The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in Diaspora, (AESID)on April 23, 2020, condemned the action of the Ebonyi State Governor, Mr. DavidUmahi, in banning two newspaper correspondents in the state: Mr.ChijiokeAgwu of Daily Sun and Mr. Peter Okutu of Vanguard, from covering the activities of the State Government.
Governor Umahi had during a live broadcast on April 22 on the state-owned television and radio stations barred Chijioke and Peter over stories they published that he was displeased with.
Expressing sadness over the government’s action the NBA, through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kunle Edun, said the rights to freedom of expression, to impart and disseminate information are constitutionally guaranteed rights which could not be taken by executive fiat. He noted that there were other statutory remedies to explore in the instant matter, such as the law of libel, for anyone who was dissatisfied with false publications.
He said the ban of the two journalists for life was unfortunate and a sad reminder of the rule by force under the military regime and reminded him that: “The Nigerian press constitutes the fourth realm in the democracy estate and plays a very important function in ensuring the growth of our democracy.
“The right to freedom of expression and the right to impart and disseminate information are constitutionally guaranteed rights under the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and same cannot be taken away by executive fiat.
“The law against libel is available for anyone seeking remedies against false publications.
“Our democracy requires an unfettered and courageous press to grow.”
The NBA said it was anti-people to gag the press, adding the government is expected to partner the media, civil society organisations and professional organisations like the NBA to help in the delivery of the dividends of democracy.
CriticisingGov. Umahi’s actions, Indigenes of Ebonyi State under the aegis of the Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in Diaspora, (AESID) also noted that by his action, the governor had confirmed fears of the administration’s slide into dictatorship.
In a statement issued in Abuja on April 23, 2020, and signed by the Chairman of AESID, Pascal Oluchukwu, the association accused Governor Umahiof ruling the state like the Banana Republic where there are no rules of law, hence his desperate move to cover up several atrocities going on in Ebonyi State.
He said: “The banning of these two journalists is a result of a plot to cover up some atrocities already committed. There are people this government has taken their land forcefully for an airport project, but till now these poor farmers have nowhere to call home again.
“We, the indigenous citizens of Ebonyi in the diaspora are saying no to banning of journalists in Ebonyi Government House and we call on all the media houses to beam their searchlights more on the misgovernance going on in our dear state.”