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ATTACKS ON THE PRESS IN APRIL 1999

 

Nwodo Attacks Daily Times, New Nigerian Staff


In a move that seem to intimidate and dare the resolve of journalists and other workers of the government-owned Daily Times and New Nigerian newspaper, Information Minister, Chief John Nwodo (Jnr), on April 1, accused workers of the organizations of being responsible for the misfortunes of the organizations.

           

Speaking to reporters at the presidential wing of the Murtala Muhammed International airport, the minister said that his ministry has no money to give the two companies to pay the backlog of salaries owned their staff.

           

Chief Nwodo said that the subvention is not in the ministry’s budget and that there is nothing he could do to address the plight of the workers, mostly journalists, whose salaries have remained unpaid for several months despite ultimatum to go on strike.

           

According to the minister, “they are not on the budget of the federal government. The workers have contributed in bringing down these organization to what they are now.”

           

It could be recalled that the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) had on March 15, at its 44th Anniversary Celebrations of the birth of the union, held in Ilorin, issued a 30-day ultimatum of the Federal Government within which to pay the back log of salaries owed its members in the Daily Times, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

           

The minister said, however, that the two companies Daily Times and New Nigerian newspapers were being prepared for privatization, adding that he had applied for a loan from the privatization council to enable him prepare the companies for privatization.

           

Nwodo said: “I have already made an application to the privatization council to give us a bridging loan to revive them before we can sell them.  But mark you, no government gives money first for payment of salary.  The money is intended to revive the place.

“If we are able to get the money to revive it, and generate sufficient profit to pay themselves, that is fine.  If not everything that has exhausted its life must die.”

           

Meanwhile, the one-month ultimatum earlier given the management of the organizations by the National Secretariat of the NUJ expired on April 15 but in a move that seem to indicate preparedness to negotiate by the Daily Times journalists, the local NUJ Chapel Chairman, Mr. Emmanuel Ekpeyong issued a fresh ultimatum which expired on April 27.

           

Speaking at a news conference held at the NUJ Press Club, Shomolu, Lagos, on April 14, the journalists appealed yet again to the Federal Government to make money available to pay the nine months salaries arrears owed them.

           

Meanwhile, journalists of the South-West zone of the New Nigerian, unable to bear the situation anymore, on April 19 embarked on a work-to-rule action.  The workers are also urging the management to implement without delay the new minimum wage to civil servants.

           

They decried the discriminatory attitude of the management of the newspapers.  They alleged that their Kaduna counterparts have been paid up-to-date and that they will not go back to work until their salaries are paid.

 

Soldiers Assault Post Express, ThisDay Reporters

 

To journalists, Tunde Sanni and Kayode Abdulwahab, the Kwara State correspondents of the Post Express and ThisDay newspapers respectively, were on April 7, assaulted, beaten and barred by armed soldiers attached to the house of the late General Tunde Idiagbon, in Ilorin, Kwara State.

           

Journalists, numbering eight from different media houses, were at the General’s house to await the arrival of the President-elect, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was scheduled to pay a condolence visit to the family of General Idiagbon.

           

Wielding uncorked guns and shouting “you can not all enter,” the stern looking soldiers denied the journalists entry into the compound when General Obasanjo arrived.

           

An attempt to enter the compound by Sanni and Abdulwahab angered the soldiers who descended on them and beat them mercilessly while others were driven away.

           

It could not be immediately ascertained what informed the hostility of the guards, but some sources claimed that the family was aversed to the increasing publicity it has been receiving since the passage of General Idiagbon.

 

National Light Reporter Flogged, Detained

 

A journalist with the Anambra State government-owned newspaper National Light, Mr. Nnamdi Chukwujindu, was on April 12 flogged and detained by security men in the Government House on the orders of Ft. Lt. Chukwu the aide-de-camp to the Military Administrator, Wing Commander Emmanuel Ukuegbu.

           

The flogging and detention was in connection with a story written by the journalist on the magnitude of violence in the warring communities of Umuleri and Aguleri in Anambra East Local Government.  The intertribal war has claimed over 500 lives, including that of a freelance journalist, Mr. Fidelix Ikwuebe, who was kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by the people of Umuleri, one of the warring communities.

           

Reports have it that the State Military Administrator, who felt enraged by the report of a journalist being among those so far killed in the war, ordered his ADC to teach Nnamdi a lesson.

