Similarly, 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 Dave Umahi.
A statement signed by the president of NGE, Mustapha Isah, said: “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.
“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 Odah over a story on 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.
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 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. 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.
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.”
Meanwhile, some concerned Ebonyi residents under the auspices of Ebonyi Collectives have warned Governor David Umahi against fighting the media, unnecessarily.
The Ebonyi Collectives regretted the incessant cases of detention of journalists doing their legitimate duties in the state on the orders of the governor, reminding him of a warning by late former President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe to the late administrator of the defunct East Central State, Dr Ukpabi Asika, on how temporal power is.
In a statement, the convener of the group, Chief Nwofe Opoke, said: “For sometime now, Governor David Umahi has been hounding journalists working in Ebonyi, using flimsy excuses. Maybe Umahi thinks that journalists working in Ebonyi State are his employees who he can sack at will. They are, however, not.
“Umahi began his clampdown on reporters shortly after some of them published stories about EFCC sealing his hotel. The Sun and Vanguard Newspapers were among the national newspapers who carried the story of his hotel and the EFCC connection.”