police Public Relation Officer, Force Headquarters, Muyiwa Adejobi before they released me at about 3:30 p.m.”
Hours after his arrest, Mr Ejekwonyilo could not message his editors about his situation.
He was later handed his phone for him to unlock with his PIN to enable the police officers to access the pictures and videos on the device at about 1.07 p.m.
The journalist took advantage of the short time he was asked to unlock the phone to message his editors about his detention.
His editors immediately called and sent messages to his phone to find out why he was detained, but got no answer.
While the editors were figuring out the reason for Mr Ejekwonyilo’s arrest, one of his colleagues covering the judiciary who witnessed the arrest, called the journalist’s supervisor, Ade Adesomoju, Head, PREMIUM TIMES Judiciary, Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Desk, to shed light on the situation.
Pleas from members of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC) led by Kayode Lawal to the police were ignored as they continued to detain the journalist.
The police continued to hold on to Mr Ejekwonyilo for more than two hours after Mr Adesomoju and another PREMIUM TIMES editor, Bisi Abidoye, arrived at the Supreme Court police station and engaged the Divisional Police Officer, Rakiya Gimba, in a lengthy discussion over the matter.
Asked by the editors which law did the reporter break at different times, the police officers repeated the same refrain that Mr Ejekwonyilo tried to hide his phone when an officer demanded to know why he was filming the scene.
Without citing any legal basis for the journalist’s arrest, they also said Mr Ejekwonyilo refused to film the earlier part of the scene when the woman being arrested allegedly slapped a police officer. The woman denied slapping any of the police officers.
They insisted that Mr Ejekwonyilo must write a statement as part of their investigation process.
Both the Supreme Court’s Director of Information, Mr Akande, and Police PRO, Mr Adejobi, contacted by PREMIUM TIMES’ editors, intervened by calling the DPO.
But they kept holding on to him and tutoring him on how he should have written the statement long after the officials called Ms Gimba.
Mr Ejekwonyilo, who insisted he would not change his statement, was later granted “bail on self-recognisance,” and his mobile phone was returned to him.
Genesis of reporter’s predicament
Mr Ejekwonyilo was at the Supreme Court on Friday to cover the judgement on a suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the president-elect, Bola Tinubu.
After the proceedings, Mr Ejekwonyilo stumbled on the scene of a tussle between a police officer and a woman named Ruby Nyananyo, a partisan supporter, who was also at the court to witness the judgement.
Three female police operatives, later identified as Amarachukwu Oluchukwu, Theresa Effiong and Elameyi Effah, were seen holding down Ms Nyananyo against the staircase railings outside the court complex.
Ms Nyananyo clung onto a rail on the stairs of the Supreme Court entrance in a desperate bid while the angry police personnel pounced on her.
After subduing Ms Nyananyo, the police officers bundled her into their waiting van and zoomed off.
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This was the scene Mr Ejekwonyilo was capturing with his phone when the police accosted him.
Ms Nyanamo, who denied slapping any police officer, would later tell Mr Ejekwonyilo, where they were both detained at the police office, that she was accosted by a policewoman when she attempted to enter the courtroom.
“The police officer who stopped me said I was not permitted to enter the court.
“As I tried to video the jubilant crowd, a policeman simply called Mr Johnson snatched my phone. I tried to recover my phone, then there was a scuffle,” she said with bloodshot eyes.
Police authorities have repeatedly said it was not a crime for citizens or journalists to film a public scene.
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