By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Makurdi—Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, yesterday gave reasons he reported Benue-born State House Correspondent of the Peoples’ Daily newspaper, Mr. Sunday Odeh to the police to seek clarification on the allegations the journalist leveled against him and his government.
The governor, who made the clarification in Makurdi said it was his fundamental right and not intended to muzzle the press.
Ortom said: “We appreciate the freedom of the press but we must respect decorum. We appreciate constructive criticism and superior arguments over my policies and programmes. An incident occurred last week where I reported one of our own, Odeh to the police. I need to mention it today more so that we are talking about press freedom week.
“For me, the press should be allowed to operate just like the arms of government. They should also have their freedom but it should not be at the detriment of the rule of law. I am somebody who respects the rule of law. I am in a democratically elected government where there is freedom of expression and association but it must be within the rule of law. Anything outside that is not the right thing to do.
“It was not my intention but it is my own way as the father of the state to correct anything that is wrong. There is no way a crisis that had existed even before I became governor can be caused by me; moreover I have taken all proactive steps to ensure peace in that place.
“And then you go out to say that I am responsible for the crisis in that place, and that all the Igede speaking people in my government should resign because I and my government are irresponsible.
“There is nowhere in the records that we were irresponsible in carrying out our programmes and policies. So, all that I wanted was clarification. I do not know who Odeh is; even if I see him I will not know him or recognize him. So I have nothing personal against him.
“But he claimed that I am responsible for the Bonta and Ukpete crisis in Konshisha and Oju Local Government Areas, LGAs. So I wanted him to make clarification. Everyone could see that I did not do any other thing other than to report him to the police. I was told that he was arrested, his statement taken and granted bail within 24 hours.”
“So, we have not abused any law in this country as far as we are concerned. I think that by the time he is able to make amends and do the needful, the matter will be put to rest.”
“My Chief Press Secretary reach out to me that some of our officials at the national level called but I explained that I had no problems with him. He is my son and if he says something that was wrong and he appreciates that, and is able to come out to apologize to me, I am ready to withdraw my petition if he is ready to learn from it.
“I have no issues with journalists and those in Benue State can testify that since my assumption of office I have had no issues with journalists in Benue State. So, I want to state that I appreciate my relationship with journalists, I appreciate your constructive criticism, support and advice through your reportage at all times.
I have always maintained a cordial relationship with journalists because that is also my constituency. We are open to advise that can help us be a better Benue state and a better Nigeria so that justice, equity and fairness will be the rule of the day. But not a destructive criticism which I think he did and I said it is not correct.”