A group, Enugu Rescue Group, ERG, has condemned the decision of a seven-member panel appointed by the State Chief Judge to investigated allegations against the Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, to bar journalists from covering its proceedings.
The group said the decision denied the public the benefit of knowing the proceedings of the impeachment plot against the deputy governor, who is an elected public officer of the state.
The State House of Assembly had last month initiated impeachment proceedings against the deputy governor. Among the allegations against him is that he is operating a commercial livestock in his official quarters.
The group, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Martin Okenwa, said it was concerned about the “speedy” descent of Enugu State into a home of political impunity characterized by assault on transparency and right to information.
He said it was pained that the impunity had persisted despite the protests by the lawyers of the deputy governor.
The group also condemned the long and persistent “mopping” in Enugu State and its environs, of newspapers and magazines that carry reports and articles deemed to be critical of the Governor Sullivan Chime Administration.
The group said it was concerned that both anti-democratic actions were being perpetrated at the behest of the Enugu State Government with public resources.
It said it considered the constant “mopping” of national dailies as gross violation of the letters and spirit of the Freedom of Information, FOI Act, and especially Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which upholds the right of citizens to “hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.
“We further wonder why impeachment proceedings that were broadcast live on televisions in other states such as Nasarawa have become a secret business in Enugu,” it said.
The group contended that an impeachment investigative panel was not a secret cult and its businesses could not and should not be run like one.
It stated that Mr. Onyebuchi holds the people’s mandate and any trial towards taking away such mandate should be open to the electorate.
The ERG added, “We unequivocally maintains that journalists are the eyes and ears of the public and should be allowed to do their jobs in line with 1999 Constitution, global best practices, and universal principles of democracy.
“We demand, as a matter of emphasis and urgency that the video coverage of the Panel’s hearing by the electronic media houses should henceforth be allowed to enable the public scrutinize and weigh the decisions of the panel against the testimonies and evidences provided at the hearing.
“Importantly, such a critical event in the life of Enugu State and our democracy must be preserved unedited for posterity, which is also entitled to its own judgments of our words, actions, and inactions today.”
The group said Nigerians might consider the panel a kangaroo one contrived to do the master’s bidding if it failed to stop behaving like a secret cult while any “guilty” verdict returned by it against the deputy governor would be unacceptable “because it is a kangaroo decision marred by political Ebola virus.”
The ERG urged the Newspaper Proprietors of Nigeria, NPAN, and the Newspapers and Magazines Distributors Association of Nigeria to please call their complicit members and agents in Enugu to order.
According to it, the constant carting away of newspapers and magazines impedes the role of the media as the watchdog of the society.
“The best way for the Enugu State Government to manage its dwindling political fortunes and growing unpopularity is to desist from doing those things that earn it bad press, not by expending public resources in denying the people access to information,” the group said.