The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) has condemned the harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State with the active collaboration of the state government.
The guild, in a statement signed by its Chairman, Mustapha Isah, and Secretary-General, Mary Atolagbe, noted with deep concern, the persistent harassment of journalists in Ebonyi State on the orders of the state power brokers, including Governor David Umahi.
It cited cases of harassment which include 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.
The statement noted that 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 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 military invasion,” the statement noted.
“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,” the guild lamented.
Giving insight into the role of the Commissioner of Police, the statement further said, “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 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.
Further condemning the actions, it said, “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 the right of reply, the media is obligated to publish the same.
“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.
Calling for immediate stoppage of such acts of intimidation, and humiliation for journalists, the guild said, “We call for an 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 practicing in Ebonyi State.