NUJ, MRA Decry Attacks on Journalists

NUJ, MRA Decry Attacks on Journalists

…Say its Worrisome Legislators Are the Culprits The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has strongly condemned the attack on journalists covering the ongoing screening of Commissioner-nominees in Ebonyi State House of Assembly by political thugs, just as a leading media advocacy group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has decried the harassment of a publisher of an

…Say its Worrisome Legislators Are the Culprits

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has strongly condemned the attack on journalists covering the ongoing screening of Commissioner-nominees in Ebonyi State House of Assembly by political thugs, just as a leading media advocacy group, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has decried the harassment of a publisher of an online medium.

The thugs, numbering over 40 with dangerous weapons, according to the NUJ, allegedly led by the member representing Afikpo South West Constituency, Mr Nkemka Onuma, had on Tuesday descended on the journalists and inflicted injuries on three of them: Mr Ogochukwu Anioke of The Nation Newspapers, Mr Samson Nwafor of Nigerian Pilot Newspapers and pregnant Mrs. Grace Egbo of Nigerian Tribune Newspapers, who was hit on her stomach.

During the melee, the legislator, Onuma, threatened to prevent journalists from covering the State Assembly, describing them as touts.

After attacking the journalists, the thugs also held one of them, Anioke, hostage inside the Assembly premises by ordering the gatemen to lock the gate as he made to drive out of the Assembly complex on Nkaliki road in Abakaliki, the state capital

It took the intervention of the State Chairman of NUJ, Mr Tony Nwizi, to prevent further attack on the journalists and their vehicles by forcefully opening the entrance gate which aided their escape.

The incident happened after the screening of one of the nominees in which the Speaker of the House, Mr Francis Nwifuru, noticed some irregularities as the year of the nominees graduation from Primary School did not correspond with the year he claimed to have started secondary school on his documents.

Nwifuru had asked him to explain how he started secondary school a year before the year he graduated from primary school as stated in his result but he could not give any reasonable answer to the query.

Reacting to the attack on the journalists, the National President of NUJ, Mr Chris Isiguzo, who condemned the action of Onuma and the thugs, demanded for an apology for their action.

He also ordered that the medical bills of the victims should be taken care of by the lawmaker.

“I am yet to get the full details of what really happened in Ebonyi state House of Assembly but if what we read is anything to go by, it is shocking and totally unbecoming for an honourable member of a House of Assembly to have abandoned his legislative duty to begin to unleash mayhem on innocent journalists in Ebonyi state.

“It is totally unacceptable to us and we demand that Ebonyi State House of Assembly should not just apologized to those people that were manhandled, they should also make sure that they are taken care of in the hospital because I learnt that one or two of those people are already in the hospital. So, they should take care of their bills in the hospital and assure us of their safety in that House of Assembly.

“There is no way that the legislature which is of course part of the ingredients of democracy in governance will still be the one to cause trouble or problem  to the safety of journalists in Ebonyi state. So, the attack is totally unacceptable and we think in the next couple of hours, the House of Assembly should do the needful”.

On the threat to prevent journalists from covering activities of the Assembly, Isiguzo said: “the lawmaker in question does not have powers to stop journalists from covering the Assembly as he threatened.

“It is a public place and it does not belong to that particular lawmaker or the Speaker, it is a public institution and they don’t have right or such powers to bar any journalists from covering the state House of Assembly, it will never happen. If they try it, we will take the next line of action. They can’t even try it; the lawmaker was only trying to grandstand.”

As many reactions continues to trail the attack on the journalists by thugs at the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, another journalist, a female, on Wednesday revealed her ordeal.

Speaking to journalists, Mrs. Grace Egbo, who is pregnant, stated that the House member Hon. Onuma, hit her on her belly without any form of restraint.

Narrating her ordeal, Egbo said: “As the impasse ensued at the House of Assembly, the member representing South West state constituency, Hon. Onuma hit me on my belly. I am pregnant. He didn’t even apologise for his action but rather walked away from me.

”I am going to see my doctor. My head, eyes and body are now paining me. The attitude of this House member is unbecoming and dishonourable. He should be called to order.”

