Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on July 30, 2019 condemned the harassment of Mr. Oke Epia, publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the online newspaper, OrderPaper Nigeria, by a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Tony Nwulu, and called on the Police to thoroughly investigate the alleged threat to the life of the journalist.
In a statement released in Lagos by its Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA reminded the Police that: “As a journalist, Mr. Epia has a constitutional right and duty to hold the government and government officials accountable to the people. The Police is duty-bound to protect him as a citizen and as a journalist as well as to refrain from harassing him or interfering with the performance of his professional duties, while thoroughly investigating any threat to him or any attempt by any individual to harass him with a view to bringing the culprit to justice.”
Mr. Epia and his colleagues at OrderPaper are reported to have received a series of telephone calls from Hon. Nwulu and other “strange persons”, some of whom refused to identify themselves, threatening to hunt down Mr. Epia and his colleagues at all costs.
Mr. Longe noted that the report published by OrderPaper regarding the collection and expenditure of funds meant for the execution of constituency projects in Hon. Nwulu’s constituency and the allegation that the project was not implemented is well within the professional duties and obligations of the online newspaper and its publishers, adding that if the former legislator feels that the story had defamed him or in any way unfairly portrayed him in bad light, he has recourse to the courts in a civil action for defamation.
He said: “We are shocked that the former legislator, who ought to know that as an elected official, he is accountable to the public, has chosen to include the Police in his arsenal of tools for harassing and intimidating a media organization and its publisher rather than explaining to the public what has happened to the funds in question and demonstrating that the project for which the money was meant was actually implemented as specified. It is even more shocking to us that Police are allowing themselves to be used to harass and intimidate a media organization, its publisher and staff for carrying out their professional and constitutionally mandated duties.”
According to him, if Hon. Nwulu is alleging that he is being blackmailed by the news organization, then it seems very likely that he has done something wrong that he is trying to prevent from coming out. Otherwise, a simple explanation from him on whether the constituency project has been implemented and details of how it was implemented, the cost and satisfactory proof of these would show if the report by OrderPaper was inaccurate or completely false and would likely lay the matter to rest.
Mr. Longe observed that “Rather than provide the public with a credible explanation, Hon. Nwulu is leaving the substance of the issue and trying to use his power as a politician to silence the media while throwing up a lot of smoke in the process. It will not work; we can see through these antics.”
He added: “Mr. Epia says given the rate of attacks against journalists in Nigeria in recent times, he is fearful for his life as a result of the threat by Hon. Nwulu to hunt him down. We share his concern and call on the Nigerian Police to protect the journalist from an obviously angry individual who is determined to punish the publisher of the media outlet that dared to examine his performance in office. Hon. Nwulu feels that because he was once elected to the National Assembly, he is above the Law and cannot be questioned or asked to give account of his performance in office. Any demand on him to be accountable is viewed as blackmail.”