Many media executives in Lagos returning home from work were on Monday night shut out for hours on the instruction of Lagos State Commissioner of Police Hakeem Odumosu.
On the first day of the 8pm to 6am curfew imposed by President Muhamadu Buhari as part of measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus, the police chief personally mounted a road block on Gbagada Expressway, Mainland Lagos, from around 8.30pm.
He declined for a long time to allow passage for people on essential duty including journalists, despite protestation and pleas.
He declared that essential workers are not allowed movement during curfew, claiming that there were exceptions only during the lockdown.
Media men from The Nation, The Punch and Channels Television were held back at different spots in Lagos on Monday night.
A senior editorial member of staff of The Nation was delayed at Gbagada for about five hours before being allowed to go after the intervention of a top government official. From 830pm, he did not leave the place till about 1am.
A policeman at the GRA Ikeja Junction on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway also on Monday night told two other senior editorial members of staff of this newspaper that the media is not exempted from movement during curfew. He said he was acting on the instruction by Mr. Odumosu.
The same scenario also played out at Ikorodu, as policemen warned another senior editorial member of this newspaper also on Monday night that he should get a pass from the commissioner of police henceforth, if he must move at night.
His plea that journalists work late and that they are covered in all situations being essential workers; fell on deaf ears.
Recounting his encounter with the policemen, a senior editorial member of The Nation said: “Police men stopped me twice at Ikorodu around midnight on my way home from office yesterday (Monday). I showed them my ID card. They refused to allow me go.
“I had to approach the most senior among them. While the juniors said no, the senior one saw reason but he warned that I should tell my organisation to get a pass from the CP on subsequent days if I must pass through the place.”
Odumosu had during a television programme after the first lockdown by the President, claimed that journalists must carry duly-signed letters of authority from their offices if they must be on the road at night.
His position is contrary to President Buhari’s directive in his broadcasts since the battle to stop COVID-19 started, that essential workers must be given free passage.
Minister of Information Lai Mohammaed also affirmed that journalists’ ID cards should serve as their pass.
Lagos State Governor Babajide sanwo-Olu in his briefings has always emphasized the need to permit essential service workers access.
Lagos State Commissioner for Information Mr.. Gbenga Omotoso confirmed that he called the CP on telephone to unhook journalists who were prevented from moving.
Omotoso said: “I have called the Commissioner of Police and he said he never said journalists were not exempted. I also do not believe he said so because not even in the military era were journalists stopped from going about their duties.
“Also, the President stated clearly in his speech that those on essential duties are allowed to go about during the curfew and so, I do not think the CP will do otherwise.
“I think what happened is that most journalists were trapped in traffic/road block areas and there is no way the CP would know they were there unless someone drew his attention to it. He told me when I called that night that he received a call that The Punch and Channels Television workers were caught up in the Berger curfew block, he had to go there to create way for them.
“Then, when he heard that The Nation workers were also stuck at the Gbagada end, he moved in there to ensure they cleared the road so they could pass,” said Omotoso.
Police spokesman Bala Elkana reassured media workers of their freedom of movement. He apologised to those who encountered different challenges on Monday.
He added: “As I speak to you, we are at Berger creating a passage way for those on essential duty so that they will not get trapped in the curfew roadblock.”