Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, got more lashing on Thursday for barring two Vanguard reporters from covering the state and for threatening journalists.
The governor had in a broadcast on Thursday announced the ban of The Sun and correspondents Chijioke Agwu and Peter Okutu.
He said: “Ebonyi State is no longer a dumping ground that the other day, Chijioke Agwu 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.”
Umahi also made veiled threats to journalists.
“If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko (cane). 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,” the governor said.
But Umahi, despite making the statement on live television, denied it on Thursday.
His Special Assistant on Media, Francis Nwaze, said in a statement that the governor “never ordered a ban on any journalist from attending state functions.”
He said his attention was “drawn to the news and a purportedly doctored audio and video”, but he did not provide the original video or audio that was altered.
Nwaze added that the governor, on April 15 and 22, made a complaint to the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) over “unverified and false reports” that are “capable of causing panic in Ebonyi state”.
“I, therefore, call on the general public, NUJ and others concerned to discountenance with the false reports, videos and audio as they are either a figment of the bearers imagination which they brought to bear or a deliberate attempt geared towards smearing the hard-earned good reputation and good media relationship of the governor.”
He said the reports by Agwu and Okutu were “ill-conceived and have no truth in them”.
But, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and senior lawyers, including a former NBA President Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), rights-activist Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Chief Louis Alozie (SAN), former National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Prof Chidi Odinkalu and Dr. Fassy Yusuf described Umahi’s threat as “incredible”, “ridiculous” “barbaric” and an act of “rascality”.
They said his draconian and “power-drunk” action was contrary to democratic norms and must be condemned in the strongest terms.
This is as the management of The Sun protested the harassment and intimidation of its reporter.
It is asked the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu to ensure that Governor Umahi and his agents stop a further violation of the reporter’s rights.
The Sun Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Onuoha Ukeh, said there was a plot to arraign Agwu on trumped-up charges after he was detained for about nine hours.
The Sun urged the IGP to ensure that adequate security is provided for Agwu in view of the governor’s veiled threat that the security of journalists was no longer guaranteed.
NBA said the governor lacked the power to hinder the operations of the media in a democracy.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kunle Edun, NBA said: “The NBA 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 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 with the media, civil society organizations, and professional organizations like the NBA to help in the delivery of the dividends of democracy.”