The Association of Practitioners of Community Media in Nigeria (APCOM), the registered umbrella body for community media practitioners in Nigeria, is deeply disturbed about the outbreak of violence at the Lagos State rally of the All Progressives Congress(APC) on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, during which a number of persons sustained injuries, including a community media practitioner, two mainstream journalists, and a chieftain of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), among others.
According to eyewitness reports, a scuffle broke out between rival factions of the transport union who were in attendance at the rally. During the melee, guns were fired and machetes wielded, resulting in gunshot wounds to the three journalists, and a stab wound to the neck of the union leader.
Caught innocently in the crossfire of stray bullets were community media cameraman, Abiodun Yusuf of Ijoba Ibile TV; group political editor of the Nation Newspaper, Emmanuel Oladesu; and News Telegraph correspondent, Temitope Ogunbanke.
APCOM in no uncertain terms condemns this brazen and unwarranted assault on our colleagues while in the line of duty. The Association demands that the perpetrators of the dastardly shootings be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law.
Of the eight persons reported to have been transported to hospital from the scene for treatment of injuries, three were journalists. This disproportionate statistic speaks to the dangerous nature of journalists’ jobs and makes a case for why extra security measures must always be in place to protect them during potentially volatile assignments like coverage of political rallies.
While there is no evidence that journalists were specifically targeted for attack during the Lagos APC 2018 flag-off rally, the fact that the three got hit in the first place indicates that they were likely at the forefront of the rally action, jockeying for the best position from which to capture the proceedings for later reporting to their audience.
That is the nature of a journalist’s job, and the work ethic embraced by every member of APCOM. The coverage comes first — thoughts of safety or comfort are relegated to a lesser consideration.
That thus puts the onus of protecting a journalist in the line of duty on the security agencies and on the political parties during campaigns.
It is for this very reason that the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage came into existence, which obligates political parties to ensure the safety of journalists covering their activities including campaigns.
As demonstrated by the events of the Lagos APC 2018 flag-off rally however, the party did not do its duty to the journalists in attendance as required by the Code.
Political rallies need not necessarily be dangerous affairs. They can be well organised and properly policed, which, according to an APCOM member who was present, the Lagos APC rally was neither.
To keep violence in check and inhibit a repeat occurrence of the mayhem of the Lagos APC 2018 flag-off rally, political parties should do more to keep their supporters docile, even rival factions and contending caucuses.
Security agencies also need to step up, first and foremost taking steps to keep weapons out of rally venues and keeping a close watch on warring factions to quell minor skirmishes before they escalate into full-blown confrontations.
And we journalists have a responsibility to protect ourselves at all times and remain safe during potentially volatile assignments, particularly election coverage. It is one of APCOM’S objectives to secure insurance coverage for our members in partial mitigation of the occupational hazards we face daily.
Beyond journalists, the entire population of Nigerian citizens needs their safety ensured, not just at political rallies, but in their homes and on the streets.
APCOM will continue to advocate for a better quality of life for all Nigerians in the various communities around the country.
The Association sends its best wishes to the brave journalists affected by the shootings at the Lagos APC 2018 flag-off rally and wishes them a speedy recovery and restoration to full health.