By Emeka Nwokocha
As flood of condemnations continue to mount following the illegal arrest on Tuesday, of five Journalists in Warri, by daredevil policemen, a foremost human rights defender, the Centre for the Vulnerable and Underprivileged (CENTREP), has mandated the the Police High Command to offer a public apology to the journalists or face fundamental rights suit in the court.
This order was contained in a press release issued by CENTREP, on Thursday 28, in reaction to the illegal arrest.
The document was signed by the Executive Director of CENTREP, Oghenejabor Ikimi, Esq., and reads as follows: “Gentlemen of the Press, the attention of members of the Centre for the vulnerable and the underprivileged, (Centrep) have been drawn to the recent arrest and detention of five journalists from the Warri Correspondent Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) by Men of the SARS, IGP Squad at the Area Command Office, Warri for several hours in lieu of their colleague, Mr. Cletus Opukeme and without any formal charge and we condemn same as unlawful, unconstitutional and a violation of their fundamental rights. Thus in line with Centreps objectives of deepening our democracy and human rights culture in our polity, we have decided to take over the case of the above five journalists pro-bono by filing separate fundamental rights suits on their behalf against the Police at the High Court, Warri in a bid to defending and/or enforcing their fundamental rights.
“We are reliably informed by the journalists concerned that this Tuesday evening, a team of Men of the SARS, IGP Squad stormed the Press Centre of the Warri Correspondent Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and arrested the Correspondent of Daily Post Online, Mr. Matthew Omonigho in lieu of Mr. Cletus Opukeme, a journalist and a colleague of the former. Mr. Matthew Omonigho was in the process assaulted by his abductors who tore his jeans trouser and cut his belt before taking him to the Area Command Office, Warri where he was detained.
At the behest of the State NUJ Chairman, Comrade Michael Ikeogwu four journalists i.e. Mr. Edeki Igafe (NAN Correspondent), Mr. Francis Sadhere (Business Day Correspondent), Mr. Onyekachukwu Meluwa (Punch Newspaper Correspondent) and Mr. Christopher Odamah (a Freelancer) were sent to the Area Command Office, Warri to find out the offence, Mr. Matthew Omonigho had committed. To the surprise of the four some, they were all arrested and detained by the said operatives of the SARS, IGP Squad without any formal charge. It however took the intervention of the State NUJ Chairman and others to effect the release of the five journalists after several hours in police custody.
“It is in the light of the foregoing that we call on the Police High Command to offer a public apology in all the national dallies to the said journalists forthwith in line with Section 35 Sub Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) or else we shall not hesitate to file separate fundamental rights suit in the High Court, Warri on behalf of all the said journalists against the police and claim damages.
“We believe that such a suit would teach the Police on how to be more professional and to respect human rights of the citizenry while discharging their statutory duties.”