When law maker manhandled journalists in Ebonyi

A law maker in Ebonyi state House of Assembly recently threw caution to the wind when he and his ‘boys’ descended on journalists covering the assembly for their effrontery to question the certificate of a commissioner nominee. AMARACHUKWU EGWUAGHA narrates what happened.

Generally, lawmakers are known to be honourable in all their dealings but that is not the case with Honourable Nkemka Okoro Onuma who represents Afikpo South West in Ebonyi state House of Assembly.

 Onuma, on July 31, assaulted Mrs Grace Egbo, the state correspondent of Nigerian Tribune Newspaper in Abakaliki by hitting her stomach in a bid to whisk away a commissioner nominee from the prying eyes of journalists.

Annoyingly, he refused to do the needful when the pregnant lady drew her attention to what he did even as she cried in pains.

While narrating the incident to Blueprint Mrs Egbo said, “When the commissioner nominee came out from the chambers after his screening, journalists approached him for interview. Immediately, Onuma dragged him away and in the process, he hit my stomach.

“At that instant, I thought it was unintentional, but when I approached him alongside some of my colleagues that had meet him to express their displeasure over the manner he whisked the man away, he flayed up, saying he would slap anyone who dares speak to him. He went on to pour all sorts of insults on everyone.

“At that point, I reminded him whether he knew that he hit my stomach, he gave me a wicked look and walked away. He then charged the atmosphere and left his boys to attack us. 

“As I’m talking to you now, I am going to see my doctor because I have pains in my head, eyes and all over my body. The attitude of this law maker is unbecoming and dishonourable. He should be called to order.”

Other victims narrate ordeals

Equally, other journalists who were attacked also narrated their experiences. The Nation Newspaper correspondent, Ogochukwu Anioke, said, “As the lawmaker was shouting on top of his voice, his boys joined him and attacked one of the journalists by hitting him very hard on his chest and he fell down.

“At this point, I intervened and joined in separating the fight. The noise also attracted some police officers who work in the assembly. They came and restored order. Later, the nominee, Mr Stanley Emegha, whom he took away came and pleaded with the journalists to forgive the lawmaker and his thugs.”

Ogochukwu further narrated that at that point, one of the thugs came and started shouting again that the journalists can go ahead and write whatever they want.

“He also threatened to beat us up and warned that we should leave the place. At that point, I became unconformable and made to enter my car but his boys came and held my car door and dragged me out. One of them came from the back and hit me on the back of my head while others joined in the beating.

“I managed to extricate myself from them and entered my car. As I got to the gate, they told the gateman to lock the gate and not allow me leave. They swarmed around my car trying to forcefully open it but they couldn’t. Some were hitting the glasses with their hands trying to break it. At that point, the chairman of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Tony Nwizi, came and told the security men to open the gate which they did and I managed to escape to safety”. 

Also the correspondent of Pilot Newspaper and secretary Correspondent Chapel of NUJ in the state, Mr Sampson Nwafor, has his own story to tell.

“When they came out of his office, we decided to approach him to express our displeasure over the manner he dragged the nominee out. He got infuriated and threatened to slap me.

“I told him it has not got to the extent of slapping anybody but before we could know it, his thugs numbering about 20 descended on us. It was as if he came prepared to attack us. 

“As the thugs were attacking us, the lawmaker quickly moved back to the chambers to join the screening of remaining commissioner nominees without any caution to his thugs.

“I and Ogochukwu Anioke of Nation Newspaper were injured during the attack and lost our working tools in the process.”

Assembly must foot medical bills – Isiguzo

Expressing displeasure on the attack, the national president of NUJ, Comrade Chris Isiguzo condemned the attack and demanded an apology from the law maker. He also ordered that the medical bills of the victims should be taken care of by the lawmaker. 

“I am yet to get the full details of what really happened in Ebonyi state House of Assembly but if what we read is anything to go by, it is shocking and totally unbecoming for an Honourable member of a state assembly to abandon his legislative duty and unleash

mayhem on innocent journalists covering the assembly.

“It is totally unacceptable to us and we demand that Ebonyi state House of Assembly should not just apologise to those manhandled, they should also make sure that they are taken care of in hospitals because I learnt that one or two of them are already in the hospital. So, they should take care of their bills and assure us of their safety in that assembly.

Isiguzo said further, “The lawmaker in question does not have powers to stop journalists from covering the assembly, as he threatened. It is

a public place and does not belong to him or the speaker. They don’t have the powers to bar any journalist from covering the assembly. If they try it, we will take the next line of action.

Also, the South East Zone of NUJ under the leadership of comrade Petrus Obi totally condemns the unwarranted attack on journalists and demanded that the perpetrators be brought to book.

He said, “We demand that the perpetrators of this inhuman attack on defenceless journalists who are merely doing their job should tender unreserved apology within three days or face action by the union for assaulting its members.

“We also advicse journalists in Ebonyi state to embark on a comprehensive investigation to unravel the gray areas in the said certificates presented by the commissioner nominee which led to the assault on the journalists.

“We reiterate our resolve as a union to continue to fight for and defend every journalist unlawfully assaulted for doing his lawful duties until press freedom in achieved in Nigeria. 

State NUJ demands apology

Also Ebonyi state chapter of NUJ in a communique signed by secretary of the council, Comrade Nnamdi Akpa stated that, “The council was shocked that a lawmaker, Nkemka Okoro Onuma, alongside his thugs attacked and assaulted journalists who were in the assembly to cover the screening of a commissioner nominee.

“Sequel to this incident, the leadership of NUJ in the state demands the state House of Assembly to compel the member representing the Afikpo South West state constituency, to within three days, tender unreserved apologies to members of NUJ in the state, the failure of which may leave us with no option than to direct our members to boycott the activities of the House.

“This directive became imperative, having noted with great concern the threats of Nkemka Okoro Onuma against the safety of journalists who go to the assembly to carry out their statutory duties.” 

Attack on female journalist unacceptable – NAWOJ

Not relenting, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Ebonyi state chapter under Mrs Fortunate Ozo described the lawmaker’s attitude as callous and dehumanizing. She said, “The harassment and injury inflicted on some journalists, especially, a pregnant female journalist-member of NAWOJ while discharging her constitutional duty during the screening of commissioner nominees at the Ebonyi State House of Assembly by a lawmaker and his thugs on Tuesday, July 30 is condemnable.

“Although NAWOJ is yet to get details of what transpired, it is ridiculous and unspeakable for a lawmaker to behave in a manner unexpected of him. For a lawmaker, who is an integral part of government to mobilise, his thugs to attack innocent journalists is condemanble and despicable.

“Consequently, the attack on journalists especially the pregnant women is totally unacceptable.  

“The association, therefore, calls on relevant government authorities to bring the perpetrators of such inhumane and dastard act to book to serve as deterrent to others. Failure to do this would lead to massive protest by women journalists in Ebonyi state.”

Meanwhile, speaker of the assembly, Rt Hon Francis Nwifuru in a plenary on Wednesday apologised to journalists on the despicable attitude of the member.

However, the lawmaker, Onuma when contacted hung his phone and failed to respond.

Leave a Reply