April 22, 2020

Police release Vanguard reporter in Ebonyi

  • Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State.

  • *How I was deceived — Okutu

  • *IPU, Ubani, others react

By Henry Ojelu & Peter Okutu

Police in Ebonyi State, on Tuesday, arrested and later released the Vanguard Correspondent, Mr. Peter Okutu, over a report he did about military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo in Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state.

Okutu was arrested by the armed men of the State Anti-Robbery Sqaud at Woodberry hotel Abakaliki on the orders of the Ohaukwu Local Government Council Chairman, Mr. Clement Odah.

This is coming three days after the Sun newspaper Reporter, Agwu Chijioke, was arrested by the police on the orders of the State governor, David Umahi, following a report he did about Lassa Fever outbreak in the state and was later released.

Before his arrest, Okutu was invited by the Special Assistant on Media to the Governor, Mr. Francis Nwaze, over the report, who later asked him to meet with the Council Chairman to brief him on the true situation of the incident.

Okutu was later contacted through his mobile phone by Mr. Odah , who asked him to meet him at Woodberry Hotel, where he was arrested by a waiting security operatives.

Okutu, who had envisaged danger, went alongside the Punch Reporter, Mr Edward Nnachi, to see the Council Chairman.

At the hotel, it was gathered that Mr. Odah had queried Okutu on the sources of his report and while he was still explaining to him, four SARS men emerged within the hotel premises and rounded him up and took him away in a waiting hillux van.

When contacted, the state Commissioner of Police, CP Awosola Awotinde, said he was not aware of the arrest.

My Story  —  Peter Okutu

Mr. Peter Okutu,  yesterday revealed that the Council Chairman, Barr. Clement Odah deceived him as he made effort to get an update on the report he wrote concerning the maltreatment the people of Umuogudu Apku Ngbo community in Ohaukwu Local government area of Ebonyi State have been going through in the hands of their neighbouring community of Agila in Benue State.

The series of attacks on the Ebonyi counterpart in the boundary location have not been given full reportage as the helpless and poor community had been ambushed and killed without mercy.

Following the recent incident which Vanguard reported, the Vanguard Correspondent after discussing with the Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Francis Nwaze, decided to go and meet with the Chairman of Ohaukwu Local Government so as to accommodate his views and sentiments for an updated report.

His words: “The Chairman of Ohaukwu called me about three times to come to Woodberry Hotel, Abakaliki so that I can get further information or clarification on my report. I decided to drive down there with the Punch correspondent, Nnachi, in case of necessity.

“I went to see Barr. Clement Odah not knowing that he had arranged policemen to whisk me away. He was not friendly but a bit irrational. I was taken like a common criminal in a democratic environment.

“The Police, however, maintained a decorous disposition towards me that I wondered whether I was in a police station. Their approach was to ensure that their image was not tarnished following my arrest.

“I was deceived by the Ohaukwu Chairman. I want to appreciate the Chairman of NUJ, Ebonyi State, Mr. Tony Nwizi, the National President, Chris Ishiguzo, and a friend in times of need, Mr. Petrus Obi, members of the Correspondent Chapel, my South-East regional Editor, Mr. Anayo Okoli and my former regional editor, Mr. Emeka Mamah and all the Editors of Vanguard for ensuring my release.

“Not forgetting the Chairman of Afikpo South, Eni Chima.”

Ubani, others  kick

However, in his reaction, former 2nd Vice-President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Monday Ubani condemned the arrest of Okutu, saying there are other legal means of addressing any media report which the state or local government feels is untrue.

“I will also use this medium to appeal to the Nigerian Security Agents to be a bit more professional in the exercise of their official and national duties.   Most times, what we see and read is lack of professionalism and respect to the rights of the citizens in the course of the performance of their duties. Several evidences abound wherein we witness flagrant violations of the rights of the citizens by the Nigerian security agents especially the Nigerian Police Force while carrying out their duties.

Also reacting,  Former President, Committee for Defence of Human Right, CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu in his reaction said, “The arrest of Okutu is illegal, willful, unconstitutional and indeed, provocative. It’s clearly unacceptable and runs against the grains of every known democratic ethos in the same manner that it constitutes a backward breach of S. 39 of the Constitution

ALSO READ: Ebonyi communities partner government for development

IPU condemns arrest

Similarly, the International Press Centre, IPU has condemned the arrest of Vanguard Newspaper Ebonyi State Correspondent, Peter Okutu by the police

In a statement signed by its Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade, IPC said the arrest of Okutu is unacceptable and condemnable.

The statement read: “Today’s arrest of Vanguard  Correspondent in Ebonyi State, Mr. Peter Okutu, reportedly on the orders of a local government Chairman in the state, is another unbecoming act of executive lawlessness.

“Ohaukwu Local Government Council of the state, Mr. Clement Odah, violated the right of Mr. Okutu  to self dignity and violently assaulted press freedom in the process.

“IPC hereby reiterates that any body or institution that feels aggrieved about a story should exercise the right of reply or seek redress legally and not embark on extrajudicial self-help.’

“Arresting a journalist and getting him detained over a story is not an acceptable means of seeking such redress and the act of Mr. Odah is unacceptable. We condemn it and demand the immediate release of Mr. Okutu.

“Coming after a similar arrest and detention of The Sun newspaper reporter, Agwu Chijioke, on the orders of the State Governor, David Umahi, who also featured prominently in the ordeal of Mr. Okutu, IPC is worried that the state government is fast becoming notorious for its serial violation of the rights of journalists.

“The state government is hereby reminded that such attacks on journalists over the performance of their legitimate duty are antithetical to democratic norms and values.”