Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of The Sun Newspapers has lodged a formal complaint to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, over the harassment, intimidation and human rights abuses meted out to its correspondent in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State, Mr. Chijioke Agwu, while performing his lawful and constitutional duty as a journalist, by Governor Dave Umahi, in cahoots with the state police command.
In a letter to the police boss, the Managing Director of The Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh, chronicled how a story written by Mr. Agwu on Lassa fever in Ebonyi State incurred the wrath of Umahi, who promptly seized the journalist and handed him over to the state Commissioner of Police through the assistance of his Chief Security Officer (CSO).
According to Ukeh, Daily Sun had on Friday, April 17, 2020, published a features story written by Agwu headlined: “Anxiety, fear, as Lassa fever wreaks havoc in Ebonyi,” which was based on statistics released by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). “Following the said publication, on Saturday April 18, 2020, Mr. Chijioke Agwu was intimidated, harassed and arrested, while attending a press conference in Government House, Abakiliki, on the orders of Governor Dave Umahi by his Chief Security Officer (CSO), who subsequently whisked him away and handed him over to the Commissioner of Police.
“The initial plan of the governor and the Commissioner of Police was to hurriedly arraign him before a Magistrates’ Court on trumped-up charges of violating the Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) Diseases and Related Matters Law (No. 005) 2020. However, it took the intervention of the Police High Command and well-meaning Nigerians before Agwu eventually regained his freedom after spending several hours in police custody with the associated ill-treatments, like intimidation, harassment and denial of access to justice,” he said.
The Sun MD lamented that while Nigerians were still trying to come to terms with what the Governor and the CP did to the journalist, Umahi announced that the reporter has been banned from Ebonyi State Government House and all government facilities in the state. This action, according to Ukeh, implies that The Sun Newspaper, as an organisation, has been banned from Ebonyi State.
“The governor also declared that the safety of journalists, including Mr. Chijioke Agwu, in the state could no longer be guaranteed by him, and that people were angry with the journalists and might begin to unleash mayhem on them, if they continue to cause panic in the state.
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“Sir, we are deeply concerned and worried over the above acts of infringement on human rights displayed by the Governor of Ebonyi State and the Commissioner of Police, Ebonyi State. The ill treatments meted out to Mr. Chijioke Agwu (and by extension to our organisation) amounts to violation of rights to human dignity, freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of expression (including rights to gather, write, publish and circulate news), which are all guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Indeed, the press freedom as enshrined in our Constitution implies that the press shall be a watchdog over the excesses of any government and shall ensure that the government delivers its promises to the people. That was exactly what the cited publication in Daily Sun was meant to achieve.
“As a public office holder who is accountable to the people and the laws of the land, one expected that if Governor Dave Umahi, in any way, felt aggrieved with the contents of the said publication, the proper recourse would have been to respond appropriately through a rejoinder, or alternatively, seek legal redress instead of resorting to unlawful acts of attempting to stifle press freedom.
“Sir, we wish to reiterate that The Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of The Sun Newspapers titles, is duly registered and licensed as a media organisation under our extant laws to, among other responsibilities, gather and disseminate information/news to the general public. It is, therefore, very absurd and unimaginable that a state governor would simply seek to supplant this constitutional, legal and social duty through an Executive pronouncement. This can only amount to asphyxiation of the press,” he said.
Consequent upon the foregoing, Ukeh, in the letter, appealed to the IGP and urged him to use his good offices to ensure that adequate security is provided for Agwu, and indeed, all staff of The Sun Newspapers, while they engage in their lawful duties in Ebonyi State. He said the appeal had become necessary going by the pronouncement of the governor that he could no longer guarantee the safety and security of The Sun staff in the state.
The Sun equally wants the IGP to call the Ebonyi State Commissioner of Police (CP) to order by immediately desisting from any further form of ill treatment and intimidation of its staff working in the state on Umahi’s order, ensure that Umahi and his agents immediately discontinue with all forms of violation of rights to human dignity, freedom of movement, freedom of association and freedom of expression, including rights to gather news, write, publish and circulate, which are all guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as ensure that a peaceful and secured environment is guaranteed to all its staff in Ebonyi State as they perform their legitimate duties in the interest of public order.
“While we assure you of the company’s total cooperation in the handling of this case, please accept the assurance of our highest regards,” he said.