Last week, the Imo Trumpeta Newspaper was officially unveiled to the public. The occasion was a success on account of dignitaries that attended, and the peaceful manner the ceremony went without any incident.
However, there was one significant observation; no government presence, despite the fact that invitations were extended to the Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, his Deputy, Commissioners, SAs, SSAs, Transition Committee Chairmen, and Heads of other Government Parastatals.
Before now, the insinuation in government quarters was that certain politicians in the State were behind this Newspaper allegedly floated to attack the government in power.
It is a silly assumption for any reasonable person to believe that seasoned journalists, with families to feed and workers to pay could be lured into a venture for the singular purpose of being attack dogs for some big men.
To disapprove this useless insinuation, the official presentation of this Newspaper had afforded the Management the opportunity to prove to the world that a dog is just being given a bad name to hang it, while the government led by Owelle Rochas Okorocha would have thrown away vindictiveness and exhibit maturity by honouring the invitation, but it failed to slow statesmanship and unbiased to all manner of people, as sworn by a state Chief Executive to treat all its citizens.
Not even the Media Aide to the Governor was detailed to represent his boss in such an occasion that show cases the character of any given Governor to the people, despite ideological or political persuasion held by any individual or group.
This development has qualified the present administration as being dangerous, and alerted the Publishers of Imo Trumpeta that their lives and that of their families are in danger, and therefore not protected in Imo State.
I have not seen any thing extra ordinarily different from what Imo Trumpeta is doing, from other newspapers in the State, except the fact that those behind the Newspaper served in the last administration headed by Ikedi Ohakim.
Every Newspaper who wants to remain in business must remain neutral and particularly on the side of the people, which includes the opposition, which makes the sitting government be on its toes and then deliver the goods to the populace. Is that an affront?
Imo Trumpeta could not have been more aggressive as people assume now, than say when Announcer Newspaper debuted.
The owner of the Newspaper hails from Orlu Zone, but never failed to educate and inform Imo people when ever Chief Achike Udenwa’s government fumbles.
As natural with governments in power, at a time the Udenwa administration literally banished the Newspaper yet everything due for Announcer from government was ever made available for the Newspaper.
As the Editor of the Newspaper then, Chief Chris Okewulonu, the Commissioner for Information then, would on his own call me to his office to collect adverts meant for the Newspaper. And within my short stay in his office, Okewulonu would educate me why we in the Announcer Express should see the good side of the Udenwa government. It was a cordial relationship, with government doing its job, while the journalists did theirs.
Despite putting Udenwa and his Aides on their toes with our write – ups, when my father Dr Hilary Ekpe died, the Governor sent Dr Mrs Gloria Chukwukere, then Commissioner for Education to represent the State government, while also he sent Sir Bright Nwelue, the Chief Press Secretary, with the entire Government Press Crew to represent him.
After the burial, I went to thank the Governor, but went on with my business as a journalist. While I was in Government House to see the Governor, nobody harassed or insulted me. That is statesmanship and maturity from the government to a citizen who holds alternative view.
When Udenwa started making amends from the criticisms he was receiving, in his second term he changed pattern and Announcer Express also did. It became a mutual and natural “reconciliation” between the two.
When Ohakim became Governor, the Newspapers were his agenda setters, as he read a lot and was too sensitive to Newspaper reports. He read my column one day and called me on speaker – phone while conducting the State Executive Council meeting one Wednesday. He was angry with my column captioned “How Lagos Boys have hijacked Imo”.
Immediately after the Exco meeting the Governor sent for me. As I got into his office, he shot at me “Henry what have I done to you and your Announcer Newspaper? Nothing I do is acceptable to you people”
I now explained to him that I have gone through the list of his Commissioners and it is made up of Lagos – based businessmen, some of them we have never heard of or seen before.
I asked the Governor what happened to those Imo based politicians who worked with him day and night. I pointed out to him that these Commissioners from Lagos came with their Personal Assistants from Lagos, and usually board the next flight to Lagos every Friday, where the families live.
In order words, they take away our money to Lagos every weekend instead of the money circulating in Imo. And again, if they employed PAs from Imo based – youths the unemployment level will reduce. And again, appointing home based Commissioners will make him build home – based political structure.
While I was there, no body molested or abused me. After discussing with Ohakim I went on with my business.
Later in his Cabinet reshuffle, he brought in some home based politicians in his cabinet.
But that did not stop the Newspaper pointing out defects where there was any.
Despite my face – off with Ikedi Ohakim, when I did my wedding and invited him, he sent a large representative led by his Special Adviser on Media, Dr Etelberth Okere.
Bar Ziggy Azike a Governorship candidate then, who said my Newspaper was not “fair” to him flew in all the way from Lagos for that wedding and went back from the venue.
Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, who accused us of sale – out and swore not to have anything to do with us, sent Okenze Obinna to represent him.
In the wedding proper, it was a rain bow coalition with PDP, ANPP, and all parties in attendance. There was no malice against any body.
