Governor Umahi and his koboko for journalists

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Just within one year of being in office as a democratically ‘elected’ governor, Dave Umahi is already power drunk. He thinks to be a state governor is a herculean task in our corruption infested brand of democracy.

Recently, as journalists, we got a taste of the corrupt and nonsensical leadership that we have to always endure for decades.

It was on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, when the power-drunk Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state had the guts and audacity to “ban for life” two journalists – Chijoke Agwu and Peter Okutu – working for The Sun and Vanguard newspapers from Ebonyi State Government House and all government facilities in the state because of their ‘unfavourable’ reports on his poor performance and crudity. After banning the two journalists, the ‘almighty’ Umahi proceeded to tacitly and tactfully threaten them with mob violence if they dare violate his unlawful ban.

The journalists were accused by the governor of reporting a case on Lassa fever and a military invasion of a community in Ohaukwu council area of the state.
Umahi never wanted the world to know that there was Lassa fever outbreak in Ebonyi state and he never wanted the press to report the military invasion of a defenceless community for fear of offending the military authority. Umahi still wants the public to see him as the Chief Security Officer of Ebonyi State.

After announcing his ban, Umahi went on to state: “If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko. Let’s leave the court alone. Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you if you continue to write to create panic in the state”. But he never stated the written panics that compelled him to issue the illegal directive.

Umahi should at this juncture be quickly reminded that he does not have the power from anywhere to ban journalists or any other person for that matter from residing or entering Ebonyi State or from accessing any government property, facilities or institutions provided with public funds. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the rights of citizens including journalists to Freedom of Movement in and out of any part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (section 41). The Constitution also guarantees the right of the media to cover all affairs of government including investigative reports as well as the right of citizens and the press to obtain relevant public information from government/public officers, offices and institutions (sections 22 and 39(1) & (2) of the Constitution and sections 1-4 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.

How then can a governor who is supposedly the Chief Executive Officer and highest-ranking public official of the state, be so ignorant of the basic tenets of the law and of the Constitution he swore to protect? Umahi must be one of those misfits in responsible positions! Or is it the case that he knows the law but does not give a damn about the dictates of the law and the structures imposed on his powers by the Constitution he claims to uphold?

Why was the governor so angry about some reporting by the two largely unknown journalists? Is he trying to cover up anything untoward he wants to hide in the dark while occupying a public office on oath?

If the reports were false and misleading as the ‘almighty’ governor seems to suggest by his prompt but hurried action. Why didn’t he seek the usual judicial redress in the courts of law?

My reading of the entire drama is that the governor is not ignorant of the law as he portrayed in his action. He simply has no use or regard for the very Constitution that brought him to power, the courts, the press and the rights of the people he loves to govern. This explains why the governor, within a few hours of banning the journalists, hurriedly issued (in the full glare of TV cameras), an unlawful directive to local government officials authorizing them to flog any person-big or small- found not wearing face masks in public with canes. That is a typical case of a drunken sailor!

The governor’s directive to beat any person caught without a face mask in public with a cane flies in the face of section 34(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which guarantees the rights of citizens to respect for dignity for their persons and provides that no person should be subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment by any person including security agents. Aside from being a Constitutional aberration, the governor’s directive to beat citizens with canes is callous, degrading, inhuman and highly irresponsible and barbaric.

The fact that the governor issued such a barbaric and unlawful directive in the face of widespread of complaints of police/soldier brutality and highhandedness speaks volumes of the governor’s contemptuous disregard for the fundamental rights of the people as well as lack of empathy, circumspection and sense of justice. Even worse, the unlawful directive, which is in itself an abuse, is susceptible to abuse by all manner of people; the directive will surely be interpreted by security and government officials as well as unscrupulous elements in the community as a license to trample or further trample upon the rights of long-suffering people of Ebonyi state particularly.

If the governor fancies himself a military administrator who is unanswerable to the Constitution, untrammelled by law and unaccountable to the people, he must be awakened from his fantasy and daydream by the people. There is neither a place for the rule of man nor for the rule of force anywhere in independent Nigeria. Governance in accordance with the rule of law is the only permissible mode of governance in Nigeria we know and the governor must abide by the laws of the land. The rule of law gave birth to and sustains the office of a state governor which Dave Umahi occupies today.

If Umahi does not appreciate this simple and elementary fact, then perhaps he is not medically fit to be a public officer. Nobody forced him to be a state governor anywhere in Nigeria. He should realize the simple fact that he is not the most qualified to be the governor of Ebonyi state at this material time. He should realize the simple fact that of the two journalists he banned for life from covering government activities in Ebonyi state, by providence, any of them can be a state governor tomorrow. It is not a big deal to be a state governor in Nigeria. It is a matter of good calculation, assembling the right propaganda machinery, a heartless gang of political thugs, shameless deceivers and liars that can deceive even the dead as a marketing strategy of their product. What is there then in being a state governor that is more like a housewife that waits for monthly, weekly or daily family feeding allowance?

A secondary school dropout can be a state governor in Nigeria with good sponsorship from a wealthy investor in the polity. Dave Umahi has missed the point! The media should zoom, its searchlight on the activities of Governor Dave Umahi and publish reports before Ebonyi State is forced on its knees from inept and cluelessness combined. Umahi must be one of those governors that force the administering of Oath of Secrecy on public servants for the cover of deals and subsequent escape route.

But the battle line is drawn. We have been invited for a ‘war’ to sanitize Ebonyi State Government by His Excellency Dave Umahi and we have most sincerely accepted his executive invitation with due respect. We love to have his promised koboko for publishing the truth and exposing the heap of lapses bedevilling steady development of Ebonyi State.

The challenge is for journalists to professionally prove the maxim that says the Pen is mightier than the Sword. We live to see who blinks first. Many were governors. Many will still be governors. A journalist can be a governor but I doubt much if Dave Umahi can ever be a journalist. If he happens to be one by accident, the profession will surely suffer.

Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

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