The Executive Director of popular online medium Igbere TV, Emeh James Anyalekwa, has threatened to drag Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State to court and before the international community, over the continuous clampdown, intimidation and harassment of journalists in the state.
Mr. Anyalekwa gave the hint in a widely circulated statement on Thursday, 23rd April 2020, against the backdrop of the earlier ban on two journalists from the Ebonyi State Government House, and from covering activities of the state government.
Umahi had last week Saturday ordered the arrest of The Sun Newspaper’s Ebonyi State Government House correspondent, Chijioke Agwu, over a report he did on Lassa Fever outbreak in the state.
Three days later, Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspaper, was arrested on the order of Ohaukwu LGA Chairman, Mr. Clement Odah, over a report he did on the alleged military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in the council area.
However, the Igbere TV boss said the continuous clampdown on media houses and journalists going about their lawful business by state actors and power brokers in Ebonyi, particularly Gov. Umahi, was no longer acceptable.
“It is the right and duty of journalists as the watchdog of society to expose atrocities of both criminals and state actors for the good of all and not even Governor Dave Umahi can wish this away,” he said, insisting that the widely publicised "life ban" on the journalists by Gov. Umahi was “ill-advised.”
“In an apparent incitement of the people against the journalists, Gov. Umahi openly declared that he could no longer guarantee their safety and would not be able to control the people should they rise against the two reporters. This, to me, is totally unacceptable. And the governor must be held responsible for any untoward action on any of the journalists or others in the state.
“That open declaration and unguarded statement from Governor Umahi against the journalists (during a statewide broadcast) is not only reckless, but callous. It is a formal endorsement and open call for anarchy in the state which must be resisted by all.”
He wondered why Governor Umahi would ban journalists from public-funded government facilities in Ebonyi such as the government house, when it was not privately owned by him, declaring the action as a joke taken too far.
“I find these actions unbecoming of a supposedly elected executive, it is 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).
“Umahi should not constitute himself into a dictator and oppressor of press freedom or we would be forced to declare him person non grata in the media world. I shall continue to resist any attempt at gagging the media.
“Journalists are not criminals who should be harassed, intimidated, arrested, detained and subjected to inhuman treatment under any guise as recently displayed by the state actors in Ebonyi under Umahi’s watch.
“Journalists are critical stakeholders and partners in national development and no attempt should be made to derail our efforts towards building a greater Nigeria.
“Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution recognises and guarantees the freedom of expression as a fundamental right. In the same vein, other international treaties and conventions recognise the right of the press as fundamental to the existence of democracy.
“The press ensures political stability in democratic societies, and recognising that section 22 of the Constitution has placed the burden on the press to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. Umahi cannot take this away.
“The beacon of democracy is in fact a free and fair press. Respect for the freedom of expression and the right of the public to access and receive information are the yardsticks to evaluate the existence of the rule of law and ultimately, popular democracy.
“Political responsibility is a major concept of democracy and one of the major ways to hold the government responsible is through the press. Umahi must be responsible and leave journalists alone.
Anyalekwa, who doubles as National President, Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria (OMPAN), described the actions of Governor Dave Umahi as dictatorial in a democratic system of government.
“I urge Mr. Dave Umahi to show a greater level of transparency and accountability in governance, by allowing unfettered coverage of government activities by journalists and media houses, except there is something he is hiding.”
The Igbere TV boss called on Gov. Umahi to openly apologize to the two journalists and their media houses, and also to the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), which is the statutory body of all journalists in the country.
“This is also a warning to other state governors to stop harassing journalists. Arresting a journalist and getting him detained over a story is unacceptable. Anybody or institution that feels aggrieved about a story is welcome to either exercise the right of reply or seek redress legally and not embark on extrajudicial self-help,” he added.
Anyalekwa, however, urged journalists not to relent but remain focused in the midst of persecution of the media, saying there was need for more investigative reporting.
“I appeal to journalists not to be deterred because without critical journalism in a democracy, some actors like Umahi will act like dictators."
“I won't fold my hands and watch Gov. Umahi destroy journalists and journalism in the state. I will pursue appropriate legal action against the Ebonyi state authorities if this illegality, impunity and blatant violation of media freedom continues unabated.”