           

Reacting to the incident the Anambra State council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) demanded an apology from the ADC.

           

The council in a press statement issued in Awka, the Anambra State capital, by its chairman and secretary, Messrs Victor Agusibo and Mike Afah, roundly condemned the actions of the aide-de-camp.  The statement described the action as “abhorrent not just to civilized conduct and disciplined behaviour, but a gross violation of the core principle of the present administration of General Abubakar.”


Akwa Ibom State Government Vitimises Journalists

 

The local chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), of The Pioneer, the Akwa Ibom state-owned newspaper, was on April 15, forced to petition the secretary to the state government alleging victimization by the state government and threatening to go on strike.

           
According to the journalists, the state government has refused to pay its members the new harmonized public salary structure and allowances.

           

Along with the NUJ, the two other unions in the organization, the National Union of Printing, Publishing and Paper Products Workers (NUPPROW), and the National Union of Civil Service Typist, Stenographers and Allied Staff (NUCSTSAS), also threatened to go on strike if the state government failed to pay them accordingly.

           

The journalists and other workers’ grouse stemmed from the fact that while other categories of workers of the state government have been paid, workers in the state-owned media organizations were yet to paid.

           

Meanwhile, the state government may have withdrawn its subvention to the state’s newspaper corporation as a cost-saving measure towards the implementation of the minimum wage.

           

Consequently, since mid-April, the bi-weekly tabloid, The Pioneer and Weekend pioneer, published by the corporation, have been off the streets.

           

Reliable sources at the corporation said that the non-appearance of the publications was due to lack of newsprint.

           

According to one of the staff, “before the stored newsprint was exhausted, the military administrator of the state was duly informed by the management.”

           

He disclosed that until money is released for another bulk purchase of newsprint, “we will continue to be off the streets.  I only hope he will not sack us for redundancy.”

           

The alleged withdrawal of subvention came to light when the Administrator, Group Captain Eyepeiyah Ebiye said in response to a request for money, that if he must pay the minimum wage, other things must wait.

           

Government House sources also quoted him as saying that after 11 years of its establishment, the corporation should be able to cater for its financial needs.

 

Police Arrest Vanguard Journalist

 

The police on April 18 arrested a Lagos journalist, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, a senior member of the Editorial board of Vanguard and a factional leader in the crisis presently rocking the Lagos State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).

           

Arogundade was arrested by two detectives from the Anti-Robbery Section of the Oyo State Crime Investigation Department (CID) who identified themselves as Samuel Akpoture and Mr. Peters. He was arrested on allegation of complicity in the assassination of Mrs. Bolade Fassasi, a journalist and former Treasurer in the Council between 1995 and 1997. Fassasi was murdered by yet unknown assailants on April 7 at Ibadan the Oyo State capital.

           

Arogundade, before he left with the policemen, sent a note to NUJ officials.  The note reads: “I believe this is another frame-up by my political opponents in Lagos NUJ.

           

“The policemen claimed they were investigating the killing of Bolade Fassasi, former treasurer of the council with which I had nothing to do absolutely whatsoever.”

 

Freelance Journalist Kidnapped, Murdered

 

A freelance journalist, Mr. Fidelis Ikwuebe, was on April 18 kidnapped and later murdered by one of the two warring communities in Anambra East Local Government area of Anambra State.

    

The journalist based in Onitsha who contributed to the Guardian newspaper, met his death in the hands of members of one of the warring communities of Aguleri and Umuleri who fought for about a week over a land dispute which started in 1995.

           

Also kidnapped along with the Mr. Ikwuebe were several other persons which include a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Mr. Peter Udekwe, said to be in charge of Ezenifite in the Nnewi south Local Government Area and two National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) staff carrying out maintenance work at Otuocha.  They were all later sacrificed to a local deity at Umuleri.

           

The slain journalist who is a native of Nsugbe was said to be on assignment when he was kidnapped and later killed.

           

The fights between the two communities left at least 500 people dead and not less than 500,000 displaced.

           

Ikwuebe’s murder has been condemned by various organizations which called on the government of Anambra State to institute a probe into the circumstances and people responsible for the vicious crime.

           

Among such organizations are the Paris based free expression group.  Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF) which expressed deep concern about the murder.

