… Ebonyi Speaker Apologizes to NUJ
By Oginyi Ruth, Agnes Igwe and Nwogha Ndubuisi Andy
Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), both state and national, on Wednesday condemned the attack on journalists covering the ongoing screening of Commissioner nominees in Ebonyi State House of Assembly by political thugs numbering over 40 with dangerous weapons, even as Speaker Francis Nwifuru has tendered apology.
The thugs who were allegedly led by the member representing Afikpo South West Constituency in the Assembly, Nkemka Onuma descended on the journalists and inflicted injuries on three of them; Ogochukwu Anioke of the Nation newspaper, Samson Nwafor of the Pilot Newspaper and a pregnant journalist, Mrs. Grace Egbo of Nigerian Tribune Newspaper who was hit on her stomach and face.
Onuma during the attack, threatened to prevent journalists from covering the state Assembly, describing them as touts.
After attacking the journalists, the thugs also held one of them, Anioke of The Nation newspaper hostage inside the Assembly premises by ordering the gateman to lock the gate as he made to drive out of the Assembly complex in Nkaliki Road Abakaliki.
It took the intervention of the Chairman of NUJ, Comrade Tony Nwizi to prevent further attack on the journalists and vandalization of their vehicles by forcefully opening the entrance gate which aided their escape.
The incident happened after the screening of one of the nominees which was marked with some irregularities as the Speaker of the House, Francis Nwifuru noticed that the year of his graduation from Primary School did not correspond with the year he started and finished secondary school on his documents.
Nwifuru had asked him to explain how he started secondary school a year before the year he graduated from primary school as stated in his result but he could not give any reasonable answer to the query.
Reacting to the attack on the journalists, National President, NUJ, Comrade Chris Isiguzo who condemned the action of Onuma and the thugs demanded for apology for his action.
He also ordered that the medical bills of the victims should be taken care of by the lawmaker.
Comr. Isiguzo said, “I am yet to get the full details of what really happened in Ebonyi State House of Assembly, but if what we read is anything to go by, it is shocking and totally unbecoming for an Honourable member of a House of Assembly to have abandoned his legislative duty to begin to unleash mayhem on innocent journalists in Ebonyi state.”
“It is totally unacceptable to us and we demand that Ebonyi State House of Assembly should not just apologize to those people that were manhandled, they should also make sure that they are taken care of in the hospital because I learnt that one or two of those people are already in the hospital. So, they should take care of their bills in the hospital and assure us of their safety in that House of Assembly.”
“There is no way that the legislature which is of course part of the ingredients of democracy in governance will still be the one to cause trouble or problem to the safety of journalists in Ebonyi state. So, the attack is totally unacceptable and we think in the next couple of hours, the House of Assembly should do the needful.”
On the threat to prevent journalists from covering activities of the Assembly, Comrade Chris said, “The lawmaker in question does not have powers to stop journalists from covering the Assembly as he threatened. It is a public place and it does not belong to that particular lawmaker or the Speaker. It is a public institution and they don’t have right or such powers to bar any journalist from covering the state House of Assembly, it will never happen. If they try it, we will take the next line of action. They can’t even try it; the lawmaker was only trying to grandstand.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ebonyi State Chapter, has described as callous and dehumanizing, the harassment and injury inflicted on some journalists, especially on the state correspondent with Nigerian Tribune Newspaper, Mrs. Egbo Grace, a pregnant female journalist, a member of NAWOJ in Ebonyi while discharging her constitutional duty during the screening of commissioner nominees at the Ebonyi State House of Assembly by a lawmaker and his thugs from Afikpo South Local Government Area of the state on Tuesday July 30th.
The statement signed by the Chairman, NAWOJ, Ebonyi State, Mrs. Fortunate Ozo, reads, “Although NAWOJ is yet to get details of what transpired, it is ridiculous and unspeakable for a lawmaker to behave in a manner not expected of him. It is condemnable and despicable for a lawmaker who is an integral part of government to mobilize his thugs to attack innocent journalists.”
“Consequently the attack on the journalists, especially the pregnant woman is totally unacceptable. The Association therefore calls on relevant government authorities to bring the perpetrators of such inhuman and dastard act to book to serve as a deterrent to others.
Similarly, the Chief Press Secretary to Ebonyi state Governor Sir. Emmanuel Uzor on his part, condemned the attacked on journalists and described the attitude exhibited by the lawmaker as recklessness.
“Let me again condemn such recklessness as exhibited by the suspect. As an American resident before, he should have lived above this rascality he showed”.
The incident has since attracted many statements from NUJ national body, its South East and Ebonyi state councils as well as National Association of women journalists condemning the act and threatened legal action among other measures against the lawmaker if nothing serious including apology in a press conference is not done within three days.
Our reporters gathered that journalists from different media establishments had earlier approached a Commissioner Nominee in the state, Stanley Okoro Emegha for interview after he was screened by the legislators in the House.
At the very time, the journalists in the House inquired to know what transpired during the screening then the controversial lawmaker who hails from Emegha’s area whisked Stanley away.
The lawmaker also directed his thugs to beat up journalists as the Nigerian Pilot’s Correspondent; Nwafor Sampson was rough handled and pushed to the ground.
The situation led to a free for all fight as the thugs engaged journalists in an open fight even before the watchful eyes of security operatives. It also took the intervention of the State NUJ Chairman, Tony Nwizi for The Nation’s Correspondent, Ogochukwu Anioke to exit the Assembly gate as the thugs mobilized and blocked him from going out of the complex for his professional assignment.
The incident has generated mixed reactions within and outside Ebonyi State as the reasonable indigenes and residents of the state have condemned the action of the embattled lawmaker and his thugs against journalists.
Meanwhile, the Speaker Ebonyi State House of Assembly Rt. Hon. Francis Nwifuru has apologized to members of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) over alleged assault on members of the union in Abakaliki by member representing Afikpo South West Constituency, Mr. Nkemka Okoro Onuma and his thugs at the state house of Assembly premises.
The Speaker who tendered the apology a day after the incident during their plenary at the hallowed chamber pleaded for forgiveness irrespective of whether the Lawmaker was guilty as charged or not.
The Speaker said, “About the said attack, molestation and intimidation by some members of the Ebonyi state House of Assembly on members of Nigeria Union of Journalist namely Mrs. Grace Egbo, Mr Sampson Nwafor and some others journalists after the screening, I wish to use this opportunity to apologize to the journalists, having mentioned some of my honourable members to have attacked them, whether they did or not, I apologize and I say forgive us.”