The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Wednesday condemned an alleged attack on journalists covering the ongoing screening of commissioner-nominees in Ebonyi State House of Assembly by political thugs.
The thugs, numbering over 40, armed with dangerous weapons were reportedly led by the member representing Afikpo South West constituency in the Assembly, Nkemka Onuma. The thugs were alleged to have descended on the journalists and inflicted injuries on three of them.
Those attacked and injured include: The Nation newspaper reporter, Ogochukwu Anioke, Samson Nwafor of Pilot Newspaper and a pregnant journalist, Mrs. Grace Egbo of the Nigerian Tribune, who was hit on her stomach and face.
Onuma during the melee was said to have threatened to prevent journalists from covering the state House Assembly sittings and events, describing them as touts.
After attacking and inflicting injuries on the journalists, the thugs also held one of them, Anioke hostage inside the Assembly premises by ordering the gateman to lock the gate as he attempted to drive out of the complex on Nkaliki road, Abakaliki.
It took the intervention of the state chairman of NUJ, Comrade Tony Nwizi, to prevent further attack on the journalists and the vandalization of their vehicles by forcing the Assembly gate open, which aided the journalists escape.
The incident follows the screening of one of the nominees whose credentials was fraught with some irregularities.
The Speaker of the Assembly, Francis Nwifuru had noticed that the year of his graduation from primary school did not correspond with the year he started secondary school on his documents.
Nwifuru had asked him to explain how he started secondary school a year before the year he graduated from primary school as stated in his result but he could not give any reasonable answer.
Reacting to the attack on the journalists, NUJ national president, Comrade Chris Isiguzo condemned the action of Onuma and the thugs and demanded an apology for the attack on the journalists.
He also said the medical bills of the victims should be taken care of by the lawmaker and their safety must be assured.
“I am yet to get the full details of what really happened in Ebonyi State House of Assembly but if what we read is anything to go by, it is shocking and totally unbecoming for an Honourable member of a House of Assembly to have abandoned his legislative duty to begin to unleash
mayhem on innocent journalists in Ebonyi state.
“It is totally unacceptable to us and we demand that Ebonyi State House of Assembly should not just apologise to those people that were manhandled, they should also make sure that they are taken care of in the hospital because I learnt that one or two of those people are already in the hospital. So, they should take care of their bills in the hospital and assured us of their safety in that House of Assembly.
“There is no way that the legislature which is of course part of the ingredients of democracy in governance will still be the one to cause trouble or problem to the safety of journalists in the state. So, the attack is totally unacceptable and we think in the next couple of hours, the House of Assembly should do the needful.”
On the threat to prevent journalists from covering activities of the Assembly, Isiguzo said “the lawmaker in question does not have powers to stop journalists from covering the Assembly as he threatened. It is a public place and it does not belong to that particular lawmaker or the Speaker. It is a public institution and they don’t have right or such powers to bar any journalist from covering the state House of Assembly, it will never happen. If they try it, we will take the next line of action. They can’t even try it. The lawmaker was only trying to grandstand”.
Also, the South East zone of the union has condemned the attack on the journalists.
A statement by the national vice president of the union, Petrus Obi, demanded an unreserved apology from the lawmaker and his cohorts within three days or face legal action.
The statement reads: “The Nigerian Union of Journalists,NUJ, South East Zone totally condems the unwarranted attack on the state correspondent of The Nation Newspapers, Mr Ogochukwu Anioke and other journalists in Ebonyi State on Tuesday by a lawmaker, Hon Nkemka Okoro Onuma at the premises of the state House of Assembly.”
“We demand that the perpetrators of this brazen, cowardly and inhuman attack on defenceless journalists who are merely doing their job should tender an unresarved and open apology to them within three days or face legal action by the union for assaulting its members.
“We also advice journalists in Ebonyi State to embark on a comprehensive investigation to unravel the gray areas in the said certificates presented by the commissioner nominee at the floor of the state House of Assembly which led to the assault on the journalists.”
The union urged Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, to “guard against appointing persons of low character into his government as this will rubbish his good intentions for the state.”
“We reiterate our resolve as a union to continue to fight for and defend every journalist who is unlawfully intimidated, harrased or assaulted for doing his lawful duties until press freedom is achieved in Nigeria,” the union said.