He was reported to have threatened to stop journalists from covering the activities of the State House Assembly.

Reacting, the State Vice Chairman of NUJ, Mr. Benjamin Nworie, stated that: “I feel saddened that the most incompetent Ebonyi Lawmaker, Nkemka Onuma, should supervise and coordinate attacks on journalists in Ebonyi State. NUJ in Ebonyi State highly condemns the attack perpetrated by the thugs working for the white bearded lawmaker.

“The attack is most unfortunate at the time when the state governor, David Umahi, has launched total clampdown on all forms of social vices in the state. It is therefore worrisome to note that Nkemka has not contributed meaningfully to the legislative growth of the state but has constituted himself as a threat to practicing journalists in the state.

“The unfortunate incident therefore demands the leadership of Ebonyi State House of Assembly to assure and guarantee the safety of Journalists covering the state legislative arm, for actions like the one executed by Hon. Nkemka Onuma is not healthy for the state.

“It’s therefore expedient for the hallowed Chambers of Ebonyi State House of Assembly to suspend the member representing Afikpo South West, Hon. Nkemka Onuma for, ridiculing the hallowed Chambers and committing acts inconsistent with his mandate.”

Also the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has condemned the harassment of Mr. Oke Epia, publisher of the online newspaper, OrderPaper Nigeria, by a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Tony Nwulu, and called on the Nigerian Police to thoroughly investigate the alleged threat to the life of the journalist.

In a statement released in Lagos by its Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA reminded the Police that: “As a journalist, Mr. Epia has a constitutional right and duty to hold the government and government officials accountable to the people.  The Police is duty-bound to protect him as a citizen and as a journalist as well as to refrain from harassing him or interfering with the performance of his professional duties, while thoroughly investigating any threat to him or any attempt by any individual to harass him with a view to bringing the culprit to justice.”

Mr. Epia and his colleagues at OrderPaper are reported to have received a series of telephone calls from Hon. Nwulu and other “strange persons”, some of whom refused to identify themselves, threatening to hunt down Mr. Epia and his colleagues at all costs.

Mr. Longe noted that the report published by OrderPaper regarding the collection and expenditure of funds meant for the execution of constituency projects in Hon. Nwulu’s constituency and the allegation that the project was not implemented is well within the professional duties and obligations of the online newspaper and its publishers, adding that if the former legislator feels that the story had defamed him or in any way unfairly portrayed him in bad light, he has recourse to the courts in a civil action for defamation.

He said: “We are shocked that the former legislator, who ought to know that as an elected official, he is accountable to the public, has chosen to include the Police in his arsenal of tools for harassing and intimidating a media organization and its publisher rather than explaining to the public what has happened to the funds in question and demonstrating that the project for which the money was meant was actually implemented as specified.  It is even more shocking to us that the Police are allowing themselves to be used to harass and intimidate a media organization, its publisher and staff for carrying out their professional and constitutionally mandated duties.”

According to him, if Hon. Nwulu is alleging that he is being blackmailed by the news organization, then it seems very likely that he has done something wrong that he is trying to prevent from coming out. Otherwise, a simple explanation from him on whether the constituency project has been implemented and details of how it was implemented, the cost and satisfactory proof of these would show if the report by OrderPaper was inaccurate or completely false and would likely lay the matter to rest.

Mr. Longe observed that “Rather than provide the public with a credible explanation, Hon. Nwulu is leaving the substance of the issue and trying to use his power as a politician to silence the media while throwing up a lot of smoke in the process.  It will not work; we can see through these antics.”

He added: “Mr. Epia says given the rate of attacks against journalists in Nigeria in recent times, he is fearful for his life as a result of the threat by Hon. Nwulu to hunt him down.  We share his concern and call on the Nigerian Police to protect the journalist from an obviously angry individual who is determined to punish the publisher of the media outlet that dared to examine his performance in office.  Hon. Nwulu feels that because he was once elected to the National Assembly, he is above the Law and cannot be questioned or asked to give account of his performance in office.  Any demand on him to be accountable is viewed as blackmail.”

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