Drama as National Conference Chair, Idris Kutigi, chases away journalists from Conference Chamber

Raymond Dokpesi says organizers of the National Conference did not consider the media as an integral part of the process, saying the situation gave rise to the shoddy treatment given journalists.

The Chairman of the National Conference, Idris Kutigi, on Wednesday ordered security operatives to throw out journalists duly accredited to cover the proceedings of the Conference.

The incident took place while the Vice Chairman of the Conference Committee on National Security, Albert Horsfall, was presenting a report at the plenary session.

Mr. Horsfall, who was standing in for the Committee Chairman, Gambo Jimeta, had midway into his presentation, advised journalists covering the Conference to close their ears and shut their cameras.

“I want journalist inside here to close their ears and shut down their cameras because I am going to discuss very sensitive national security issues,” Mr. Horsfall had said.

“Alternatively, Mr. Chairman, I would request that the gallery be cleared of journalists to enable us discuss the issues here.”

Just as Mr. Horsfall called for the gallery to be cleared, Mr. Kutigi took the microphone and shouted, “Journalists get out now. Get out! Shut your cameras and get out of here now.”

While journalists were trying to shut down their equipment and pack their bags, Mr. Kutigi continued shouting, “Disappear from here now. Security, get them out of here immediately. Get out here. Disappear. Get out, all of you.”

Security operatives inside the chamber rushed at journalists who were struggling to pack their equipment and threw them outside the gallery.

Other overzealous security operatives, who might have been waiting for an opportunity to descend on journalists, moved swiftly to the press gallery and forced reporters to leave the hall without carrying their bags, cameras and laptop computers.

But as the journalists were hounded out, the security operatives packed the bags, laptop computers and other equipment they left behind and dumped them outside the gallery.

The journalists were left for hours under the scorching sun as Mr. Horsfall presented the report of his Committee.

Angered by the action of Mr. Kutigi, Chairman of Daar Communications, Raymond Dokpesi, stormed out of the chamber and directed his staff to shut down all the equipment used in giving live coverage to the Conference.

Mr. Dokpesi, however, returned to the chamber but later came out with the Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications, Akpandem James, and a representative of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Sani Zoro,

The trio made spirited attempts to pacify the journalists, who were still standing outside under the sun, discussing the ugly treatment.

Mr. James apologized for the embarrassment caused the journalists and appealed to them to be prepared to return to the gallery when the Conference resumed from the executive session.

“Gentlemen, I was not there when the incident happened but I am sorry about it. The Chairman did not mean to insult you. I want to appeal to all of you to calm down and listen to what we have to say.

“The chairman has apologized for what he said and we want you all to come back when the executive session is over to cover the adoption of the recommendations of the committee after lunch break.”

On his part, Mr. Zoro said the media is an essential part of every democratic process and urged the aggrieved journalists to return to the gallery after the executive session.

He said, “We have been partners in progress in this particular exercise. Everywhere, journalists are embedded into this kind of exercise. Even if it is in a war situation, security agencies still brief journalists in confidence.

“It is even in our ethics that information obtained in confidence cannot be disclosed and we are signatory to this. This could have been avoided. We shouldn’t have had this kind of distraction at all.

“I blame the Chairman for the words he used. But you can see that the Conference came to a stop for about 40 minutes. The Chairman and the leadership were advised and he offered an apology and said he considers the press as partners in this exercise.

“Without participation and cooperation of the media, this Conference cannot be successful. However, the point we are now is whether all journalists should be recalled to cover the entire proceedings or whether it should be during the recommendation.”

Mr. Dokpsei on his part noted that he was jeered by some of the delegates inside the chamber when journalists were ordered out.

He said, “They made a grievous mistake and even those at the top echelon of the media threatened a walkout. Others in the civil society groups and lawyers also threatened to walk out.

“We didn’t like what happened. Even where I sat, people were jeering at me and as a media person, I had to absorb the insult. We reminded them that journalists are well-read people with many of them having second degrees. That people are in journalism does not mean they should be treated anyhow. It is not done.

“But they have recognised their error and I want to commend Mr. James. He wasn’t there when the incident happened, but immediately he came, he took prompt action. Please let us treat this Conference as a national assignment.”

Mr. Dokpesi said organizers of the Conference did not consider the media as an integral part of the process, saying the situation gave rise to the shoddy treatment given the journalists covering the proceedings.

But in a unanimous decision, journalists decided to boycott the Conference for the day and also demanded an apology to be personally tendered by Mr. Kutigi on Thursday morning.

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