…Condemn Actions of Ebonyi State Actors as Utterly Reprehensible …Counsel against Promoting Dictatorship, Suppression of Free Speech, Human Rights …Say Press Freedom, Right to Information Critical to Achieving Credible Democracy The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the International Press Centre (IPC) have condemned the increasing harassment of Journalists working
…Condemn Actions of Ebonyi State Actors as Utterly Reprehensible
…Counsel against Promoting Dictatorship, Suppression of Free Speech, Human Rights
…Say Press Freedom, Right to Information Critical to Achieving Credible Democracy
The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the International Press Centre (IPC) have condemned the increasing harassment of Journalists working in Ebonyi state on the orders of the Governor, Mr David Umahi and other senior government officials, arguing that press freedom is germane to achieving credible democracy.
The latest in the series of harassment of Journalists is the arrest of a reporter with Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Peter Okutu, on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at the behest of the Chairman, Ohaukwu Local Government Council, Mr. Clement Odah.
Mr Okutu was said to have been arrested in a gestapo manner by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, at a hotel in Abakaliki, after he was lured there by Mr. Odah, over a story on military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community located in his council area. 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 the Vanguard reporter was invited to the hotel by the LG chairman on the pretext that Mr Odah was going to give more insight into the matter. Mr Okutu, who went with another reporter from another newspaper, was later 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.”
In a statement signed by its National Secretary, Mr Shuaibu Usman Leman, the NUJ frowned at what it called “the continuous desperate action of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to destroy Journalists and Journalism profession in his state,” noting that, “The most recent development in which Governor Umahi was instigating attacks against Journalists in the state is frightening to the Union as it signals clearly that such attacks on the media are not going to abate any soon.”
“We regret to note that Governor Umahi is ingloriously attaining notoriety in his continuous harassment, detentions and insults on Journalists who dare to report what he feels are against the interest of his government. As professionals whose responsibility is to monitor governance and hold Government accountable to the masses, Journalists now live in perpetual fear of being arrested by security operatives or attacked by faceless assailants without any just cause in Ebonyi State.
“The NUJ has repeatedly cautioned against such acts of impunity and stressed that it is worth noting that press freedom is key to achieving credible democracy and this freedom includes the right to seek and receive information from all available sources to enable formulation of proper opinions to whomsoever one desires and to do so through whichever means it is feasible to communicate. Such attacks we believe are meant to curtail such freedoms.
“In the light of these unabated attacks and intimidation of Journalists, we call once more on Governor Umahi to tread with caution because the Union will hold him personally responsible for any untoward action on Journalists in Ebonyi State.
“It must also be noted that the purported ban placed on two journalists in the state from visiting the Government House or any government facility in Ebonyi State is a joke taken too far by the Governor since these facilities are public and not private property. It should be noted that neither the Governor nor any government official can determine media content or stop journalists from holding government accountable.
“The Governor may wish to know also that both the Union and respective media organisations have their own procedures of disciplining journalists who step out of bounds but certainly we cannot keep quiet in the face of this brazen attempt to muzzle press freedom which is a critical ingredient for democratic governance,” the NUJ says.
Also speaking in the same vein, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), noted with deep concerns, the persistent harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State on the orders of the state power brokers, including Governor Umahi.
The Guild in a statement signed by its President, Mr Mustapha Isah Osikhekha and General Secretary, Ms Mary Atolagbe, recalls that a similar incident took place in the same Ebonyi State barely four days ago, when a reporter with The 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.
According to the Editors body, “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,” disclosing that “ The Governor had also announced a ban, on The Sun and The Vanguard reporters, for life from the Ebonyi Government House.
The Guild says it “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,” it says.
The NGE 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, demanding for immediate cessation to all forms of harassment and arrest of Journalists, across the nation.
The Guild says it will also hold Governor Umahi responsible for the safety of, not only the two affected reporters, but other Journalists practising in Ebonyi State.
The International Press centre (IPC) observes that “The arrest of Vanguard Correspondent in Ebonyi State, Mr. Peter Okutu, reportedly on the orders of a local government Chairman in the state, is another unbecoming act of executive lawlessness.”
“By ordering security operatives to arrest the Journalist, the concerned Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Council of the state, Mr. Clement Odah, violated the right of Mr. Okutu to self dignity and violently assaulted press freedom in the process,” it says in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Mr Lanre Arogundade.
IPC hereby “reiterates that anybody or institution that feels aggrieved about a story should either exercise the right of reply or seek redress legally and not embark on extra judicial self-help.
“Arresting a journalist and getting him detained over a story is not an acceptable means of seeking such redress and the act of Mr. Odah is unacceptable. We condemn it and demand the immediate release of Mr. Okutu.
“Coming after a similar arrest and detention of The Sun newspaper reporter, Agwu Chijioke, on the orders of the State Governor, David Umahi, who also featured prominently in the ordeal of Mr. Okutu, IPC is worried that the state government is fast becoming notorious for its serial violation of the rights of Journalists.
“The state government is hereby reminded that such attacks on Journalists over the performance of their legitimate duty are antithetical to democratic norms and values,” IPC notes.