Coronavirus law used to arrest Nigerian journalist over health story

Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi
Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi

A Nigerian journalist, Chijioke Agwu, has been arrested for writing a story on Lassa fever which a state governor claims violates the state’s coronavirus law.

The Ebonyi State Police Command, on Saturday afternoon, arrested the Ebonyi State correspondent of The Sun newspapers, on the order of Governor David Umahi, the media outfit has said.

The reporter, according to the newspaper, attended a press conference by the governor at the Government House where he was whisked away by the Chief Security Officer to the governor, and later handed over to the state’s Commissioner of Police, Awosola Awotinde.

The reporter is still being held by the police.

It was learnt that the governor has instructed that he be charged to court.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the governor, during the press briefing, which was aired live on the state’s broadcast stations, confirmed the arrest.

He said the reporter lied in a recent report he wrote on Lassa fever outbreak in the state.

Report against Infectious diseases law – Governor

The Governor, during the briefing, said the reporter’s actions contravened the recently passed Ebonyi State Coronavirus and other Dangerous Infectious Diseases And Related Matters Law 005 of 2020.

The law was accented to by the governor on April 2.

While signing the law, the governor warned against spread of false information, quoting a part of the law.

“The transmission, or dissemination through a computer system or network or otherwise, of false information regarding COVID-19 within the State and other Dangerous Infectious Diseases and or any circumstances related to or bordering on the outbreak or possible outbreak of COVID-19 within the State is hereby prohibited,” he declared.

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He said any person who provides false or misleading information intentionally or recklessly with a view to causing panic or disaffection amongst members of the public shall be liable under the Ebonyi State Coronavirus and other Dangerous Infectious Diseases Law, 2020, Quarantine Act, Cap Q2 LF.N, 2004, Public Health Law, Cap 126 Laws of Ebonyi State of Nigeria 2009 and any other existing law, to a fine or imprisonment or both.

Newspaper reacts

The Sun Newspaper, in a statement on its website, condemned the arrest, describing it as unfortunate.

The paper noted that the head of The Sun South East Bureau, Magnus Eze, had informed the management of the arrest in a text message.

“I have just been informed that Ebonyi Gov, David Umahi has ordered the arrest and prosecution of The Sun newspapers state correspondent, Chijioke Agwu, while he attended a press invitation at the Govt House. I was told that their grouse was a feature story on Lassa fever endemic in Ebonyi which centred mainly on NCDC statistics published in Daily Sun of Friday, April 17, 2020,” Mr Eze’s message read.

The management wondered why the reporter would be arrested for doing his job.

“It is wrong to arrest a reporter for doing his job. Our correspondent was arrested as if he was a common criminal while doing his legitimate duty. It is unfortunate a governor can make such an order and a Commissioner of Police acted on it.”

The paper further claimed that Mr Umahi has a penchant for harassing journalists.

“Sources say any time report on an issue in the state is published, the governor sometimes personally harasses and threatens reporters,” the paper said.

The paper further quoted unnamed sources as stating that “the governor does not want any report on the failure of his government reported by the media. When there is a communal clash, robbery, killings in the state, and they are reported, he gets offended. These things are replete in the state and it is the duty of the media to report them.”

The paper said since the arrest of the reporter, the police have barred access to him.

Police confirm arrest

The Commissioner of Police, Awotinde Awosola, confirmed the arrest of the reporter.

He, however, denied that the police have barred access to the reporter.

“He is having a parley with my officers. We are investigating the matter,” he said.



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