The Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in Disapora (AESID) – a nongovernmental organization passionate about the welfare of the State’s citizens – has condemned the order issued to the Department of State Security Services (DSS) by the Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, for the arrest of one of his stern critics and erstwhile Commissioner for Information, Chief Abia Onyike.
In a statement signed by Ambassador Paschal Oluchukwu, AESID President Worldwide, and made available to pressmen in Abuja on Saturday, the group said Umahi’s action is undemocratic.
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Umahi had, on April 22, claimed that he had the koboko (cane) to flog any member of the correspondents’ Chapel wing of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Ebonyi state that publishes negative story against the state.
The governor’s declaration came after he placed a life ban – which he later lifted after serious condemnation from the public – on two members of the Chapel, Mr. Chijoke Agwu of the Daily Sun and Mr. Peter Okutu of the Vanguard Newspapers.
The ban forbids the duo from entering the government house and covering state functions.
Agwu’s offence, according to the state government, was his publication on the Lassa Fever outbreak in the state while that of Okutu was based on alleged invasion at Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in Ohankwu LGA by unidentified military officers.
Again, while giving an update on COVID-19 in the State at the Government House, Abakaliki, on Thursday the governor ordered the arrest of Onyike.
AESID regretted that the governor will give such a directive on the eve of the celebration of Nigeria’s Democratic Day.
The crime of Onyike, according to the Governor, is the claim that he came into Ebonyi from an ‘unknown destination’ and allegedly violated the COVID-19 lockdown rules in the State by not quarantining himself.
He was consequently barred from entering his Edda village in (Afikpo South LGA) by the anti-COVID-19 Task Force, causing him to return to the State capital.
“We are rudely shocked that Governor Umahi could stoop so low by asking the State’s secret service to pick the former Commissioner up in his Abakaliki residence for immediate isolation at its facility.
“This platform is however deeply worried that Governor Umahi’s arrest order came barely 24 hours after Chief Onyike critiqued the Governor’s 5-year old administration during a Radio Programme on 92.5 Enugu’s Dream Fm.
“It is therefore a clear case of the witch crying in the night only for neighbours to see the dead body of the baby the next morning and this stands truly condemned by us and every reasonable Ebonyian”, the group said.
“Assuming without conceding that the former Commissioner is positive for Coronavirus, is the DSS – which should be more deeply concerned with tackling more pressing State security challenges such as kidnappings, inter-communal unrests and several reported clashes – the appropriate agency to quarantine or isolate him?
“We sincerely frown at the flagrant abuse of State powers through the incessant use of State security apparatchik and unofficial State security outfits such as the Neighbourhood Security Watch by the Governor to intimidate, harass, molest, arrest and attack harmless and innocent citizens, particularly those who share opposing views on his dictatorial style of governance.
“We wish to remind Governor Umahi that the fundamental gain in any democracy for the citizens the world over is freedom: freedom to choose those who rule them, freedom to criticize them or their style of government, freedom to criticize programmes and policies of government and, most importantly, freedom to contribute by way of advice on how governance can be better improved.”
The statement called on the governor to immediately reverse himself on the order for arrest of Chief Onyike and also order an immediate and uncoditional release of one Mr. Stephen Oken who was picked up by the DSS on the orders of the State a day earlier.
“While appreciating pasts and present leaders for their enormous contributions to the advancement of democracy in the State, we specially thank the good people of our dear Ebonyi State for their very active roles and participation so far in the entire democratic processes in the State in the last 21 years of its existence and urge them never to give up,” AESID said.