By Amos Igbebe
For the first time since the creation of Delta State in 1993, practicing journalists were locked out of access to the state government house, a directive allegedly hatched by the Chief Press Secretary to the fourth Governor, Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu.
Since the days of Chief James Onanefe Ibori through the immediate past Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, journalists have been having unfettered access into the state government house for all functions, especially media briefings by the state governor that usually gathers journalists from all over the major towns and cities in the state. This has been the practice as the past governors were careful not to fall into the journalists’ Sword of Damocles.
For the eight years, Uduaghan was in office, he never underrated any journalists in the state, he treated all of them whether those with “big media but not doing much work” or those with local and state media but doing much work, he gave them all attention in his government.
Even his Commissioner for Information, Chike Ogeah, told journalists that he was ready to carry all journalists in the state along in his media business. Hence, on several occasion, he was seen shouting at the State Director of Information, Paul Osahor, for underrating some journalists in the state. And so Uduaghan’s government was adjudged as media friendly for the eight years he was in power.
But the new Okowa’s government is far removed from such attitude, thereby underrating the power and the potential danger such action would expose his government. This poor understanding of journalists’ power played out Wednesday February 3 when the governor held a media briefing for journalists in the state. That was the first media interaction with the governor since the governor was sworn in on May 29, 2015.
As usual, all the journalists from the state travelled to Asaba for the media interaction but over 80 percent were unlucky as they met a brick wall on the way to the state government house. Stern looking police men were stationed on the entrance who had been instructed to turn away any journalists whose name was not on the list for the media interaction. And as such, only about 50 were allowed entrance while over 200 were barred from entering the Delta Government House.
The selected or privileged few were mainly from the national media from Asaba and Warri and an insignificant few from the community newspapers in the state. At the entrance gate of Government House from Anwai road, security agents subjected journalists to thorough screening with a prepared list supposedly given to them by the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary.
It was like the scripture says, “anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire”, security men whose duty is to secure Government House were turned to bouncers by the CPS. Only journalists whose name appeared on the list were allowed in, others were asked to turn and go back to their houses.
Apparently unhappy with the development, the South South Zonal Vice President of the NUJ, Edward Akpati Ogude, told the governor that “the idea of selecting only a few journalists to cover your maiden briefing was unfair and unacceptable”, and advised that the governor’s press aide to liaise with NUJ for an all-inclusiveness rather than streamlining the journalists.
The Zonal Vice President’s advice compelled the governor to tender an unreserved apology to all journalists in the state, saying it would not repeat itself and directed his CPS to adhere strictly to the advice.
This alleged collation of names by Mr. Charles Aniagwu, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, is coming after the state council of the Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ) has submitted a compendium containing the names of practicing journalists in the state to the governor as ordered by the national body of the union.
It was reliably learnt that the CPS and the State Chairman of the union, Nobert Chiazor, had a serious fight when the Chairman was attempting to advise him on the aftermath of the selection but the CPS accused him of presenting a falsified compendium.
It was also gathered that the CPS has collated the names of some hand-picked journalists to cover the press briefing and other events in government house and directed them to the Public Relations Officer (PRO) government house, Mr. Harold Orji, to submit their passport photographs.
Sometimes late last year, unconfirmed news sparked in some quarters of the state that apart from government house correspondents and selected reporters from the national dailies, other journalists would be allegedly barred from entering and covering Okowa’s activities in government house.
A chapel chairman (names withheld) said “very soon accreditation will take place and I will see where all of these junks who call themselves journalists will gain access into government house to cover events”.
Following the alleged collation and submission of passport photographs, an act presently causing a crack and spitting fire among heads of various chapels under the NUJ and their members who were excluded are set for a showdown with the CPS.