If the Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, were to be a Catholic, he would have been required to go for an urgent confession. And it must be to a bishop because his sins are mortal and have gone beyond confessing to a priest. Even after that, he would still need to apologise to the Ebonyi State correspondents of The Sun and Vanguard newspapers, Chijioke Agwu and Peter Okutu respectively, for the humiliation they suffered in his state.
In a live broadcast on state radio and television stations last Wednesday, Umahi reportedly said: “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… 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.”
Agwu’s original sin was that he wrote a report on Lassa fever reportedly ravaging the state. Umahi ordered for his arrest afterwards. Okutu, whose arrest was allegedly ordered by Ohaukwu Local Government Area Chairman, Mr Clement Odah, wrote about the alleged invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in Ohaukwu LGA by the military.
The reporters have since been released. But Agwu, according to the governor, would have been charged under Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) Diseases and Related Matters Law (No. 005) 2020 for purportedly giving false and damaging reports about Lassa fever outbreak in Ebonyi. The report was published in The Sun on April 17, 2020.
Curiously, Umahi has denied placing life ban on the journalists. Though it was a live broadcast, he disowned the audio and video recordings where he allegedly made the pronouncement. In a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Francis Nwaze, the governor described the recordings as doctored. The report of the ban, he said, “is a delicate attempt to smear the hard-earned reputation and good relationship of the governor with the media.”
This is not the first time the Ebonyi State governnment would toy with press freedom. In June 2017, suspected government thugs beat Mr. Charles Otu to coma inside Government House over critical reports and Facebook posts. Otu is said to be publisher of a local newspaper, Conscience, and also a correspondent of The Guardian. In November last year, the Secretary to the Government of Ebonyi State, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala, barred Obinna Odogwu of The Sun from the Government House. Odogwu’s sin was that he investigated the crisis rocking the Divine Mandate Pastors’ Forum, a branch of the Divine Mandate Campaign Organisation of Umahi.
In the past few years, many journalists have been arrested, harassed or killed elsewhere in Nigeria. The case of Cross River Governor, Ben Ayade, and Agba Jalingo is one example. Jalingo was arrested in August 2019 in his Lagos residence and charged with felony, terrorism and attempt to topple the Cross River State Government. The journalist had written an article querying the whereabouts of the N500 million allegedly released for floating the Cross River Microfinance Bank.
Steven Kefason is another typical example. A freelance journalist and strong critic of the Kaduna State Government under Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Kefason was arrested in May 2019 for making a critical Facebook post. He was dumped in Kaduna prison for 162 days. Jones Abiri, the publisher of Bayelsa-based Weekly Source newspaper, suffered the same fate. He spent two years in detention (July 2016 to July 2018) without trial.
Umahi’s latest action is strange but not surprising. Controversy appears to be his second name. Recall that when Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State renamed Abakaliki Street in Awka sometime in 2018, Umahi fumed to no end. In case you didn’t know, Abakaliki is the capital of Ebonyi State. He termed Obiano’s action as marginalisation even when his Anambra State counterpart had explained that the change from Abakaliki Street to Club Street was necessitated by the fact that the street was where most of the night clubs in the town were located. The Governor renamed another major street after Abakaliki, but that did not assuage Umahi. He felt Obiano’s action was because of the stigmatisation of Abakaliki as a backward city.
Again, when the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, named Mr Peter Obi his running mate for the 2019 election, Umahi reportedly opposed it, on the flimsy excuse that Atiku did not consult him before announcing it. He also saw Obi’s nomination as part of the marginalisation of Ebonyi people simply because there was no Ebonyi nominee for the position.
To many South-East people, Umahi’s dance steps are incongruent with the reality in the region and in his party, the PDP. In November 2017, he reportedly endorsed the second term ambition of President Muhammadu Buhari. There is no problem with this, but as a PDP Governor, something was fishy in his support for the candidate of a rival party.
Meanwhile, the management of The Sun has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on the so-called life ban of its reporter. It asked the police boss to ensure that Governor Umahi and his agents stop a further violation of the reporter’s rights. It urged him to ensure adequate provision of security for Agwu considering the governor’s threat against journalists in the state.
Many groups and individuals including senior lawyers have condemned the action of the Ebonyi State Governor. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said the alleged life ban violated the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party. It called on Umahi to reverse the decision within 48 hours or risk legal action nationally and internationally.
On its part, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said the life ban was a sad reminder of the rule by force under the military regime. The NBA reminded Umahi that the law against libel was available for anyone seeking remedies against false publications.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) have all condemned Umahi’s action. The NUJ asked the governor to desist from instigating ‘degrading treatments’ of journalists in the state.
It is pertinent to note that Section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) recognises the importance of the media in our democratic journey. It states that the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
It is hoped that Umahi will, henceforth, repent and adhere to this constitutional provision. Once he is able to do this, God’s mercy will be upon him and we can then collectively tell him to go and sin no more.
Re: Police, lockdown extortion and One Million Boys
I am very much delighted the extra-mile you go in handling matters that concern the voiceless/downtrodden amongst us. You’re there not only a mirror but also as a (Senior Advocate for Nigerians (SAFN) Please, keep the (FLAG) hoisted.
— Anonymous, +2348037408332
Thanks Casmir. When HIV came, health sector politicised the whole thing so as to win foreign donors. Citizens became fed up and went back to unprotected sex. The same fate has befallen COVID-19, now people shake hands without caring to sanitize. The virus is not with the poor. If the lockdown exceeds 27th of April, it is tantamount to inhumane treatment. Enough is enough.
– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +2349095385215
Africa and Nigeria in particular must be proactive and not reactionary in approach to win this ‘war’. We are in a war situation not a fight as the virus is also tactically mutilating to survive in man. Bad eggs in the police should please stop exploiting the populace thereby compounding our woes. One Million Boys’ days are numbered as they would be routed by the citizens who are already hungry, angry and in killer mood.
–Mike Mushin, +2348161114572
Under this Covid-19 pandemic, some Nigerians are smiling to banks because of the poor sharing of palliative provided by the government and some agencies. Palliative sharing was not well organised because there is no data to verify the poor and vulnerable people in our society. People capitalise on poor data to enrich themselves from Covid-19 pandemic which is very bad.
–-Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535
Dear Casy, your article represents the Nigerian malady and the virus worse than Wuhan Sino corona type. The security agents in charge of Apapa corridor from Ijora Olopa U-turn to Area B had destroyed Apapa since 2016 till many business owners sold their properties there. Apapa used to be economic hub of both Nigeria and West Africa but the present government promoted corruption to the highest level. The game is still on. Nigeria is sinking every day. Federal Government hasn’t prepared isolation centres for our people at home and abroad. One Million Boys represent government and societal failures. Government didn’t provide the core development and jobs while some parents didn’t raise their children well. Our paradigm shift from self worth to net worth has now turned this virus to the society. May God save us from both Wuhan and Nigerian viruses!
–Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495