Journalist Arrested for Criticising a State Governor

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Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor

Mr. Sunday Egena Odeh, the State House correspondent of Peoples Daily, an Abuja-based newspaper was on April 30, 2021 at about 5.30pm arrested at the AYA roundabout in Abuja by officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) on the orders of the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, for criticising him.

Sunday who was arrested along with Johnson Ubeh, his cousin, who was used as a bait to locate him, was whisked away to Makurdi, the state capital but Johnson was reportedly released later.

The journalist, as president of Igede Media Professionals (AIMPs), had issued a statement on April 7 blaming Ortom for the escalation of the Bonta-Ukpute conflict in the state and also asked government appointees from the Igede ethnic group to resign from the governor’s cabinet.

The Conference of Benue Journalists (CBJ) in a statement by its Vice President of CBJ, EwacheAjefu, condemned the arrest and detention of the journalist, saying it breached due process and his fundamental human rights.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) disclosed on that on May 1 at about 1pm Sunday was released from police custody in Makurdi, Benue State after some hours of detention by security operatives.

Confirming allegations he instigated Sunday Odeh’s arrest, Governor Ortom said he reported the journalist to the police to seek clarification on the allegations the journalist leveled against him and his government. The governor, who made the clarification in Makurdi, the state capital, said it was his fundamental right and not intended to muzzle the press.

Ortom said: “We appreciate the freedom of the press but we must respect decorum. We appreciate constructive criticism and superior arguments over my policies and programmes. An incident occurred last week where I reported one of our own, Odeh to the police. I need to mention it today more so that we are talking about press freedom week.”

“For me, the press should be allowed to operate just like the arms of government. They should also have their freedom but it should not be at the detriment of the rule of law. I am somebody who respects the rule of law. I am in a democratically elected government where there is freedom of expression and association but it must be within the rule of law. Anything outside that is not the right thing to do,” he added.

Gov. Ortom said further: “There is nowhere in the records that we were irresponsible in carrying out our programmes and policies. So, all that I wanted was clarification. I do not know who Odeh is; even if I see him I will not know him or recognize him. So I have nothing personal against him.

“But he claimed that I am responsible for the Bonta and Ukpete crisis in Konshisha and Oju Local Government Areas, LGAs. So I wanted him to make clarification. Everyone could see that I did not do any other thing other than to report him to the police. I was told that he was arrested, his statement taken and granted bail within 24 hours.”