On April 21, 2020, the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Mr. Clement Odah plotted with men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police to arrest and detain Mr. Pete Okutu, the state correspondent of the privately-owned daily, Vanguard newspaper.
The local government Chairman lured peter to a hotel in Abakaliki, the State capital, with a story whereupon SARS operatives arrested him in a Gestapo manner when he arrived at the venue of their supposed meeting.
On the invitation of the local government chairman and thinking that he was going to get more insight into the military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in Ohaukwu Local Government Area in the state, Mr. Okutu went for the supposed meeting, accompanied by another reporter, only to be arrested and taken away by SARS operatives upon his arrival.
Rather than intervene in the matter, the State Commissioner of Police, Mr, AwosolaAwotunde, justified the arrest, accusing journalists of “heating up the polity.”
Calling on the governor of the State to stop harassing journalists, the Nigerian Guild of Editors(NGE) noted with deep concern the persistent harassment of journalists in the State on the orders of the state power brokers including Governor David Umahi.
The Guild said it finds these actions of state actors utterly reprehensible and condemnable pointing out that Nigeria is in a democracy and that the media “shall at all times be free” to perform its duties without hindrance as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
It warned Ebonyi State not to constitute itself into a mafia state where dictatorship, oppression of free speech and denigration of fundamental human rights reign supreme, saying it is not a good badge for the Governor or any other state actor to wear. It said it is disgraceful and disgusting and it abhors such attempts at gagging free speech.
The Guild noted that journalists are not criminals who should be harassed, intimidated, arrested and subjected to inhuman treatment under any guise adding if any person feels maligned by a media report, the least required of such person is to put forward what he or she considers the correct narrative and in the spirit of a right of reply, as the media is obligated to publish same.
It said resorting to ambush, arm-twisting and sundry guerilla tactics do not help to assuage the matter, but rather exacerbates it.
The Guild asked the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to call his men, not only in Ebonyi State but all over the nation, to order reminding him that journalists are critical stakeholders and partners in national development and warned that no attempt should be made to derail their efforts towards building a greater Nigeria.
The association also called for an immediate cessation to all forms of harassment and arrests of journalists across the nation adding it will hold Gov. Umahi responsible for the safety of, not only the two affected reporters, (Mr. Peter Okutu and Mr. ChijiokeAgwu) but of all other journalists practising in Ebonyi State.