A press statement of the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, South East 23/04/2020
The Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, South East Zone condemns in entirety the dissent to dictatorship and anti democratic actions of the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Dave Nwaeze Umahi.
Umahi bared his fangs yesterday 22nd April 2020 in a statewide broadcast where he unilaterally proclaimed a “life ban” from government house on two Journalists working in the state, Chijioke Agwu of The Sun and Peter Okutu of The Vanguard, for writing what he (The Governor) considered uncomplimentary for the government.
The broadcast though embarrassing and distasteful for the image of the Ebonyi State, Salt of the Nation, didn’t come as a surprise for us in The CLO, South East Zone, having known and monitored the governor’s antecedents since he became the state Chief Executive in 2015.
We saw the broadcast as a vindication for those who have suffered from the governor’s alleged highhandedness, iron fist leadership, emotional , psychological and physical brutality in the past, who have been crying silently but their voices have not been heard , rather they are being demonised by their oppressor.
In Governor Umahi’s administration in Ebonyi State, government appointees and citizens live in perpetual fear. He behaves like the Lord of the Manor, his words are law while the exco members of his administration are made to become dummies that have no idea to bring during meetings but decisions are shoved down their throat to implement even against their will.
In Ebonyi state under Umahi, free speech is nonexistent while freedom of expression, holding opinions and press freedom as enshrined in Chapter 4, sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which the governor swore to uphold are all observed in breach .
Under Umahi, political appointees live with their hearts literarily in their hands because the ‘Emperor’ and ‘His Imperial Majesty’ can hire and fire at will or as he so desires depending on his mood at any point in time.
In Ebonyi under Umahi, 21 years after the end of military rule and hand over to civilian democratic governance, phrases like “Shoot at sight”, “use our koboko” among others which are associated with the jackboot era of the military are still normal lexicon still in practice .
Press freedom remains one of the essential pillars of democracy while the upholding of responsibility and accountability of leaders to the people which the press promotes should not be subjected to the emotions and countenance of an elected governor.
Before this reckless arrogation of power which the governor displayed in handing out the harsh ‘sentence’ without trial on Okutu and Agwu, other journalists who have tasted Umahi’s bitter pill in the past included Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Obinna Odogwu and Emmanuel Uzor all of Sun Newspaper before Uzor joined his government. Uzor’s sack from the post of Chief Press Secretary and later assignment to another position was also part of the anti democratic actions of the governor.
Others included but not limited to Samuel Nweze, publisher of Peoples Leader Newspaper and Charles Otu, publisher of Conscience Newspaper, two local tabloids based in Ebonyi.
The likes of Prof Bernard Odoh, former SSG who resigned his position honourably and wrote an open letter to the Governor was an exemplary show of courage from the mold of other appointees ‘suffering and smiling’ in Umahi’s government.
But the CLO wish to remind Governor Umahi that history and posterity has never been kind to despots and anti democrats. We also wish to remind the Governor that he was elected to serve while he is not a permanent landlord at Ebonyi Government House. His day of exit is already numbered and he has no power under any law to determine who stays or quits Ebonyi state. Infact, his power as the Chief Security Officer of the state places him in a tight corner to ensure the safety and well being of the two journalists and other citizens and residents of the state.
In the light of the foregoing, The CLO therefore recommends that Governor Umahi should proceed on a three-month intensive course on Democratic ethos, practices and principles at the National Democratic Institute. Such an intensive course will make him imbibe democratic principles that will not only make him realize that power is transient but that he holds and wields such powers on behalf of the people.
We also call on the South East Governors Forum to not only condemn the Governor’s recent action but should strip him the position of Chairman of the Forum.
The National Human Rights Commission should also withdraw the Award bestowed on Chief Umahi as the Best Governor in Educational Reforms, Infrastructural Development and Respect for Human Rights in Nigeria. The award in all ramifications was unmerited.
We call on the International Press Institute, IPI, Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other global Rights bodies to not only place Ebonyi on their Watch List but take every necessary step that will ensure that free voice is not repressed and climate of fear doesn’t prevail in Ebonyi State.
Signed for the CLO South East Zone
Comrade Aloysius Attah