Umahi vs journalists: Facts behind near-frosty relationship


Recently, Ebonyi state government has been in the news for the wrong reason bothering on harassment of some journalists. In this article, AMARACHUKWU EGWUAGHA analyses the relationship between Gov David Umahi and practising  journalists in the state before and now.

All over the world, journalists,  weather one likes it or not, are mirrors of the society. That means just as mirrors are handled with care to avoid being broken, in the same way are journalists  handled to avoid a soured relationship. This is because they are seen as the conscience of the people.
These set of professionals had always stood out to make things right through reportage and ultimately keep leaders and the led on their toes. They had always ensured an enabling environments for governments to thrive through its public enlightenments. In Ebonyi state, it has never been an exception.

Journalism practice in Ebonyi

Journalism practice in Ebonyi has not been different from the way it is practised in other states of the country. No doubt, there has been the good, the bad and the ugly.
When the going was good, politicians were always willing to host journalists  except for those that had skeleton in their cupboards. Ebonyi, as an example, had hitherto provided enabling ground for journalists to practice and ensured their security. 

Gov Umahi and journalists

Umahi as the state chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had a very cordial relationship with journalists as he knew them by their names and ensured that whatever provision made for anyone gets to such.
He had for a good number of times sanctioned his aides for tampering with whatever was allocated to journalists. As a matter of facts, he was a friend of the press. 

When he arose to the position of deputy governor, it was the same up till the time he become governor of the state. Shortly thereafter, he began to create sharp division among journalists in the state through his policies and body language especially among the correspondent chapels. For instance, he began what is known as divide and rule tactic by picking about six journalists from the correspondents lead by the Daily Independent Newspaper, the Guardian, Vanguard, Thisday, New Telegraph and few others journalists from the broadcast and local tabiods. These became the preferred media he dealt with as against the other existing ones.
Since he emerged as the governor in 2015, although journalists came together as one; however, the division he created remained especially  as it became a tool of fighting each other whenever the opportunity arises. These set of persons has been used to checkmate others. 

Investigation reveals that despite all these, there has been a cordial relationship between journalists and Umahi’s government. For example, he attended to journalists whenever they called on him and as well journalists listen to him as a father. 

His first term in office was peaceful and journalists carried out their duties  without fear or favour. In less than 18 months before the end of his first term, the governor rolled out packages for journalists in the state. He captured them in the 250,000 naira grants made to empower youths and women in the state. He also empowered their spouses  with 50,000 naira each. He had always seen journalists  as partners in progress but had in one or two occasions fallen out with them.

Umahi’s second term in office

However, Governor Umahi’s second term in office has not really been palatable for journalists. Investigation reveals that the little  allowances given to them (journalists) as was the practice before the end of his first ternure left with that tenure. The administration suddenly became hostile towards journalists and sees them as trouble makers just as the governor himself also began to refer to them in like manner any time he has the opportunity to interface with them.
His comments in the recent past made some of his aides to see journalists as trouble  makers with allegations that journalists report some misdeeds of the government. 

For example in recent times, what his special assitant on media does is to querry journalists on their articles which he thinks are not in favor of the state, but fails to advise his master on the right thing to do.
Worse still, investigation shows that lack of competent hands to manage the media relationship angle of the government has made the administration to be like a sheep without a shepherd. This to a greater deal manifested in the recent fallout between the governor  and journalists in the state.

Umahi’s life ban on two journalists

Before this life ban, the governor had banned the correspondents of New Telegraph and Guardian  Newspapers from entering the Government House and also from attending government functions for two weeks because they quoted him verbatim on his statement on violators of the state COVID-19 law. These  journalists in their write-ups qouted him to have ordered a shoot-at-sight of any violator in government custody who tries to escape. However, he  debunked the statement claiming he was misunderstood. 

It is no more news that Gov Umahi placed a life ban on correspondents of Daily Sun and Vanguard Newspapers, Chijoke Agwu and Peter Okutu, respectively, over  reports he termed to be fake and malicious. 

Agwu in his feature on Lassa fever said that people died  in drones in the state while Peter wrote that military  men in uniform killed 20 person in a community in Ohaukwu local government area of the state. These reports angered Gov Umahi and the chairman of Ohaukwu LGA, Clement Odah, such that they ordered the arrest of the journalists  but later released them. 

Also, the governor further announced a life ban on Agwu and Okutu from government activities and all government facilities. 

Although the ban has been revised and the governor has apologised to journalists, asking for partnership with them, everyone threw their weight behind the journalists  especially those who knew what the profession is all about. 

Analysts are of the opinion that this latest feud between Umahi and the journalists would have been nipped in the bud if the governor had experienced hand that manages his relationship with the media. It goes a long way to tell him about the need to get an experience chief press secretary which everyone believes his government needs badly before another major damage would occur.

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