Governor ‘pardons’ journalist arrested for publishing critical health report

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State

The Nigerian journalist who was arrested on the order of a state governor has been released after he was ‘pardoned’ by the governor.

The Sun Newspaper reporter, Chijioke Agwu, who was arrested on Saturday afternoon by the police on the order of Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, was released Saturday night around 10 p.m.

While the state government accused the journalist of reporting falsehood, the newspaper said it stands by its ‘accurate’ report which narrated the anxiety among residents of Ebonyi amid the Lassa fever outbreak in the state.

Mr Agwu confirmed his release to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday morning.

He said he was treated with respect by the police while at the police station.

He, however, said his phone was damaged after it was taken from him by the police officers.

“I don’t think it was intentional though. I think someone mistakingly sat on it or it fell from someone’s hand and the screen got damaged because they were courteous in dealing with me even when they collected the phone they did it in a professional manner and I was never manhandled,” he said.

The Pardon

Meanwhile, Ebonyi State Government said it ordered the release of the reporter.

The Commissioner for Information, Uchenna Orji, said this in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES.

He said the governor ‘pardoned’ the reporter.

According to him, the reporter was to be charged under the Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) Diseases and Related Matters Law (No. 005) 2020 for giving false and damaging reports about Lassa fever outbreak in the state.

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But following pleas from the leadership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Guild of Editors and the Ministry of Information, the governor decided to pardon the reporter, he said.

The commissioner, however, warned that the state government will no longer tolerate unverified damaging reports about the state.

“The Governor of Ebonyi State, David Nweze Umahi, in compassionate consideration of the pleas of the leadership of Nigeria Union of Journalism (NUJ), Guild of Editors and Ministry of Information and State Orientation has directed the pardon of the SUN Newspaper correspondent, Mr Chijioke Agwu who was to be charged under Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) Diseases and Related Matters Law (No. 005) 2020 for giving false and damaging reports about Lassa Fever out break in Ebonyi State, published in Sun Newspaper of 17th April 2020.

“However, all Media operators and correspondents are by this notice warned that Ebonyi State Government will no longer tolerate the damaging stinkers of unverified reports about happenings in Ebonyi State,” read the statement.

Earlier, PREMIUM TIMES reported how The Sun newspaper accused the Ebonyi government of stifling critical report in the state.
“Sources say any time report on an issue in the state is published, the governor sometimes personally harasses and threatens reporters,” the paper wrote in its reaction to Mr Agwu’s arrest.

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.”

We Stand By Our Report – The Sun

Meanwhile, the management of The Sun newspaper said it stands by the content of the story that led to the arrest of the reporter.

The newspaper said the report, titled ‘Anxiety, fear as Lassa Fever wrecks havoc in Ebonyi’, is factual and verifiable.

The South East Bureau Chief of the Newspaper, Magnus Eze, said the figures used in the story were drawn from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control’s weekly report on Lassa fever.

He noted that Ebonyi ranks third after Edo and Ondo states in the ranking of most endemic states for Lassa fever, according to the NCDC.

“Anybody with access to internet can easily search and access the report. And what we presented in the report is based on that report by NCDC. We have no intention of issuing a retraction of that report,” Mr Eze said.

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