The Caretaker of the Imo State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has reacted to the recent sealing of one of the electronic media outfits in the state, the Reach FM said to be owned by the embattled former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, advising the government not to use the opportunity of the popular demand for recovery of all illegally acquired properties to seek political vendetta and opportunity to continue with attempts to muzzle freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Imo State as has been witnessed in recent times.
A statement issued on Monday and signed by Comrade Precious Nwadike and Comrade Austin Okoro as chairman and secretary respectively of the NUJ Caretaker Committee reads in part, “the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Imo State Council yesterday, was informed of the sealing of the Reach FM Radio Station, Owerri by Agents of Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA). The radio station and the building housing it are said to be owned by the immediate past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha.
It was discovered that the past governor had acquired the property long before he became governor.
Further enquiries indicate that the radio station was sealed as a result of an altercation it’s staff had with the GM of OCDA, Mr Innocent Ikpamezie which borders on alleged professional misconduct on the side of the presenter of a phone-in program.
We do not intend to dwell on who was at fault or not but wish to advise that those in authority should always resort to the rule of law in seeking redress for any perceived wrongdoing rather than the use of government power to illegally suppress the press.
Much as the Union has held a firm position on the recent white-paper released by the State Government in which we pledged support to the government in its efforts to recover every property that belongs to the state, we do not support any form of political vendetta from any quarter, bearing in mind that recovery of property illegally acquired by past government officials is an Imo project. It shouldn’t be an excuse for vendetta or impunity.
No doubt Ex-governor Rochas Okorocha’s regime was characterized by brazen abuse of court orders and due process but two wrongs cannot make a right. We therefore advise the Governor Hope Uzodinma administration to concern itself with recovering those public property already captured in the whitepaper, which in itself, is enormous work considering the size of pillaging that had gone unchecked before now. The union is absolutely supportive of this move as it will help to tame those in authority and ensure justice for victims of impunituous and gluttonous leaders bent on primitive acquisition of property.
As a professional body, we shall not also tolerate any situation whereby any journalist will hide under the gullible excuse of carrying out their constitutionally empowered duty to run down anybody, institution or office in violation of the ground rules and guiding ethics of our practice. The union strongly frowns at that. The public is advised to report any journalist found in such misconduct to the council for necessary action instead of resorting to brutish self-help or taking laws into their hands.
The Union notes that it is barely two weeks the Punch Newspaper Reporter, Chidiebube Okeoma was attacked by agents of OCDA and security guards attached to the government house. Till now, neither the State Commissioner for Information, Mr Declan Emelumba nor any other official of the government has come out to explain what transpired or at least the offence of the newsman.
Instead, what we learnt is that a former commissioner, having thrown decency to the dogs, had gone to town blackmailing the battered journalist, in the laughable hope of brow-beating him to abandon his right to redress and justice.
We wish to state categorically that any attack on any journalist or media outfit in Imo, is an attack on all journalists. We await our next congress to be properly briefed on what action taken so far by the government in addressing the incessant attacks on newsmen. As a union, we shall not hesitate to provide all the necessary support to any journalist attacked by those in authority for carrying out his legitimate duties, to ensure that justice is served and seen to have been served.
Finally, we call on Governor Hope Uzodinma to once again call his appointees to order. Attacks on media practitioners in Imo is fast assuming an alarming proportion in Imo state and more disturbingly, under a governor who before assuming office, had been widely perceived as broad-minded humanitarian and jolly good philanthropist. We are still at a loss as to what had gone wrong to warrant the seeming reputation summersault.
We remain one of the strongest development partners with government and our ultimate desire is for Imo to succeed.
But whoever thinks these strong – arm strategy will gag the press in Imo, know so little about the dynamism of journalism practise. Such functionaries of government is inadvertently setting up the government for a crashing disappointment”.