That was the period Imo State played matured politics, when persuasion rather than bravado was the order of the day. Today, thugs will stop you on the road, beat you silly for daring to put your mind on the paper in a democratic environment and nobody will call them to order.
The other day, Gov Okorocha invited Publishers to Government House, and the SSG, Prof Tony Anwuka wanted to physically assault my colleagues.
However when I joined the Ikedi Ohakim’s government as Chief Press Secretary after he had spent two years on the saddle, my constituency, the press never went to sleep.
I will say that Ohakim received the highest press bashing among all Governors that over ruled Imo State. This is because of the era of many private Newspapers in Owerri. And they gave the opposition the platform to vent their venom on the sitting governor, which was normal in a democratic and free society.
For the period I was in that government, I never had one day peaceful sleep, following a plethora of attacks on the Governor led by the likes of Chief Martin Agbaso until Owelle Okorocha joined the fray.
It was a robust situation, with constant midnight candles to reply the invectives pouring in everyday against my principal.
Throughout this period, I did not discriminate against any practicing journalist in the State. In fact, my best friend Val Okara of the SUN, Ebere Uzokwa (who is today Owelle Okorocha’s Media Aide) of Leadership Newspaper and Steve Uzoechi of Compas, formed a group that rained in “dangerous” reports every day against Ikedi Ohakim.
I did not stop inviting these mentioned journalists to State functions neither did Gov Ohakim raise such issue with me; neither did I withhold anything that accrues to them as journalists in the State.
Rather than clamp or assault Ebere, Val or Steve, I went to their Headquarters in Lagos and Abuja to beg their bosses to “tamper justice with mercy” by talking to their correspondents in Owerri.
These gentlemen were doing their jobs, and were seeing what other Journalists may not have been seeing about the Ohakim government. It does not mean they were enemies and were not treated as such.
Apart from Ebere who sent thugs after me because of Imo Trumpeta reports which he saw as not favourable to the government he is serving, Val and Steve remains my good friends, and they today know better.
Now continuing with Owelle and Imo Trumpeta and the devilish beliefs and insinuations about running his government down.
Nobody in this medium has time to practice gutter journalism for any body’s gain. It is unprofessional and insulting to say that Gerry Ogu, Henry Ekpe and Kelechi Mejuobi could be bought to pull the State government down. For what benefit?.
In every society, there must be alternative voices. If not, both the led and the leaders are doomed. If not for alternative platforms, Owelle Okorocha would not have succeeded politically today. If all media houses were shut from opposition commentaries, Owelle Okorocha would not have been the Governor of Imo State.
Let me say it here that it was fearless and neutral media houses in the State that gave him the platform to vent out his ideas and campaigns that handed him the governorship seat of the state today, to the detriment of Ikedi Ohakim and the PDP.
What if those in power then had muzzled these media houses? Let it be said here that the masses, all over the world end their romance with politicians, the moment such people move to the other side of the divide; power.
Owelle should not see any media house criticizing his policies as enemies. When he was in the opposition people trooped to him, including the media. Now he is in power he is under checks and scrutiny and hemmed out of the common populace, and therefore under daily attacks by those watching him from outside. He is no more in opposition. The situation has completely changed, and should understand this.
Therefore, that role he was playing as an opposition leader that attracted him to the common people has been shifted to another fellow. So that opportunity given him by the media, as the conscience of the populace which he played about a year ago must also shift to opposition he vacated. So, those media he sees as being critical to his administration does not hate him, but only adjusting to the natural societal equilibrium. But unfortunately from the beginning, his administration seems to have penciled down Imo Trumpeta as enemy and locked out the Newspaper from all government functions, including not sending their materials to us, so how then do we record the government activities?
When I worked as Chief Press Secretary, I had email address of nearly all reporters in Nigeria I can lay my hands on. And immediately every function I write and send the materials to all of them. So, those who wants to use will. But in most cases they did, because I had made it easy for the media houses, but here In Imo they deliberately shut – out Imo Trumpeta, yet condemn the paper for not publishing government activities, our spirits?
Any media house, who sets out to number who are friends or enemies is doomed from the start. Apart from informing, entertaining and educating the populace, another important aspect of every media outfit is to make profit and remain in business.
In all, I am only trying to explain that, it was unstatesmanly, for the leader of the State, to have shunned an invitation extended to him by three sons of the state, who have by the grace of God served this State in various capacities, just because they worked in the past administration is ridiculous. It shows open disdain this administration has for this outfit that has reduced unemployment in the State. It has shown a dangerous trend in Imo politics. And of most important that this outfit and its promoters are not protected in the state and should be careful.
Let me conclude by saying that we mean no harm to the Okorocha Government, and not fit to do any harm to his administration but only doing our jobs as eyes of the masses.
Neither are we indirectly looking for gratifications from government, except to critically address government policies and inform the poor masses, on whose trust the leader holds power.
And again, Okorocha’s Media managers should come down from their high horses, and get on a job and build cordial relationship with ALL media houses then be confrontational.
No government fights media war and wins, because the pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Every Aide of the Governor should serve and not the RULE the people as power is transient, just like the six Commissioners have now realized. I rest my case.