The police briefly detained a PREMIUM TIMES reporter who arrived at the Force Headquarters with Kassim Afegbua on Wednesday morning.
Mr. Afegbua, a longtime spokesperson for a former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, turned himself in two days after he was declared wanted on allegations that he made “false statements, injurious falsehood, defamation of character and for an act capable of inciting public disturbance throughout the country.”
Mr. Babangida had openly stated that he authorized the statement, which was critical of President Muhammadu Buhari, on Sunday night, but the police moved against Mr. Afegbua nonetheless.
Mr. Afegbua arrived at the Force Headquarters in Abuja, accompanied by his lawyers and four journalists, including Samuel Ogundipe, a general assignment reporter for PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Ogundipe, who was assigned to run live updates of the event, was filming the arrival of Mr. Afegbua and his legal team, led by Kayode Ajulo when the police officers on duty at the reception confiscated his phone.
The major part of Mr. Afegbua’s arrival that was captured by the reporter was when police officers were asking a man that had been declared wanted to introduce himself.
Mr. Afegbua told the officers that he was declared wanted and some of them asked: “By who”?
He then said it was the force public relations officer, Jimoh Moshood, that made the announcement.
Some of the officers then asked if he was on an appointment, and Mr. Ajulo interjected that if Mr. Moshood was not ready to receive his client, “then everyone should go back home.”
It was at this point that the police started demanding that PREMIUM TIMES reporter’s phone be confiscated and he must not be “allowed to leave the building.”
When Mr. Afegbua arrived, he was interviewed by a battery of reporters near the parking area of the headquarters.
But they were all prevented from following him into the building, leaving only Mr. Ogundipe as the only reporter capturing Mr. Afegbua’s move from the parking area into the reception.
Several officers, including two, whose uniforms identified as James Oyibo and Daniel James, demanded that Mr. Ogundipe must delete the video he had captured of Mr. Afegbua’s arrival and it took several minutes and explanations for the police to understand the reason he was at their headquarters.
“I insisted that I will not delete the video and they prevented me from going out of the reception,” Mr. Ogundipe said.
After delaying him for several minutes, he was asked to go after a female officer told the male officers of Mr. Ogundipe: “He’s a PREMIUM TIMES press man.”
When approached about the development, Mr. Moshood said he could not immediately retrieve the reporter’s phone.
“All the reporters that came here with Kassim Afegbua today did not ask for my permission,” Mr. Moshood said.
“So I don’t know how I could help for now.”
Mr. Moshood said Mr. Ogundipe was wrong to have taken his phone into the premises of the Force Headquarters, much less using the device to film activities inside.
“You should have dropped your phone at the gate and collected a tag,” Mr. Moshood said.
Nonetheless, he promised to help return the phone within a few minutes.
But after the reporter spent 20 minutes without seeing Mr. Moshood, he decided to return to the office.
Several calls and text messages to Mr. Moshood seeking the latest about the reporter’s phone were neither answered nor returned as at the time of filing this report.
The police have been criticized for declaring Mr. Afegbua wanted following a contradictory statement that was released after the one he distributed to the media for Mr. Babangida.
The emergence of the second statement, which PRNigeria said was also signed by Mr. Babangida but which was less critical of Mr. Buhari, threw the public into confusion on Sunday night.
Femi Falana, a senior lawyer and human rights advocate, said in a statement Tuesday that it was clear “that it is the Inspector General of Police who has defamed Mr. Afegbua by portraying him as a fugitive from the law.”
“Therefore, Mr. (Ibrahim) Idris is advised to withdraw the offensive declaration without any further delay,” Mr. Falana added.
Despite repeated requests, the police have not told PREMIUM TIMES which aspects of the statement Mr. Afegbua released on behalf of his principal were capable of “inciting the public into violence.”
Mr. Babangida himself has not spoken about the controversy since he confirmed to THISDAY on Sunday that the statement emanated from him.
Mr. Afegbua, however, told PREMIUM TIMES shortly before he turned himself into the police Wednesday morning that the former military leader was “fully behind him and he had been in touch with him.”
“There’s no need for him to say anything more than he had already said,” Mr. Afegbua said of his principal.
Mr. Ajulo said he advised Mr. Afegbua to turn himself in to show Nigerians that “his client was not on the run as the police stated.”
Mr. Afegbua was still at the Force Headquarters as at the time of filing this report.