Owerri — The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Imo State Chapter and a Pro-democracy and non-governmental organisation, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) have raised the alarm at the growing suppression of media rights in Imo and Kaduna states.
The two bodies condemned the recent banning of the THISDAY and Vanguard Newspaper reporters, Messers Amby Uneze and Chidi Nkwopara by the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, from covering government activities, thereby stopping them from carrying out their constitutional duties of reporting and holding the government accountable in the discharge of their constitutional duties to the people.
In a release signed by the Party's State Publicity Secretary, Damian Opara said "the PDP State Executive Council after a very careful and painstaking review of the purported ban in an emergency meeting views the ban as a breach of the constitutional rights of the journalists and hereby condemn the action of Governor Rochas Okorocha in its totality."
The party observed that one of the tenets of any democracy was the freedom of information and noted that it must be respected by all segments of the government in the State, adding "the purported ban of the two journalists from carrying out their legitimate duties is to show the whole World how the Governor is becoming increasingly intolerant of opposing views to his draconian style of governance.
"The APC government of Imo State under Governor Rochas Okorocha has done so much harm to the people of Imo State and has completely lost popularity and sympathy of the people, through his maladministration and should not transfer his aggressions to innocent Journalists who are carrying out their constitutional duties in Imo State.
The THISDAY and Vanguard Newspaper Correspondents are not responsible for the dwindling image of Governor Okorocha which is self-inflicted due to the many failed promises he made to the Imo people.
"We ask, are the correspondents of THISDAY and Vanguard Newspapers whom Governor Okorocha banned responsible for the destruction and demolition of Eke Ukwu Owerri, Orie Amaraku and Anara Markets; the abandonment of the 27 general Hospitals in Imo State, the non- payment of complete pensions and salaries of Workers in Imo, the non-conduct of Local Government elections since 2011 till date which he has always promised, the collapse in the educational system, the destruction of critical infrastructures in Imo State, the non-completion of all destroyed roads in Imo State, non-functional ISOPADEC for the Oil Producing Local Government Areas, non-functional Adapalm, abandonment of all the Rural Roads in the 27 Local Government Areas in Imo State and most importantly the flagrant disobedient to Court Orders and Court Processes etc?
"The PDP hereby call on Governor Okorocha to allow these Journalists to do their legitimate duties as they are not the Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market Women and other artisans in Imo State whose livelihood have been destroyed by his questionable urban renewable policy.
"We also urge the two Journalists and indeed other Journalists operating in Imo to continue to boldly do their duties as much is expected from them at these challenging times of bad governance without fear or favour, as in the time of bad governance like this, it is only the media that can strengthen and protect democracy from declining as the watchdog.
"We therefore call on the all media houses not to kill the morale of their professional reporters because of a failed government. The media has an obligation to stand up to him and shame him. We also call on the NUJ Imo State Chapter and her National body to take appropriate actions to protect the Journalists concerned and others likely to fall victims to Gov. Okorocha's antics as that is the only way to preserve the sanctity of the sacred duty the media perform in a democracy", the released stated.
Meanwhile the HURIWA cautioned the Imo state governor to stop the extreme imposition of tax in Owerri given that his administration had in the last seven years failed spectacularly to create the enabling environment to grow the private sector in the state and create vibrant manufacturing sector that would have generated jobs for millions of jobless youths.
The group said the Imo state governor must be made to render account of the huge federally generated revenues that accrued to Imo state in the last seven years including the two previous tranches of Paris Club Refund running into billions.
"Rochas Okorocha is indebted to pensioners and workers for many months and hasn't been accountable with Imo state resources but has now become an eleventh hour emperor unleashing taxation venoms on struggling families and discouraging Igbo in Diaspora from investing in the state given the unfriendly tax policies and the rising incidences of violent crimes due to joblessness and restiveness of millions of youth. The bad policies of Rochas Okorocha must be stopped to save people from being economically exterminated," it noted.
On the issue of the stifling of spaces for media freedoms in Imo and Kaduna states, HURIWA criticised the Imo state governor for purportedly expelling the state correspondents of THISDAY and Vanguard Newspapers because they maintained their independence and credible reporting styles.
Besides, HURIWA said the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Ruffai had locked up a former correspondent of Vanguard, Mr. Luka Biniyat in the Kaduna Federal prisons for months for allegedly reporting the armed Fulani invasion of a part of Kaduna State and the killing of undetermined number of people in the largely Christian dominated Southern Kaduna.
The Rights group said it was inexplicable that the judiciary in Kaduna State had now become a stumbling block to the enjoyment of the fundamental human rights to media freedoms.
In a statement jointly authored by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA criticised the seemingly unattainable bail conditions slammed on the now disengaged senior journalist in Kaduna, Mr. Luka Biniyat in a matter that ordinarily is bailable.
"We suspect that the Kaduna State governor is working in cohort with the Kaduna State judiciary given that state judiciary in most states are not completely independent financially from the apron strings of the almighty state governors who are the chief executives of the states.
"HURIWA also recalled that in the last two years, nearly five Nigerian reporters and social media commentators have had brushes with the Kaduna State governor following their reports and opinions about the prolonged Southern Kaduna massacre by armed Fulani herdsmen.
"HURIWA recalled that the Kaduna State governor, who was earlier quoted as telling the media that his administration paid off killer Fulani herdsmen to end their attacks in Southern Kaduna, has also threatened to deal with any media worker who takes undue interest in reporting about the Southern Kaduna genocide which has claimed over 2,000 persons", the group stated.
The Rights group therefore asked the Kaduna State High Court to vary the conditions for granting bail to the detained journalist, Mr. Biniyat so he could attend to his failing health just as the group urged the Kaduna State helmsman to end the siege against the media by withdrawing his litigation against the erstwhile Vanguard Newspaper's bureau Chief in Kaduna.
The Kaduna High Court had on July 20, 2017 granted Biniyat bail or be remanded in prison till August 31, 2017 should he fail to meet the conditions.
The trial judge, Alhaji Bashir Sukola who granted him bail in the sum of N10 million with two sureties in the like sum and a bank bond in same amount, with deposition of the sureties' international passport ordered that Biniyat be remanded in prison until he was able to meet the conditions and had since then remained in prison for his inability to do so.
Similarly, HURIWA frowned at the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha's threat against journalists operating in the state, banning the Correspondents of THISDAY and Vanguard Newspapers, Amby Uneze and Chidi Nkwopara, from covering government house activities.
The governor who the group said did not give any reason for his action other than that the said correspondents did not like him and vowed to deal ruthlessly with the reporters if they dare to show face inside government house to cover any of his activities, insisting that he would take it up with their respective headquarters to ensure they are posted out of the state.
HURIWA urged the Imo state governor to withdraw his threats because section 22 of the constitution had tasked journalists to be the public conscience and monitor elected officials to ensure good governance and respect for human rights.
Moreover, the Rights group reminded him that government house in Owerri belong to the people of the state and not his personal estate.
The rights group reminded Rochas Okorocha to stop behaving like an emperor by going after independent media and also introducing toxic taxations aimed at indirectly confiscating housing assets belonging to hard working Imo state indigenes.