The Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, South East Zone has condemned what it called the dissent to dictatorship and anti-democratic actions by the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Dave Umahi.
A statement signed by the Zonal Chairman of the CLO, Comrade Aloysius Attah, said 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 the breach.
Umahi had in a statewide broadcast on 22nd April 2020, 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 considered uncomplimentary for the government.
The ban had attracted widespread criticism as not only being embarrassing but also distasteful for the image of the Ebonyi State.
The CLO, South East Zone, says the ban did not come to them as a surprise, as they have 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. Under Umahi, political appointees live with their hearts literarily in their hands because he 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,” the group regretted.
They observed that Press freedom which remains one of the essential pillars of democracy that promotes responsiveness and accountability of leaders to the people has been subjected to the emotions and countenance of the governor.
According to the group, the reckless arrogation of power which the governor displayed in handing out the harsh ‘sentence without trial’ on Okutu and Agwu, was the same meted out to other journalists who have tasted Umahi’s bitter pill in the past included Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Obinna Odogwu and Emmanuel Uzor all of Sun Newspapers.
“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,” it noted.
The Southeast reminded Governor Umahi that he was elected to serve and 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. In fact, 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,” the group opined.
They called on the South-East Governors Forum to not only condemn the Governor’s recent action but also strip him of the position of Chairman of the Forum.
According to the group, the National Human Rights Commission should also withdraw the Award bestowed on The governor as the Best Governor in Educational Reforms, Infrastructural Development and Respect for Human Rights in Nigeria, as they are in the group’s judgement, unmerited in all ramifications.
“We further call on the International Press Centre, IPU, 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,” the group said.