The Imo State Government and the State correspondent of Punch newspapers are locked up in war of words over allegation of attack.
Punch correspondent, Mr Chidiebube Okeoma had revealed how he was physically manhandled by policemen he claimed were attached to Governor Hope Uzodinma at Govt House roundabout, Owerri, during a protest by women sweepers.
According to the report Trumpeta has, Government house policemen on Monday manhandled and arrested the Imo state correspondent of the PUNCH newspapers, Chidiebube Okeoma, for covering widows who were protesting six months arrears of salaries owed them by the state government.
The policemen who came in the company of thugs from Owerri Capital Development Authority, slapped and punched the journalist before bundling him into their waiting vehicle.
They had confisticated his gadgets and attempted to shoot him if he dared said any word.
After beating the journalist, the visibly charged policemen drove him into the governor’s office in Owerri.
Okeoma, said that he was marched into the governor’s office where he was taken to office of the Chief Security Officer in charge of the state government house, one Shaba Adamu.
Okeoma, said that on seeing him, Adamu requested he be detained but on a second thought asked the journalist to explain what he was doing where the women were protesting.
The journalist said ” I was at the government house roundabout where I was covering widows who were protesting their six months non payment of salaries owed them by the state government.
“While I was there, policemen welding riffles with thugs from OCDA berged into me after cocking their guns. One of them immediately slapped me while the other punched me on my left eye and immediately took all my gadgets.
“They demanded to know who gave me the permission to cover the protest but in response I told them that my power to cover the protest was enshrined in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. They immediately dragged me on my waist and put me inside one of their operational vehicles and drove me to Imo state government house.
“The policemen who were harassing and intimidating me in the vehicle, matched me like a common criminal to the office of the governor where I was bundled into the office of the government house Chief Security officer, Shaba Adamu.
“On sighting me, Adamu said that I ought to have been detained instead of bringing me to him but I told him that I am not criminal but the Imo state correspondent of The PUNCH newspapers. He requested to know gave me the permission to cover the protest but I insisted that my roles as a journalist are enshrined in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
“The policeman then demanded to see the video footages I made and on seeing them he ordered on me gunpoint to delete them which I did. He ordered that my gadgets be released to me afterwards.
He later gave me N5,000 to use and treat myself which I collected on gunpoint and warned me not to cover repeat it again. I have since taken the money to the police but the police authority didn’t take it.”
Okeoma said that he feel pains internally owing to the beating the policemen gave him.
The journalist said that he had since reported the development to the state commissioner of police, Abutu Yaro.
Okeoma, said that the state commissioner for information and strategy, Declan Emelumba, apologized to him.
This is not the first time Okeoma was being manhandled as he was on June 10 robbed by gunmen wearing DSS insignia.
The gunmen kidnapped a businessman, Batram Iwuala, Okeoma was with.
However, from the government angle, the state is saying no one touched him adding that he is an agent of the opposition.
Government says “report that a correspondent of Punch newspapers was brutalized by security operatives from the governor’s office for covering protests by women.
“It said the man, Chidiebube Okeoma was questioned by the police for failure to properly identify himself after he was caught filming restricted areas of Government House long after the protesters had dispersed.
“The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy Hon Declan Emelumba described Okeoma as an agent of the opposition who was in Government House for a sinister agenda and not for the practice of journalism.
“Hon Emelumba also clarified that he never apologized to Okeoma for being interrogated by policeman, rather for claiming that he was beaten.
“According to the Commissioner, when Okeoma called him on phone to report the incident, he promised to get back to him after investigations but that as a human being, he said that if his account was correct, he was sorry about it.
“From his skewed and jaundiced report, it is obvious that the man has an agenda which is to rubbish the efforts of the Government to restore peace in Imo State. He is obviously working for those stoking the security crisis”, he submitted.
“He noted that although Okeoma claimed that he was accosted by policemen in OCDA vehicle, the headline read that he was brutalized by Uzodinma security operatives.
Hon Emelumba disclosed that investigations showed that the protesters had long gone when Okeoma was caught in restricted areas of Government House and that even when he was accosted he failed to produce his ID card.
He said it was curious that of all the journalists who covered the protesters, none was molested except the Punch correspondent.
He said it was also bewildering that someone who claims to be a journalist could neither produce his ID card nor comport himself in a dignified manner.
The truth is that he belongs to a breakaway faction of NUJ that is working for the opposition. He contrived and orchestrated the entire saga to taint the image of government. Nobody actually molested him”, the commissioner insisted.
Hon Emelumba also dismissed the allegation that the chief security officer in Government House offered Okeoma five thousand naira to treat himself of injuries from his encounter with the police.
He said the five thousand naira was for transport fare as requested by the journalist who has now turned it into a blackmail weapon.
While urging the public to ignore the report, the commissioner said the Government of Imo state has a very high regard for journalists and would therefore not obstruct the performance of their lawful duties.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State condemns in the strongest terms the continuation of the war against the press and media in the State by Governor Hope Uzodinma, with his aides and agents. This Party, therefore, charges the governor to end the attacks, and allow freedom of the press to blossom in Imo State.
Imo PDP asserts that the strange insecurity and catastrophically high level of bad leadership and bad governance in Imo State since 2020 demands the intensification of the work of the press and media in the State, to keep the members of the public in steady information and awareness of the running and working of the government, and the colossal failure of the Uzodinma regime. Therefore, instead of intimidating the gentlemen of the press, the regime should device genuine ways of accommodating and encouraging them in the line of their duties and responsibilities to the society. In this era of insecurity, journalists covering events concerning the government should be provided adequate safety and security, and not bullying and bashing them.
This Party received the news with chagrin and consternation, and utterly condemns the attack and manhandling of Mr. Chidiebube Okeoma, the Punch newspaper Correspondent in Imo State, by security operatives attached to Government House, Owerri on reason of his performing his professional duty of covering the peaceful protests by road sweepers in the employ of the Government of Imo State, who recently were protesting for the governor to pay them their salaries which has run into many months of unpaid arrears. Our Party sees nothing wrong with newsmen covering such a significant event.
This Party notes sadly the huge catalogue of incidences of abuses, insults and physical assault and battery visited upon press and media operators and operatives in the State by the current regime since it assumed office. The Party wants a final full stop to be put to all such acts that expose the undemocratic disposition and inclinations of the Uzodinma regime.
This Party feels that beyond the purported apology by the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon Declan Emelumba, to the abused and insulted Okeoma, the governor should expose the perpetrators of such uncivilized conducts in this age and time. The culprits should be duly prosecuted and brought to justice by Governor Uzodinma for hampering and hindering the fourth estate of the realm from performing its constitutionally stipulated duties and responsibilities. Imo PDP urges all to whom it may concern to allow freedom of the press to be upheld and practised in Imo State!