MRA, IPC Petition CCB over Violation of Journalists Rights, Seek Removal of Umahi for Abuse of Office

MRA, IPC Petition CCB over Violation of Journalists Rights, Seek Removal of Umahi for Abuse of Office

…Accused the Ebonyi State Helmsman of Acting Arbitrarily, Violating the Rights of Other Persons …Say He’s Unfit to Continue to Hold Office of Governor …Want Him Disqualified from Holding Any Public Office for 10 Years Two leading media support organizations, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC), have petitioned the Code of

…Accused the Ebonyi State Helmsman of Acting Arbitrarily, Violating the Rights of Other Persons

…Say He’s Unfit to Continue to Hold Office of Governor

…Want Him Disqualified from Holding Any Public Office for 10 Years

Two leading media support organizations, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC), have petitioned the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), asking it to sanction Ebonyi State Governor, Mr David Umahi for allegedly misconducting himself, breaching his oath of office and the Code of Conduct for Public Officers following his recent attacks on Journalists in the State.

In a complaint addressed to the Chairman of the Bureau pursuant to Paragraph 3(e) of Part One to the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the organizations contended that Mr. Umahi is unfit to continue to hold the office of Governor and requested the Bureau to investigate the matter and invoke the provisions of Paragraph 18(2)(a) and (b) of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained in the Constitution to secure his removal from office and disqualification from holding any public office in Nigeria for the next 10 years.

Signed by MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo; and the Executive Director of the IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, the petition recounted the April 18 arrest of Mr. Chijioke Agwu, a reporter with the Daily Sun newspaper, on the instructions of the Governor. They also recalled the April 22 state-wide radio and television broadcast by the Governor in which he banned for life Mr. Agwu and Mr. Peter Okutu, a correspondent of the Vanguard newspaper, from entering the State Government House or any other government facility and from covering any government or official functions in the state.

The organizations attached an audio recording of the Governor’s broadcast to the petition, saying it contained inciting statements against the two journalists whom he banned, thereby putting their lives at risk, as well as threats to other journalists in the state whom he said would face dire consequences should they publish any negative stories about his Government.

They noted that the actions and conduct of the Governor constitute an abuse of office in that he improperly and illegally used his position and power as Governor in an abusive way to oppress and violate the rights of citizens of Nigeria and put their lives at risk.

The organizations argued that the Governor has no authority under the Constitution or any other Law, whether as Governor or in any other capacity, to take the actions he took, particularly to impose a life ban on journalists or on any other citizen, who have not been charged with or convicted of any offence known to Law. 

They accused the Governor of violating his Oath of Office and the Oath of Allegiance, contravening several provisions of the 1999 Constitution, putting Nigeria in a situation of having breached its international treaty obligations, particularly Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, where as a Member State of the Economic Community of West African States, Nigeria agreed to co-operate with other Member States in the area of information and undertook to “ensure respect for the rights of journalists.”  They also cited the provisions of the Constitution which the Governor violated to include Sections 13, 22, 35(1), 35(3) and 39(1).

The organizations contended that by his illegal and unconstitutional actions, the Governor has brought Nigeria to ridicule before the international community and is responsible for Nigeria’s violation of several international instruments. Among these are the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as various resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly on the safety of journalists and actions that should be taken on impunity for crimes against journalists.

According to them, by conducting himself in the manner he did, the Governor acted arbitrarily and in a manner prejudicial to the rights of other persons, particularly media practitioners engaged in the lawful pursuit of their professional duties as journalists.

They contend that he thereby violated the provisions of Paragraph 9 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers contained in the 1999 Constitution, which states that “A public officer shall not do or direct to be done, in abuse of his office, any arbitrary act prejudicial to the rights of any other person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy.”

Mr. Arogundade said: “We consider the actions of Governor Umahi a grave threat to and assault on our fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens, particularly in the light of his relentless attacks on journalists whose roles are more important now than ever before in the context of a global pandemic that poses an existential threat to humanity. We are motivated to take this step by our conviction that if we in Nigeria are to overcome the current and future challenges, the ability of Journalists to be able to continue their professional and constitutionally mandate role of gathering, processing and disseminating information to the public should not be hindered”.

His views were echoed by Mr. Ojo, who noted that “the Governor had deliberately and unlawfully created a toxic environment for Journalists and other media practitioners in Ebonyi State by continually making it impossible for them to carry out their professional duties, recklessly inciting citizens against them and putting their lives and welfare at risk.”

“It is clear to us from the actions and utterances of Governor Umahi that he is lawless and has no regard for the Constitution, his Oath of Office, or common decency. He believes that he is a law unto himself and we have no doubt that such a person is not fit to continue to hold such high office in Nigeria. We therefore intend to use all legal and constitutional means available to us to pursue this matter to its logical conclusion,” Mr Ojo said.   

Civil Liberties Organisation

The Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, South East Zone, has also condemned “in entirety the dissent to dictatorship and anti-democratic actions of the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Dave Nwaeze Umahi.”

