By Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure, Chukwudi Nweje and Olamide Babatunde
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has cautioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against forceful takeover of The Sun Publishing Limited.
In a statement by the National Secretary, Shuaib Usman Leman entitled: “We call for restraint with The Sun”, the union warned EFCC against acting on a matter before the highest court in the land.
Operatives of the EFCC backed by heavily armed policemen, Saturday invaded the head office of The Sun newspapers at Apapa and ordered staff out of the premises.
The statement came as the Lagos Council of the union paid a solidarity visit to the city office of the media organisation in Ikeja, yesterday.
The statement read: “The NUJ is worried by the recent developments at The Sun Newspapers in Lagos where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had given a notice to staff of the organisation to vacate the premises and allow for a take over by the commission.
“The EFCC said it will enforce a court judgement which ordered for the seizure of property belonging to Senator Orji Uzor Kalu who was convicted of fraud.
“While we appreciate the efforts of EFCC at fighting corruption in the country but we hasten to caution that any attempt to throw Journalists out of work for whatever reason in such a hasty manner is not good for democracy.
“The media as pivots to good governance and democracy must be allowed to flourish unhindered. We therefore urge for restraint in this regard to allow for the appeal filed to be determined first before any decision is taken.
“We are afraid that moving hurriedly to seal off The Sun may be misconstrued as politically motivated. This action regrettably is being taken without any consideration to the essence of preserving vibrant and virile journalism at this time when the profession is facing increasing challenges. We need to preserve the jobs of the media workers in The Sun Newspapers by being circumspect and prudent in this respect.”
NUJ chairman, Lagos chapter, Qasim Akinreti, who led a team to the City office, yesterday, said any attempt to shut down The Sun would have far reaching consequences on the society
“Our members will be out in the lurch and this will send a wrong signal to the international community. We intend to also go to the EFCC Lagos office to express our concern. While the matter in court subsists, we want EFCC to tarry a while. Identify Slok Nigeria as an entity different from The Sun. In fighting corruption, which we agree to, we want EFCC to be wary that there is another side to the coin, especially at a time the perception of the people are skewed by the perceived oppression of journalists by government.”
While commending the NUJ, Managing Director of The Sun, Onuoha Ukeh, said: “This is not a battle for The Sun alone but for journalists because we have people on the payroll who have dependents. If something like this happens it will affect a lot of people.”
He clarified that there was a distinction between The Sun, Slok and Dr. Kalu.
Similarly, former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike has described the invasion as “an anachronistic action reminiscent of the military era.”
He warned the EFCC against imposing dictatorship on the media, even as he said The Sun is a separate legal entity and should not be dragged into the recent judgement of the Federal High Court against Dr. Orji Kalu.
“The society is not static and the government agencies must not impose dictatorship on the 4th estate of realm. The publishing company is a juristic person and must be distinguished from the person of the chairman. That is why everyone is liable for its action.”
He also asked the EFCC not to jump the gun, but wait for the verdict of the court in its case with The Sun, which is at the Court of Appeal.
“I am aware that the Federal Government agency charged with crime investigation is in court with The Sun Publishing Ltd. Having submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, the EFCC must await the judgment or the orders of the court before sealing up the newspaper.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, the conviction of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu has no legal relationship with the invasion of the premises of the media house. The officers in the government of Muhammadu Buhari swore to uphold the constitution. I ask for nothing less than Justice”, he added.
Uwazuruike asked the judiciary to rise against executive lawlessness
“Executive lawlessness as stated by Justice C.A Oputa of the Supreme Court in the celebrated case of Ojukwu vs Governor of Lagos, must not be tolerated today. Oputa and his colleagues in the military era had the courage to uphold justice. The judiciary of today must do likewise,” Uwazuruike said.