The governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, on Wednesday continued his war on the media by banning for life, the state correspondents of The Sun newspaper, Chijioke Agwu, and the Vanguard newspaper, Peter Okutu, from entering the Government House or any government facility in the state.
Umahi, who made the declaration in a statewide live broadcast aired on the State’s broadcast stations, said he was displeased with the leadership of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), for failing to discipline their members.
The governor, had, last week Saturday, ordered the arrest of Mr Agwu over a report he did on the Lassa Fever outbreak in the state.
Three days later, Mr Okutu was arrested on the orders of Ohaukwu LGA Chairman, Clement Odah, over a report he did on the alleged military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in the council area.
Both Journalists were later released.
Mr Umahi, who said the safety of journalists in the state could no longer be guaranteed by him, noted that the people were angry with the journalists and might begin to unleash mayhem on them if they continue to cause panic in the state.
The governor said, “If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko.”
He added, “I want to say that I am very displeased with the president and leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists and I am going to seize their allowances for two months because they have failed to discipline their members.
“Ebonyi State is no longer a dumping ground. Only the other day, Chijioke Agwu (referring to The Sun Correspondent) wrote that Lassa Fever is killing Ebonyi people in droves and (a) few days back, Mr Peter Okutu of Vanguard did his own.
“Okutu is fond of degrading Ebonyi State, and I don’t know why my officials have allowed him to continue to do that, because he is not from Ebonyi State. I want to ban him for life with Chijioke Agwu. I don’t want to see them anywhere in any Government facility.
“We are not begging you to give us good report, because the only person that gives good or bad report is God. We are all accountable to him. If you think that Ebonyi State is a dumping ground, try it again.
“If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko. Let’s leave the court alone. Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you, if you continue to write to create panic in the state.
“I want you to write it that way, that I said, press in Ebonyi is trying to create another COVID that is more dangerous and that is to create panic in our people.
“The other one wrote that cholera has killed 20 people in Ohaukwu. If you try it again, I may not know when Ebonyians may react. This is important for the NUJ to know.
“If you are an Ebonyi man or live in Ebonyi and you don’t feel our pains, it is a shame on you. Maybe, the press people claim they are untouchable. I have reported to the National President of NUJ, I have reported to (the) State leadership of NUJ and I have reported to the public. Now, the die is cast. May God save us, in this time,” he said.
Meanwhile, the International Press Centre has condemned the arrests of Mr Okutu by the Police.
The organisation, in a statement, described the arrest of the journalist reportedly on the orders of a local government Chairman in the state, as another unbecoming act of executive lawlessness.
It said that by ordering security operatives to arrest the journalist, the concerned Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Council of the state, Mr Odah, violated the right of Mr Okutu to self-dignity and violently assaulted press freedom in the process.
The IPC, according to the statement which was signed by its Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade, reiterated that anybody or institution that feels aggrieved about a story should either exercise the right of reply or seek redress legally and not embark on extrajudicial self-help.
“Arresting a journalist and getting him detained over a story is not an acceptable means of seeking such redress and the act of Mr Odah is unacceptable.
“Coming after a similar arrest and detention of The Sun newspaper reporter, Agwu Chijioke, on the orders of the State Governor, David Umahi, who also featured prominently in the ordeal of Mr Okutu, IPC is worried that the state government is fast becoming notorious for its serial violation of the rights of journalists.”
The IPC reminded the state government that such attacks on journalists over the performance of their legitimate duty is antithetical to democratic norms and values.