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Umahi to Vanguard, The Sun reporters: If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko

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Lassa Fever, David Umahi, Journalist
Governor of Ebonyi state, David Umahi

…Stop this impunity against journalists, NUJ tells Umahi
…NGE to Umahi: Stop harassment of journalists now
…As SERAP gives Umahi 48 hours to reverse action

By Innocent Anaba & Peter Okutu

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, yesterday, barred the correspondents of Vanguard and The Sun newspapers, Peter Okutu and Chijioke Agwu, respectively from entering Government House and government facilities in the state for life.

This came as Nigerian  Guild of Editors, NGE, expressed deep concern over the persistent harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State on the orders of the state power brokers, including the Governor of the state, Mr. Dave Umahi.

Also, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has condemned “the blatant intimidation, harassment and attacks on journalists and media houses by Governor Umahi and the illegal banning of the correspondents of The Sun Newspapers, Chijioke Agwu, and Vanguard Newspapers, Peter Okutu, from entering Government House and government facilities in the state for life.”

Umahi, who made the statement in a statewide live broadcast aired in the state’s television and radio stations, said he was displeased with the leadership of Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, for failing to discipline their members.

Umahi had last Saturday ordered the arrest of The Sun Correspondent, Chijioke Agwu, over a report he did on lassa fever outbreak in the state . He  was later released.

Three days later, Mr. Peter Okutu was arrested on the orders of Ohaukwu Local Government Area Chairman, Mr. Clement Odah, over a report he did on the alleged military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in the council area. He has also been released.

Umahi, who said the safety of journalists in the state could no longer be guaranteed by him, noted that the people were angry with the journalists and might  begin to unleash mayhem on them if they continue to cause panic in the state.

According to him, “I want to say that I am very displeased with the president and leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and I am going to seize their allowances for two months, because they have failed to discipline their members.

“Ebonyi State is no longer a dumping ground. 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

“If you think you have the pen, we have 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.

“I want you to write it that way, that I said, press in Ebonyi is trying to create another COVID-19 that is more dangerous and that is to create panic in our people.

“The other one wrote that cholera has killed 20 people in Ohaukwu. If you try it again, I may not know when Ebonyians may react. This is important for the NUJ to know.

“If you are an Ebonyi  man or live in Ebonyi and you don’t feel our pains, it is a shame on you. May be, the press people claim they are untouchable. I have reported to the National President of NUJ, I have reported to state leadership of NUJ and I have reported to the public. Now, the die is cast. May God save us, in the course of time.”

Stop this impunity against journalists, NUJ tells Gov Umahi

Reacting to Umahi’s outburst, the national Union of Journalists,  NUJ,  national secretariat has condemned the continuous desperate action of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to destroy journalists and journalism in his state.

NUJ  National Secretary, Mr Shuaibu Leman, in a statement, yesterday, said: “The most recent development in which Governor Umahi instigated attacks on 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, 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 Gov. 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.”

Stop harassment of journalists now, NGE tells Umahi

A statement by NGE President, Mustapha Isah,  noted that the  bone of contention was not on the veracity of the story but on the number of persons allegedly killed during the invasion.

NGE said: “Reports said Okutu was invited by the Local Government Chairman to the hotel. The reporter, presuming that the LG chairman was going to give more insight into the matter, went in company of another reporter from another newspaper only for him to be arrested, harassed and whisked away by men of the SARS.

“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 The Sun newspapers in the state, Mr. Chijioke Agwu, was harassed and arrested inside Government House on the orders of Governor Dave Umahi by his Chief Security Officer, CSO, who subsequently handed over the reporter to the Commissioner of Police.

“The anger 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 Daily Sun of Friday, April 19, 2020. The governor has also announced a ban on The Sun and Vanguard’s 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 hindrance as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“Ebonyi State should not constitute itself into a mafia state where dictatorship, oppression 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 notes 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 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 ambushment, arm-twisting and sundry guerilla tactics does not help to assuage the matter, rather it exacerbates it.

“We call on the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to call his men , not only in Ebonyi State, but all over the nation, to order. Journalists are critical stakeholders and partners in national development and no attempt should be made to derail our efforts towards building a greater Nigeria.

“The Guild calls for immediate cessation to all forms of harassment and arrests of journalists across the nation. We will also hold Gov. Umahi responsible for the safety of, not only the two affected reporters, but of all other journalists practising in Ebonyi.”

SERAP gives Umahi 48 hours to reverse action

Also reacting, SERAP in a statement by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “This action is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom as guaranteed by Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and the country’s international obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.

“We will pursue appropriate legal action nationally and internationally against Ebonyi State authorities if this illegality is not reversed within 48 hours of the publication of this statement.”

The statement  read, in part: “We urge Governor David Umahi to show a greater level of transparency and accountability by immediately reversing the purported ban, and allowing journalists and media houses to freely cover the activities of his government.

“Nigerians expect their leaders to show  a greater level of transparency and accountability and to explain and take responsibility for what they are doing rather than threatening, intimidating, harassing and banning journalists and media houses from covering their public functions. These journalists and media houses are simply doing their work and playing their constitutional roles.

“The ban clearly runs counter to the notion of a free marketplace of ideas, necessary to serve the best interests of the public. Barring journalists undermines Nigeria’s pledges on democratic reforms and the rule of law and must stop now.”

Vanguard

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