On April 18, 2020, the Ebonyi State correspondent of The Sun newspaper, ChijiokeAgwu, was arrested by the Chief Security Officer to the State governor at the instance of the governor, Mr. David Umahi, and later handed over to the State’s Commissioner of Police (CP).
Chijioke was whisked away while attending a press conference in Government House in Abakaliki. It was learnt that the governor’s grouse was a feature story published the day before by Daily Sun on Lassa fever epidemic in Ebonyi which centred mainly on NCDC statistics.
Governor Umahiat the press conference confirmed the arrest saying the reporter lied in a recent report he wrote on Lassa fever outbreak in the state. He warned that any person who provides false or misleading information intentionally or recklessly with a view to causing panic or disaffection amongst members of the public will be liable under the Ebonyi State Coronavirus and other Dangerous Infectious Diseases Law, 2020, Quarantine Act, Cap Q2 LF.N, 2004, Public Health Law, Cap 126 Laws of Ebonyi State of Nigeria 2009 and any other existing law, to a fine or imprisonment or both.
The law signed on April 2, 2020 states in part: “The transmission, or dissemination through a computer system or network or otherwise, of false information regarding COVID-19 within the State and other Dangerous Infectious Diseases and or any circumstances related to or bordering on the outbreak or possible outbreak of COVID-19 within the State is hereby prohibited,”
Confirming the arrest, Head of The Sun South East Bureau, Magnus Eze, said in an SMS to The Sun Management: “I have just been informed that EbonyiGov, David Umahi has ordered the arrest and prosecution of The Sun newspapers state correspondent, ChijiokeAgwu, while he attended a press invitation at the Govt House. I was told that their grouse was a feature story on Lassa fever endemic in Ebonyi which centred mainly on NCDC statistics published in Daily Sun of Friday, April 17, 2020.”
However, a late-night statement signed and issued by Mr. Orji Uchenna Orji (Commissioner for Information and State Orientation and acting Commissioner, Human Capital Development and Monitoring), announced that the reporter has been released to rejoin his family.
The statement said: “The Governor of Ebonyi State, His Excellency Engr Chief David NwezeUmahi, in compassionate consideration of the pleas of the leadership of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Guild of Editors and Ministry of Information and State Orientation has directed the pardon of the Sun Newspaper correspondent, MrChijiokeAgwu who was to be charged under Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) Diseases and Related Matters Law (No. 005) 2020 for giving false and damaging reports about Lassa Fever outbreak in Ebonyi State, published in Sun Newspaper of 17th April 2020.
“However, all media operators and correspondents are by this notice warned that Ebonyi State Government will no longer tolerate the damaging stinkers of unverified reports about happenings in Ebonyi State.”