The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), South East Zone, has condemned in its entirety the arrest of the correspondents of The Sun and Vanguard newspapers in Ebonyi State, Chijioke Agwu and Peter Okutu, respectively and their subsequent ban from Government House by the state governor, Chief David Umahi.
In a statement signed by its zonal chairman, Comrade Aloysius Attah, and issued to Daily Sun, the group described Umahi’s actions as a descent to dictatorship and anti-democratic norms.
The governor had in a live broadcast to the state on 22nd April 2020, handed down a “life ban” from Government House to the two journalists working in the state for writing what he considered uncomplimentary to the government.
The CLO said that time had come to tame Governor Umahi’s dictatorial credentials before he wreaks more havoc on the nation’s fledgeling democracy. It said that broadcast, though embarrassing and distasteful for the image of the state, didn’t come as a surprise as it had known and monitored the governor’s antecedents since he became the state chief executive in 2015.
“We saw the broadcast as a vindication for those who have suffered from the governor’s alleged highhandedness, iron-fist leadership, emotional, psychological and physical brutality in the past, who have been crying silently but their voices have not been heard; rather they are being demonised by their oppressor.
“In Governor Umahi’s administration in Ebonyi State, government appointees and citizens live in perpetual fear. He behaves like the Lord of the Manor; his words are law while the exco members of his administration are made to become dummies that have no idea to bring during meetings but decisions are shoved down their throat to implement even against their will.
“In Ebonyi State under Umahi, free speech is non-existent while freedom of expression, holding opinions and press freedom as enshrined in Chapter 4, sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, which the governor swore to uphold are all observed in the breach.
“Under Umahi, political appointees live with their hearts literarily in their hands because the ‘Emperor’ and ‘His Imperial Majesty’ can hire and fire at will or as he so desires depending on his mood at any point in time.
In Ebonyi under Umahi, 21 years after the end of military rule and hand over to civilian democratic governance, phrases like “shoot at sight”, “use our koboko” among others which are associated with the jackboot era of the military are still normal lexicon still in practice,” the statement partly read.
CLO maintained that “press freedom remains one of the essential pillars of democracy while the upholding of responsibility and accountability of leaders to the people which the press promotes should not be subjected to the emotions and countenance of an elected governor.”