Umahi reportedly “bared his fangs on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 in a state-wide broadcast where he unilaterally proclaimed a “life ban”  from government house on two Journalists working in the state, Chijioke Agwu of The Sun and Peter Okutu of Vanguard for writing what he (The Governor) considered uncomplimentary for the government.”

South-East CLO said in a statement issued on Thursday in Awka and signed by the Zonal Chairman, Mr Aloysius Attah that, “The broadcast though embarrassing and distasteful for the image of the Ebonyi State, Salt of the Nation, didn’t come as a surprise for us in The CLO, South East Zone, having known and monitored the Governor’s antecedents since he became the state Chief Executive in 2015.

“We saw the broadcast as a vindication for those who have suffered from the Governor’s alleged highhandedness, iron fist leadership, emotional, psychological and physical brutality in the past, who have been crying silently  but their voices have not been heard, rather they were being demonised by their oppressor.

“In Governor Umahi’s administration in Ebonyi State, government appointees and citizens live in perpetual fear. He behaves like the Lord of the Manor, his words are law while the exco members of his administration are made to become dummies that have no idea to bring during meetings but decisions are shoved down their throat to implement even against their will.

“In Ebonyi state under Umahi, free speech is non-existent while freedom of expression, holding opinions and press freedom as enshrined in Chapter 4, sections 22 and 39 of the  1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which the Governor swore to uphold are all observed in breach.

“Under Umahi, political appointees live with their hearts literarily in their hands because the ‘Emperor’ and ‘His Imperial Majesty’ can hire and fire at will or as he so desires depending on his mood at any point in time.

“In Ebonyi under Umahi, 21 years after the end of military rule and hand over to civilian democratic governance, phrases like “Shoot at sight”, “use our koboko” among others which are associated with the jackboot era of the military are still normal lexicon still in practice.

The CLO contends that, “Press freedom remains one of the essential pillars of democracy while the upholding of responsibility and accountability of leaders to the people which the press promotes should not be subjected to the emotions and countenance of an elected Governor.

“Before  this reckless arrogation of power which the Governor displayed in handing out the harsh ‘sentence’ without trial on Okutu and Agwu, other journalists who have tasted Umahi’s bitter pill in the past included Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Obinna Odogwu and Emmanuel Uzor all of The Sun Newspaper before Uzor joined his government.  Uzor’s sack from the post of Chief Press Secretary and later assignment to another position was also part of the anti-democratic actions of the Governor.

“Others included but not limited to Samuel Nweze, publisher of Peoples Leader Newspaper and Charles Otu, publisher of Conscience Newspaper, two local tabloids based in Ebonyi.

“The likes of Prof Bernard Odoh, former SSG who resigned his position honourably and wrote an open letter to the Governor was an exemplary show of courage from the mould of other appointees ‘suffering and smiling’ in Umahi’s government.

“But the CLO wish to remind Governor Umahi that history and posterity has never been kind to despots and anti-democrats. We also wish to remind the Governor that he was elected to serve while he is not a permanent landlord at Ebonyi Government House.  His day of exit is already numbered and he has no power under any law to determine who stays or quits Ebonyi state. In fact, his power as the Chief Security Officer of the state places him in a tight corner to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the two Journalists and other citizens and residents of the state.

“In the light of the foregoing, The CLO therefore recommends that Governor Umahi should proceed on a three-month intensive course on Democratic Ethos, Practices and Principles at the National Democratic Institute. Such an intensive course will make him imbibe democratic principles that will not only make him realize that power is transient but that he holds and wields such powers on behalf of the people.

“We also call on the South East Governors Forum to not only condemn the Governor’s recent action but should strip him the position of Chairman of the Forum.

“The National Human Rights Commission should also withdraw the Award bestowed on Chief Umahi as the Best Governor in Educational Reforms, Infrastructural Development and Respect for Human Rights in Nigeria. The award in all ramifications was unmerited.

“We call on the International Press Centre, IPU, Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other global Rights bodies to not only place Ebonyi on their Watch List but take every necessary step that will ensure that free voice is not repressed and climate of fear doesn’t prevail in Ebonyi State,” the CLO said.

Governor David Umahi

Governor Umahi has however disowned the audio and video recordings in the social media claiming he allegedly banned two newsmen for life for publishing false reports.

The Governor in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr Francis Nwaze, described the audio and video recordings as “doctored’’ and aimed at misleading the public.

Nwaze said the two newsmen’s reports raised alarm and caused panic in the midst of the fight against COVID-19.

“There is no case of confirmed death caused by Lassa fever recently in Ebonyi, and neither was there any killings by the Nigerian military last weekend in the state.

“The reports were ill-conceived and have no truth in them as both newsmen were never embarrassed, intimidated or harassed to the knowledge of the Governor at any government event.

“The Governor never ordered such ban and he called the attention of the NUJ leadership in the state on April 15 and April 22, advising it to ensure that its members always verified their reports in the interest of the state and nation,’’ he said.

Nwaze, in the statement, called on the NUJ and the public to discountenance the false reports, as well as audio and video recordings as they were figments of imagination of the bearers.

“It is a delicate attempt to smear the hard-earned reputation and good relationship of the Governor with the media,” the statement reads.

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