The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has demanded an end to the persistent harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State on the orders of the state power brokers, including the Governor of the State, Mr. David Umahi.
The governor in a fit of anger had four days ago accused, harassed and arrested a journalist with the Sun newspaper for writing a story on Lassa fever deaths there and then, not done, on April 21, arrested another reporter from Vanguard newspaper over a story on the invasion of a community in the state by soldiers, leading to the death of many persons. Then fews hours later, the governor ‘banned for life’ a reporter from the state.
In a statewide broadcast the governor alleged: “Ebonyi State is no longer a dumping ground. Only the other day, Chijioke Agwu (referring to The Sun Correspondent) wrote that Lassa Fever is killing Ebonyi people in droves and few days back, Mr Peter Okutu of Vanguard did his own.
“Okutu is fond of degrading Ebonyi State, and I don’t know why my officials have allowed him to continue to do that, because he is not from Ebonyi State. I want to ban him for life with Chijioke Agwu. I don’t want to see them anywhere in any Government facility.
“We are not begging you to give us good report, because the only person that gives good or bad report is God. We are all accountable to him. If you think that Ebonyi State is a dumping ground, try it again.
“If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko. Let’s leave the Court alone. Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you, if you continue to write to create panic in the State”
According to the Guild in a statement signed by its President, Mr Mustapha Isah and General Secreatry, Mrs Mary Atolagbe, the governors action amounts to being a complainant, court, prosecutor and judge by his actions.
“The latest is the arrest of a reporter with Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Peter Okutu, on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at the behest of the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Council, Mr. Clement Odah. Peter Okutu was arrested in a gestapo manner by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, at a hotel in Abakaliki, after he was lured to the hotel by Mr. Odah, over a story on military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in Ohaukwu Local Government Council. The bone of contention was not on the veracity of the story but on the number of persons allegedly killed during the military invasion.
“Reports said Peter Okutu was invited to the hotel by the Local Government Chairman. Presuming that the LG Chairman was going to give more insight into the matter, he went with another reporter from another newspaper only for him to be arrested, harassed and whisked away by men of the SARS.
Surprisingly, the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Awosola Awotunde, rather than intervene and rein in his men, justified the arrest and accused journalists of “heating up the polity.”
“The Guild recalls that a similar incident took place in the same Ebonyi State barely four days ago, when a reporter with Sun Newspapers, Mr. Chijioke Agwu, was harassed and arrested at the Government House by the Chief Security Officer, CSO, on the orders of Governor Umahi. The reporter was subsequently handed over to the state’s Commissioner of Police.
“The angst of the Governor was a feature story on Lassa fever in Ebonyi, which centred mainly on statistics sourced from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, published in the Daily Sun of Friday, April 17, 2020. The Governor had also announced a ban, on The Sun and The Vanguard reporters, for life from the Ebonyi Government House.
“The Guild finds these actions of state actors utterly reprehensible and condemnable. We are in a democracy and the Media “shall at all times be free” to perform its duties without hindrances, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (As amended). Ebonyi State should not constitute itself into a “Mafia” state where dictatorship, suppression of free speech and denigration of fundamental Human Rights reign supreme. It is not a good badge for the Governor or any other state actor to wear. It is disgraceful and disgusting. The Guild abhors such attempts at gagging free speech.
“The Guild would like all stakeholders to note that journalists are not criminals who should be harassed, intimidated, arrested and subjected to inhuman treatment under any guise. If any person feels maligned by a media report, the least required of such a person is to put forward what he or she considers the correct narrative and in the spirit of right of reply, the media is obligated to publish same. Resorting to ambushing, arm-twisting and sundry guerrilla tactics does not help to assuage the matter, rather it exacerbates it.
“Journalists are critical stakeholders and partners in national development and no attempt should be made to derail the efforts of the Press towards building a greater Nigeria.
“The Nigerian Guild of Editors therefore, calls on the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to call his men to order, not only in Ebonyi State, but all over the nation.
“The body of Editors calls for immediate cessation to all forms of harassment and arrest of journalists across the nation.
“The Guild will also hold Governor Umahi responsible for the safety of, not only the two affected reporters, but other journalists practising in Ebonyi State.