           

The organization also in a release recalled the murder last September 2, of Mr. Amarube Okezie and independent journalist and publisher, by policemen.  It called for people and organizations to send appeals to the Anambra State Military Administrator, Wing Commander Emmanuel Ukaegbu, urging him to use his authority to thoroughly investigate the murder and ensure that the policemen involved in the Okezie case are punished after a public and fair trial.

 

Akwa Ibom State Government Discriminates Against Journalists

 

Akwa Ibom Broadcast Corporation (AKBC) was on April 19, shut down indefinitely as staff embarked on strike to press for the payment of minimum wage.

The closure, which was effected at about noon, came at the expiration of an earlier ultimatum issued by the staff on April 16, protesting government’s disparity in the payment of the new wage.

           

They noted inn the ultimatum that while civil servants working in the core ministries were paid the new wage, those in parastatals were issued cheques according to their old rate.

           

Describing the move as insensitive and inciting, they threatened to embark on an indefinite strike with no room for skeletal services until the situation was properly addressed.

           

By noon on April 19, the angry staff led by union leaders within the corporation, forced out all the management staff and locked up all the offices and the main gate.

           

Both the television and radio services of the corporation were put off air.

           

Information commissioner, Mrs. Christy Obot, in an interview described the action as hasty and promised that something would be done soon to get the staff back to work.

           

She explained that the disparity in salary was introduced because of lack of funds and not as deliberate attempt to spite a section of the public service.

           

“The truth is that government cannot afford to pay everybody at the same time.  So while still sourcing for funds, government decided to effect the payment of workers in phases, starting with the core ministries.

           

“Government is not saying staff in government-subvented parastatals will not be paid the minimum wage, but  we need time to source for additional funds” said the commissioner.

 

Police PRO Threatens Journalists

 

Force Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, Abuja, Mr. Young-Arebamen, on April 28, threatened journalists with arrest and prosecution if they failed to cross-check information relating to the police with his office before going to press.

           

The Force PRO was reacting to reports by some national dailies that the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomassie, and 14 AIG’s will be retiring with effect from May 1, 1999, which he denied.

           

Arebamen said:  “It is unfortunate that none of the newspapers or the syndicate to which they subscribe, made any attempt to cross-check with the Nigerian police to determine the veracity or otherwise of the story before going to press.  The public has the right to know and must, therefore, be fed with the truth and nothing but the truth.”

           

He lambasted the journalists and if lecturing them on how to do their work, he said: “The much we know is that grape-vine and speculation are alien to news reporting.  Journalists should not be ignorant or oblivious of the security implications of what they dish out to the public either as news or opinion.”

           

Continuing, he warned: “In the interest of public peace journalists reporting on police activities should be careful and ensure to cross check their information before going to press, otherwise we shall apply the provisions of our laws, please.”

 

Policemen Kill Standard Newspapers Worker

 

A media-worker, John Musa, was killed in Maiduguri, Borno State on April 28, 1999 when policemen clashed with protesting Borno State civil servants who were on strike to press for a N3,000 minimum wage.

 

Musa was a member of the circulation of the staff of the Jos-based Plateau State publishing company which publishes the Standard newspaper.

 

Musa was described as an asthmatic patient. According to the Independent Journalism Centre (IJC) Lagos, in a statement, late Musa was said to have been chocked to death by the teargas used by the Police in dispersing the protesting workers.

 

Anambra MILAD’s ADC Detains Journalist

 

In what seems a bullish all-out attack, Ft. Lt. Emmanuel Chukwu, the aide-de-camp to the Anambra State Military Administrator, Wing Commander Emmanuel Ukaegbu, for the second time in the month of April ordered the detention of a journalist.

           

The journalist, Mr. John Uba, who covers the State House was detained in a cell for one day by security men in the Government House on the orders of Ft. Lt. Chukwu, for requesting that a vehicle be provided for the press crew to cover the administrator’s assignment.

           

The State chapter of the NUJ, in a statement reaching to the detention and an earlier one involving a reporter with the state-owned National Light newspaper, demanded for an immediate and unreserved apology to be written to the affected journalists.  The statement noted that the Union is worried that at a time when the head of state is labouring to sensitise the coarse and brutish ways and image of the military, some of them are frustrating such efforts.

 

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