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Umahi life ban on journalists, anti-people, draconian — NBA

John Alechenu, Ade Adesomoju and Samson Folarin April 24, 2020 | EASTERN PILOT The Nigerian Bar Association on Thursday described ...

John Alechenu, Ade Adesomoju and Samson Folarin

April 24, 2020 | EASTERN PILOT

The Nigerian Bar Association on Thursday described the action of the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, banning of two reporters with Daily Sun and Vanguard newspapers from covering the activities of the Ebonyi State Government as anti-people and an attempt to gag the press.

Umahi had during a live broadcast on Wednesday on the state-owned television and radio stations  barred Mr Chijioke Agwu of The Sun  and Mr Peter Okutu of Vanguard, over stories published by the reporters that he was displeased with.

The NBA, through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kunle Edun, expressed sadness over the government’s action on Thursday.

It said the rights to freedom of expression, to impart and disseminate information were constitutionally guaranteed rights which could not be taken by an executive fiat.

Edun noted that there were other statutory remedies, such as the law of libel, for anyone who was dissatisfied with false publications, to explore.

He said, “The Nigerian Bar Association views the reported threat ascribed to the Governor of Ebonyi State allegedly banning two journalists for life as unfortunate and a sad reminder of the rule by force under the military regime.

“The Nigerian press constitutes the fourth realm in the democracy estate and plays a very important function in ensuring the growth of our democracy.

“The right to freedom of expression and the right to impart and disseminate information are constitutionally guaranteed rights under the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and same cannot be taken away by executive fiat.

“The law against libel is available for anyone seeking remedies against false publications.

“Our democracy requires an unfettered and courageous press to grow.

“It is anti-people to gag the press. Government is expected to partner the media, civil society organisations and professional organisations like the NBA to help in the delivery of the dividends of democracy.”

Meanwhile, The Sun Publishing Limited has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, over the harassment and arrest of Agwu by the state police command.

The petition, signed by the Managing Director, Onuoha Ukeh, noted that Agwu had written a features article based on statistics from the National Centre for Disease Control on the Lassa fever outbreak in Ebonyi State.

He said on April 18, the day after the report was published, the reporter was arrested while attending a press conference at the Government House, Abakiliki, on the orders of the governor.

“The initial plan of the governor and the Commissioner of Police was to hurriedly arraign him before a magistrate’s court on trumped-up charges for violating the Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) Diseases and Related Matters Law (No. 005) 2020. However, it took the intervention of the police high command and well-meaning Nigerians before Mr Agwu eventually regained his freedom,” Ukeh said in the petition.

He added that the dust had yet to settle on the incident when Umahi announced during interraction with journalists that Agu (and another reporter with Vanguard Newspaper) had been banned for life from the government house and all government facilities in the state.

The paper said it was worried by the actions of the governor and the state Commissioner of Police.

“The ill treatments meted out to Mr Chijioke Agwu (and by extension to our organisation) amounts to violation of rights to human dignity, freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of expression (including rights to gather, write, publish  and circulate news), which are all guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”

The paper demanded security for the reporter and workers of the company in the state, adding that the state Commissioner of Police be cautioned.

This is just as indigenes of Ebonyi State under the aegis of the Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in Diaspora, also slammed Umahi.

The association noted that by his action, the governor had confirmed fears of the administration’s slide into dictatorship.

This was contained in a statement signed by the Chairman of AESID, Pascal Oluchukwu, in Abuja, on Thursday.

He said, “Governor Umahi is ruling the state like a Banana Republic where there are no rules of law, hence his desperate move to cover up several atrocities going on in Ebonyi State.

“The banning of these two journalists is a result of a plot to cover up some atrocities already committed. There are people this government has taken their land forcefully for an airport project, but till now these poor farmers have nowhere to call home again.

“We, the indigenous citizens of Ebonyi in diaspora are saying no to banning of journalists in Ebonyi Government House and we call on all the media houses to beam their searchlights more on the mis-governance going on in our dear state.”


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