Last Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Deputy Commissioner of Police Olusola Amore in the Police Diaryprogramme aired on the network of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), clearly using the grace of his office as the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), embarked on an ill-informed and most disparaging attack on journalists in Nigeria and their alleged modus operandi.
Journalists in Nigeria, according to Amore, would routinely stay, laid-back, in their “comfort zone,” reaching their established sources or potential sources by telephone or other modes of information communication technology (ICT), rather than actually going out to meet these persons.
The FPRO’s vituperations came on a day the dailies were awash with claims by the United States in Abuja of alleged shooting close to the facility the previous day, and strident denials by both the NPF Headquarters, and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command that this was not the case.
Reporting on the incident, which was its front page lead, with the headline: Security scare at US embassy in Abuja, THE PUNCH narrated there had been a security scare at the embassy that fateful Monday following suspected gunshots in the vicinity of the well-guarded mission.
According to the publication, while one account had it that unknown gunmen fired shots around the embassy, another said that two teenagers had set off fireworks in an undeveloped plot close to the mission, which is on Plot 1075, Diplomatic Drive, Central Business District, Abuja.
“Immediately the shots were heard, a commotion reportedly ensued while diplomats and other embassy staff were placed on an emergency alert.
“The News Agency of Nigeria quoted some policemen at the diplomatic zone, which houses several embassies, as saying there was “panic and confusion” after the shots were heard.
“A petty trader told NAN in pidgin tha tthere was smoke and noise, which led to a commotion.
“The unnamed petty trader said, ‘I hear noise and see smoke; people dey run and I think say na knockout and people say na gun shot. Naim I pick my egg roll and kunu and run too.’
“A member of staff of the embassy, who declined to be named, told NAN that they were ‘placed on emergency following an incident across the street.’
“The NAN correspondent claimed to have seen a combined team of policemen and US security officials questioning two teenagers detained in front of the embassy.
“The embassy confirmed the security scare in a terse statement issued by its information office.
“It said two suspects arrested in connection with the incident were in the custody of Nigerian authorities and referred journalists to the Nigeria Police Force for further information. “The statement reads, ‘We believe there were shots fired in the vicinity of the US Embassy. The Nigerian authorities have two individuals in custody.
“We refer you to the Nigerian police for further information.”
“The e-mail statement, one of the embassy’s standard methods of communicating the journalists, was sent to one of our correspondents.
“But the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters and the Federal Capital Territory Police command denied knowledge of the incident.
“However, the embassy’s Public Affairs Specialist, Mr. Sani Mohammed, when contacted on the telephone, confirmed the authenticity of the mission’s statement to THEPUNCH.
“Mohammed said ‘We issued the statement and like it states, contact the police for further information.”
“Sani, however, did not answer further questions, noting that he had no more information to give on the incident.
“According to the police, there is no report of the incident”.
“The Force PRO, Mr. Olusola Amore, said an officer was dispatched to the embassy to confirm the incident, but the mission allegedly denied issuing a statement about the purported shooting and arrest of two suspects.
“He said, ‘I don’t know where you (journalists) got such a statement because we dispatched an officer to the embassy and they (embassy authorities) said there was no shooting around their building and that they did not issue any statement on the matter.
“‘You should examine the source of thestatement purportedly issued by the embassy.’
“Similarly, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Moshood Jimoh, said he had contacted the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the area, who said there was neither a report of shooting, nor any form of violence around the embassy. He also said no arrests had been made.”
Amore took his battleaxe to the Police Diary, as he kept on the familiar ignoble path favoured by so many others like him, blaming the press when they consider enquiries or actual reports to be not in their favour. To such persons, the press stands accused of making the news, and not reporting the news.
Any one listening to Amore talk that fateful Tuesday would be forgiven for feeling that it was an uninteresting radio lecture on basics of news reporting and news writing.
The Police spokesperson, however, shot himself in the foot when, in response to alleged enquiries by the anchorperson about the alleged discovery of a suspected bomb-making factory at Kabba, Kogi State, he opted for the age-long answer of not wanting to say anything about the incident in order not to compromise on-going investigations. What cheap excuse! It does not really mask the incompetence of her security apparati that has dragged Nigeria into a state of insecurity that worsens by the day.
Simply because of a spat between the US Embassy and the Nigeria Police, journalists in Nigeria get lampooned by the FPRO. I wish he would be courageous enough to acknowledge the invaluable role of the resourceful journalists in Nigeria in constantly enriching the body of knowledge in really quick time.
The most galling aspect of Amore’s low blow was his generalisation. He was not specific about a particular journalist or the group of journalists that allegedly may be guilty of the offence he accused and pronounced journalism practitioners guilty of. In the myopic court of the FPRO, he is accuser, prosecutor, judge and executioner.
Perhaps, the FPRO fantasises, longing for the good old days? The good old days that will not better present days. The good days that will not best the future.
Perhaps the FPRO fantasises, longing for a return of the forsaken drudgeries of journalism practice? The filing of stories by cumbersome radio communications and unreliable fixed wire telephone services by the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). The drudgery of journalists journeying from point to point, contending with the vagaries of the elements and no-less merciless human elements, for one-on-one encounters with often times uncooperative and unreliable sources.
I covered core crime beat years ago, so I can’t authoritatively relate the prevailing modus operandi at Louis Edet House (Police Headquarters) media coverage. But perhaps, Amore does not respond to journalists’ enquiries by phone calls, text messages or e-mail? Perhaps information communication technology (ICT) is anathema to the FPRO in this era of global village erected and constantly being remodeled and retooled by ever-evolving ICT. But I doubt this is so, since on Police Diary, the FPRO routinely drops telephones numbers of the Acting Inspector General of Police, states Commissioners of Police, Police Public Relations Officers (PPROs) at the various commands and those of other officers for members of the general public to contact by calls or text messages to aid the work of the Force.
However, if it does happen that Amore, as the FPRO, does not respond to phone calls, text messages, e-mails regarding enquiries about official Nigeria Police issues from journalists, he should rest assured that he is not a lone swimmer in this pool. His ilk abound in the maritime industry of official spokesperson of public institutions, who swim in this same pool, dunking journalists in odium after being catapulted by the efforts of these same pen pushers from their obscure corners in these organisations to the limelight before these organisations’ internal and external publics. Talk about ingrates! Talk about kicking away the ladder.
Spend time enough on a particular beat actively as a journalist in time with the politics of that beat and you surely can’t fail to be aware that most appointees to the top positions of the Public Relations or Public Affairs units of public institutions would gladly give an arm and a leg to attain and retain these positions. Why is this so? It is so because these positions offer convenient platforms for looting public funds, using the media relations as a shield.
An advisory for Amore; rather than his bashing journalists in a clear case of misplaced aggression, he should work hard at dissipating the air of mystery choking too many Police cases, particularly when these involve Police personnel as dramatis personae. The FPRO could also do well to contribute to making Police Diary less consistently drab. The FPRO could do his job better by checking the excesses of certain PPROs who go ahead to pass judgment, even as they talk about ongoing investigations into the particular cases.
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