About 20 soldiers on Operation Python Dance exercise of the Nigerian Army on Tuesday beat up journalists and smashed their phones, Ipads and other gadgets as they invaded the state secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Umuahia, Abia State.
The soldiers, who were parading the streets of Umuahia on a show of strength under the exercise, alleged that the journalists took pictures of their exercise without authorisation.
The soldiers, numbering over 200, drove through the streets in 15 Armour Personnel Carriers (APCs), 20 trucks and six Hilux vans.
On getting to the Abia Tower where the Abia NUJ state secretariat is located, three of the trucks parked and about 20 soldiers jumped down.
The soldiers then ran upstairs to the Press Centre and invaded the state NUJ Council office where journalists and correspondents were gathered.
“The soldiers surrounded the journalists and cocked their rifles, alleging that someone took their pictures when the show of force was ongoing,” said a journalist who witnessed the incident,” said Ugochukwu Ugorji, correspondent of the Nation newspaper.
“In the process, some journalists were slapped and beaten up by the soldiers.
“The soldiers also collected phones, iPad belonging to the journalists and smashed them on the ground. They later took away some of the phones.
“One of the journalists slapped is a traditional ruler and a national trustee of NUJ, Ezeogo Bonny Okoro.
“When some of us tried to introduce ourselves as journalists to the military men, they shouted at us, saying: ‘shut up, I will kill you!’; while another shouted, ‘kill them like chicken’.
“After the damage was done, the soldiers left”.
PREMIUM TIMES reporter noted that while the soldiers were beating up the journalists, food vendors and other people doing their legitimate business in the area ran for their lives, as the soldiers took over the NUJ premises and turned it upside down.
Speaking on the incident, the Chairman of NUJ in Abia State, John Emejor, condemned the action of the soldiers.
Mr. Emejor said since the soldiers were doing their show of strength, which they called Operation Python Dance, “Journalists have the right to cover it and alert residents of the city not to panic when they see such large number of soldiers”.
He said with their action, the soldiers had desecrated the NUJ Press Centre, adding that the development was a threat to journalism practice in the state.
Mr. Emejor said no journalist took pictures of the soldiers’ operation in the state capital to provoke the maltreatment.
Also speaking on the incident, Mr. Okoro whose iPAD was destroyed by the soldiers, described the assault on journalists as unfortunate.
Uche Nwosu, a journalist with Daily Independent newspaper, called on the army hierarchy to withdraw the Operation Python Dance exercise, saying it has placed the state under unnecessary tension.
When contacted, the public relations officer of 14th Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Ohafia, Gbadamosi Oyegoke, a major, denied the incident.
He said soldiers could not do what they had been accused of.
This newspaper observed several army vehicles and APCs parked at a petrol filling station at Ntigha Isialangwa North council area of the state along the Port Harcourt-Enugu express way.
In Umuahia, soldiers were seen parading around Afara-ukwu, where the country home of the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, is located, while frightened residents of the village closed their shops.
The Police spokesperson in the state, Geoffrey Ogbonna, confirmed the beating up of journalists. He described the incident as condemnable.