Ebonyi Correspondents' Chapel condemns arrest of Members

By Mbam Ogodo, Abakaliki

Members of the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Ebonyi State on Friday condemned the arrest of two of its members on the orders of the state government.

The members stated this in a communique after an extraordinary emergency meeting in Abakaliki, the State Capital.

The communique was signed by the Secretary of the chapel, Samson Nwafor.

Two of its members, Chijioke Agwu of The Sun Newspaper and Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspapers, who is the Vice Chairman of the chapel, were arrested during the week for stories they wrote on Lassa Fever outbreak and millitary invasion of a community in the state.

The Reporters were arrested on the orders of the Governor and a local government Chairman in the state quizzed and released by the Police.

Following their release, Governnor David Umahi in a live broadcast pronounced a 'life ban' on the two Reporters from entering all government facilities in the state including the government house.

The Governor's actions have since drawn worldwide outrage and condemnations from various groups and organisations within and outside the state.

The chapel also described the outbursts of the Governor as inciteful against Journalists.

"We condemn the illegal arrest, intimidation, harrassment and 'life ban' imposed on two of our members, The Sun and the Vanguard Correspondents, and the inciteful statement against Journalists in the State"

"We commend the National leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), International Press Council (IPC), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Projects (SERAP), Civil Liberty Organisations (CLOs), and host of other non-state actors for standing by Journalists in Ebonyi State in this trying moment.

The members also assured of their commitment to protect the spirit and letter of our noble profession as enshrined in section 22 and 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended".

The Chapel also lampooned the Commissioner for Information, Mr Uchenna Orji over a statement he issued following a meeting he held with members to resolve the life ban on the two Reporters

"That rather than focusing on the issues raised, especially as it concerns lifting of the 'life ban' on two of our members,Mr. Chijioke Agwu of The Sun Newspaper and Mr. Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspaper, and ways to ensure that the lives of Journalists operating in the State are guaranteed, the Commissioner embarked on pernicious propaganda to save his job and drag members of the Chapel to the mud.

"We wish to clarify that the meeting was held at the instance of the Commissioner to appease members of the Chapel.

"The purported joint press briefing where our Chairman, Mr. Jacob Ogodo, was quoted to have eulogized the Governor for arresting our members, was a ruse and a calculated attempt to smear the image of the Chapel, its leadership and confuse the general public".

The chapel described the Commissioner's action as an act of betrayal and wish to demand that the Commissioner retracts the statement with apologies within 48hours