…As Guild of Editors, indigenes demand end to harassment of journalists by Ebonyi government

By Victor Nwegede

The former Secretary to Ebonyi State Government, Prof. Bernard Ifeanyichukwu Odoh has condemned the actions of Governor Dave Umahi against the state based journalists and citizens, saying the governor should apologize for having abused human rights in several occasion since assumed office in 2015.

According to Prof. Odoh, the people around the globe “are living in time of most profound upheaval that demands leader’s empathy and care. Most people are going through the worst mental, psychological and emotional experiences ever, thus, compelling leaders globally to show greater compassion to citizens. But Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, doesn’t understand that our people, by whose mandates he is the Governor deserve at least minimal respect and treatment with a reasonable degree of human dignity.

“In the past couple of days, I have read his deplorable outbursts and chastisement of journalists in Ebonyi with deep concern and worries.
One wonders where he derives his powers from? His approach to minor civil interactions and engagements is at best, VERY UNDEMOCRATIC and exceedingly DICTATORIAL to say the least.

“When I resigned from the position of SSG in April 2018, I chronicled my reasons for quitting the job among which were; his high-handedness and intolerance to contrary opinions. Despite our differences in views on governance, I wrote him a personal letter before the commencement of his 2nd tenure in office and captioned how he should lead Ebonyians with empathy, love and respect and also; to be mindful of his actions which were capable of creating disorder in the system should he continue to operate like an emperor.

“These past few days, his actions and utterances shows behaviour of a man who has total disregard for the led. Ebonyi residents deserve better than these tyrannical onslaughts from a man who is ordoninarily supposed to be accountable to his people. These actions and utterances of the governor denigrate our collective sacrifices towards improving the well-being of our people.
We are not all conquered people. I feel obligated to speak and to express my disgust at the Governor’s outbursts and unguided utterances.

“The security agencies in the State are enjoined to ensure that the rights and privileges of the citizens whom HE swore to protect are not trampled upon. I plead with the peace-loving people of Ebonyi state to remain calm and law- abiding even in the face of these unwarranted provocations. Iencourage Governor Umahi to apologise to residents and journalists over these actions. Being a governor is not a license to cynicism and abuse of human rights”.

Also, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has called to an end to the harassment of journalists by Ebonyi state government.

NGE has noted with deep concerns, the persistent harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State on the orders of the state power brokers, including the Governor of the State, Mr. David Nweze Umahi.

The statement signed by the NGE President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Mary Atolagbe, hinted that 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 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.

“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”.

Ebonyians at home and abroad have therefore, described this ongoing conflict between the state based journalists and Governor David Nweze Umahi’s led administration as the highest degrace, the Governor has brought to the state, asking him to quickly apologize the men of the Fourth Estate of Realm including all the well meaning Ebonyians whose their reputations and degnities have been made to suffer diverse ill-treatments due to the actions demonstrated by the Governor and other power brokers in the state.


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