The Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, has noted with deep concern 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.
The latest is the arrest of a reporter with Vanguard newspapers, Mr Peter Okutu, on Tuesday, April 21, at the behest of the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Council, Mr Clement Odah.
Mr 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 into the hotel by Mr Odah over a story on the 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 invasion.
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 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 Governors 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 a right of reply, the media is obligated to publish same. Resorting to ambush, arm-twisting and sundry guerilla tactics do 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 . Mustapha Isah, President.