Press Freedom which is regarded as one of the essential pillars of Democracy was recklessly attacked with impunity, purloined and poured with slur in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State Capital on Friday, 2nd June 2017 when a journalist and social critic, Charles Otu was mercilessly attacked and he narrowly escaped death by thugs purportedly working for Governor Dave Umahi.
Otu, Publisher of a local tabloid, Conscience Newspaper and also a reporter with Guardian Newspaper committed offence punishable by death according to his attackers by writing critical analysis of Governor Umahi’s two years anniversary speech which he published in his Facebook Wall.
His attackers who were clearly identified as members of Ekubaraoha Youth Assembly – a youth organization set up by the governor, abducted him in broad daylight and whisked him away to the Government house where they severely dealt with him.
Eye witness account stated thus: “Charles Otu went to a newspaper stand at the popular Vanco junction, Abakaliki to see some vendors. While there, a bus branded with the name ‘Ekubaroha Youth Assembly’ – a youth organisation initiated by the governor allegedly serving as his strong arm – stopped in front of the newsstand and thugs carrying guns jumped out and kidnapped him, but not after he had been beaten up in the presence of people as he was struggling to escape,” the statement read.
“He was taken to the Ebonyi state government house, Abakaliki where he was forced out of the vehicle and made to lie on the ground. Workers who were leaving their offices as it was already past 4pm, on seeing the state he was in began to scream and the thugs forced them out of the gate and locked up everywhere.
“They brought out machetes, rods and sticks and proceeded to beat him up – over twenty of them jostling and shoving to get their turn at him. They accused him of making a post on Facebook two days earlier x-raying the activities of the state government and matching the failure of the government to the inaugural speech made by Governor, Engr. David Umahi the day he was sworn in. The said post had gone very viral and had given the state governor some serious headache as never in the past had anyone ever given such an analysis against the government.
“Present with the thugs were some senior special advisers to the governor. While the journalist was pleading for his life, they informed him that the instruction was to kill him……”
Within the same period of this abominable act, Samuel Nweze, publisher of the People’s Leader newspaper in the same Ebonyi state was also attacked. Nweze said that about 7p.m. on the same day, he survived an assassination attempt in his office at No 2, Awolowo Street, Abakaliki, when two men on a motorcycle shot at him in front of his office.
“I narrowly escaped death. I was lucky the assailants who came on a motorcycle missed the target; the story would have been a different one.“I heard a bang and I felt sharp pains and blood gushing out from my back.’’ He said.
Few days earlier, as a prelude to the Biafran anniversary sit at home observed on May 30th 2017, thugs said to be acting government script disrupted a 50 Year Biafra Memorial Anniversary Lecture that was scheduled to hold in the Women Development Centre, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital organised by Movement of Biafrans in Nigeria, MOBIN, a political arm of the Customary Government of the Indigenous People of Biafra (CG-IPOB)
According to , Rita Eberechukwu Anigbogu, the Director General of the group the thugs chased away Biafrans who had gathered at the venue of the event and harassed them, including the MOBIN Director of Political Education, Evangelist David Agbo who was the prime organizer of the event.
The CLO South East Zone is very much appalled over the three samplers happening in Ebonyi State- Salt of the Nation. Ironically, the shooting of Nweze and brutalization of Otu happened at the same time Governor Umahi was receiving the Zik Prize for Leadership Award in Lagos.
As at the time of issuing this statement, the government has not openly denounced the attack neither has it been recorded that Otu has been visited in the hospital by the Governor if not for the flimsy statement issued by the Technical Assistant to the Governor on Media , Lawrence Egede.
Nigeria’s brand of Democracy is under Siege when gangsters and brigands are still part of our political system. A system that breeds sycophancy, unbridled hero- worshipping, with zero accommodation for criticism and accountability.
The recent Press Freedom Day marked all over the world should have been a pointer to all those in political government position to have a rethink and adjust their seat belts.
Nigeria in its present Press Freedom ranking placed 116 out of 122 countries, a downward swing from its previous rating of 111 in 2015.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended clearly stated that “the press, radio television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in the entire chapter and uphold the RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY of the Government to the people”
Section 39 of the same constitution gives the citizens freedom to hold opinions, expressions and Press Freedom.
We condemn in totality what happened in Ebonyi and we call on the Governor to claim and assume full responsibility for what happened to Otu and the MOBIN event.
The law enforcement agents should also carry out full scale investigation and ensure that those who shot Nweke are apprehended and their motive established.
Governor Umahi should call his boys to order. The Ekubaraoha Youth Assembly should not be used in any way as a campaign tool or agents of government hunting down any voice of opposition.
Government officials should know that criticism is in their best interest so that they can use such to gauge the voice from “the other side” instead of only listening to those who will naturally tell them what they would like to hear or those who massage their ego shying away from the “Real Situation”.
Otu should not only be compensated for his present ordeal but should be offered protection and every available psychological rehabilitation so that the scars of what happened will not in any way affect his pure sound of judgment in every issue subsequently.
His attackers should be fished out and properly punished. Governor Umahi as the incumbent Chairman of the South East Governors Forum should not only live above board at all times but should show the way and curtail any excesses of overzealous aides and groups.
Signed for the CLO , South East Zone
Comrade Aloysius Attah,