*The press men should disappear please — Kutigi roars
BY HENRY UMORU, LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
ANGER, despondency and frustration enveloped the Justice Andrews Otutu Obaseki Hall, venue of plenary of the on- going National Conference, yesterday, when Chairman of the Conference, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi ordered men of Department of State Service, DSS to walk out all Journalists covering the conference.
Justice Kutigi, on top of his voice ordered Journalists including reporters and camera men to ‘disappear’ from the plenary on the request of Deputy Chairman, Committee on National Security, Mr. Albert Horsfall.
The ugly incident happened soon after Horsfall, a former Director- General of DSS laid the report of the committee which has former Inspector- General of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Gambo Jimeta as Chairman for consideration.
Soon after he presented the report like previous reports that have been discussed and adopted in the presence of Journalists, Horsefall said there was need to send journalists out of the hall before he could continue his presentation, requesting, “Journalists should close their ears for five minutes or excuse conference for five minutes. The next point I want to touch on, I would appeal to our friends, the journalists, that they should shut their ears, and if the conference Chair will permit, he might ask them to excuse us for five minutes; it touches on our national security.”
When a delegate asked that he skip that part, Horsfall answered: “I won’t skip it, it is important for people to hear, members of this conference are privileged.”
Accepting the request, Kutigi, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN without any military background, ordered Journalists and cameramen out of the hall in a military manner and on top of his voice. he shouted: “Can the press men clear your selves? The press men should disappear please. Press men disappear. Shut your cameras, okay, shut your cameras, shut everything and get out. Disappear please. Press men disappear from the hall.”
At this point, security operatives came up to the gallery where journalists were seated and chased them away. Those inside the hall were also chased out.
The security operatives, who manhandled some journalists, also prevented them from picking their belongings and working gadgets.
The treatment did not go down well with the journalists who decried the way they were addressed by Kutigi and their treatment by security operatives for performing their legitimate duty.
As the journalists were being walked out, some delegates threatened to stage a walk-out in solidarity with the journalists.
Journalists had no choice than to immediately rush out of the gallery and the hall with some leaving behind their bags. Most of them were bitter over the manner they were ordered out.
According to them, asking them to leave the plenary for executive session was not an issue because it happens in the National Assembly but the way Kutigi shouted at them was insulting and uncalled for.
While gathering outside to decide on the line of action, some delegates who realised the mistake of the chairman came outside to appeal to the media men, saying Kutigi had apologized.
The delegates who were not happy with the action and came to beg reporters were Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Prince Lanre Ogundipe, Senator Florence Ita -Giwa, Mallam Sani Zoro, Damian Dodo, SAN, a representative of NAWOJ, Mrs Brenda Akpan and Mrs Joe Okei-Odumakin among others.
According to them, the plenary was thrown into confusion for about 40 minutes due to disagreement among delegates on whether or not they should allow the pressmen in and the manner Justice Kutigi talked down on them.
They had contended that the chairman could have addressed the journalists with better words and politely asked the men of the media to excuse the conference.
They, however, appealed to journalists not to allow the incident to dampen their reportage of the conference, which they had constitutional responsibility to do.
Also appealing to Journalists, Deputy Chairman of the Conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, who also came outside to meet the journalists, said he had come to apologize on behalf of the conference.
Akinyemi said: “Please don’t abandon us half way, I came out of the conference to apologise. Please, your presence will determine the success of this conference. Once again, please accept my apology.”
Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications of the conference, Mr James Akpandem, said efforts were being made to sort out the matter. “You have to understand that people have different ways of presenting issues and you must please accommodate the chairman the way he speaks because he is from the judiciary. He (Kutigi) is different from a public relations man but he did not mean any harm at all,” he said.