Editors warns Ebonyi Governor over harassment of journalists

Editors warns Ebonyi Governor over harassment of journalists

Saturday, April 25, 2020 1:20 am

Governor David Umahi:

Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has condemned the persistent harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State on the orders of the state power brokers, including the Governor of the State, Mr. David Umahi.
The Guild, in a press  jointly signed by Mustapha Isah, President and  Mary Atolagbe, General Secretary alleged that one of such harassment was 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.
NGE said 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.
According to the Guild, the bone of contention was not on the veracity of the story, but on the number of persons allegedly killed during the military invasion.
“Peter Okutu was invited to the hotel by the Local Government Chairman. Presuming that the Local Government 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,” NGE said.
The Guild recalled that a similar incident took place in the same Ebonyi State barely four days ago, when a reporter with 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.
NGE noted that the reporter was subsequently handed over to the state’s Commissioner of Police.
The Guild noted that the Governor was enraged by “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.
It noted that subsequently, the Governor 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).
“The Ebonyi State Governor was cautioned not to turn  “state 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.
NGE further advised that 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 said it will also hold Governor Umahi responsible for the safety of, not only the two affected reporters, but other journalists practicing in Ebonyi State.

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