Umahi Journalists
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State.

MORE than 20 years after the end of military dictatorship in Nigeria, some uncouth political office holders have continued to display residual military mentality. They sometimes go out of their way to attempt the excesses that even the military did not.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, made an incoherent state-wide live broadcast announcing what he described as “a life ban” on the State’s Correspondents of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr Peter Okutu and Mr Chijioke Agwu of The Sun Newspapers from entering the Government House and all other government premises in the state.

Umahi had directed the Chairman of Ohaukwu LGA, Clement Odah, to get Okutu arrested for reporting the alleged military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo village on Monday, April 20, 2020. Earlier on Saturday, April 18, 2020, the governor had also ordered the arrest of The Sun’s Agwu for reporting on the outbreak of Lassa Fever in Ebonyi.

In that broadcast filled with petulance unfit for the holder of the exalted Office of State Governor who is regarded as a father of all in his state, Umahi not only declared that he could no longer guarantee the reporters’ safety, he also deliberately incited the people of Ebonyi against the media. He declared: “Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you if you continue to write to create panic in the state”.

Justifying his purported ban, Umahi thundered: “Okutu is fond of degrading Ebonyi State, and I don’t know why my officials have allowed him to continue to do that. Because he is not from Ebonyi State, I want to ban him for life with Chijioke Agwu. I don’t want to see them anywhere in any state facility”.

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However, on Thursday, April 23, 2020, a statement issued by Francis Nwanze, Governor Umahi’s Media Assistant, debunked the “life ban” story and alleged that the video and audio recordings which still abound in the public arena were “doctored”. That was what the state government should have done in the first place instead of harassing journalists and breaching their constitutional rights. Even at that, the statement failed to alter the fact that Governor Umahi had seriously bungled in his anti-media adventure.

Let us make it abundantly clear to Umahi that he has no power under our Constitution and laws to ban the media from doing their duties in any part of Ebonyi State, including the Government House and all governmental establishments. Our Constitution (Section 22) gives the media the mandate and authority to hold the government to account on behalf of the people.

The media will never give up this sacred mandate or allow any politician to tamper with it. The media stood firm against the colonialists and military adventurists. We will continue to uphold this treasured tradition even against temporary occupants of Government Houses.

Umahi ought to know that his “life ban” is both laughable and impracticable. With only three more years left of his tenure, our Correspondents and the media community will be reporting the Ebonyi State Government long after Umahi is gone and forgotten. In the US recently, President Donald Trump was unable to sustain his suspension of CNN’s Jim Acosta from covering the White House.

Let us also assure Umahi and his officials that Ebonyi people have no axe to grind with the media. The media have served the state, contributed to its development and cohabited harmoniously with its residents since it was created and through the various regimes which predated this incumbent governor’s. Should any harm come to any media professional we know who to hold to account.

It takes more than merely winning an election to be able to wear the big shoe of being a governor well. It requires proper political upbringing and maturity to understand the full symbolism of being addressed as “Your Excellency”. An elected official is a servant of the people, not their Pharaoh or emperor. A leader should be governed by temperance and never speak or act in anger. Otherwise, he might be forced, as in this case, to eat his words while they are still warm.

VANGUARD

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.