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Fear grips journalists in Enugu as Gov Mbah starts off with arrests, intimidation

Freedom in danger in Enugu as Governor Mbah begins arrest, intimidation of journalists.

The dark days of dictatorial intimidation of the media appear to have returned in Enugu as Governor Peter Ndubuisi Mbah has begun to implement a programme of indiscriminate arrest and intimidation of journalists for doing their job.

Governor Mbah, who is implementing this with the active collaboration of the Nigerian Police, on Saturday, July 8, 2023, caused the arrest and detention of the publisher of News Centre, an online newspaper, Mike Ilediagu, by the anti-kidnapping unit of the Enugu State Police Command.

Ilediagu’s arrest followed the publication of a news item, titled, “Pandemonium in parts of Enugu as gunmen enforce sit-at-home, Airforce respond.” His reportage followed the attacks on residents of many parts of Enugu by gunmen who were enforcing the illegal sit-at-home order, imposed by a faction of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Although the journalist, who was, before commenced publishing his online newspaper, a staff of Dream FM, a radio station in Enugu, pulled down the story from his web portal upon getting wind of his impending arrest, the police still went ahead to clamp him in detention, citing “orders from above,” a nebulous reference to either forces from the state governor or higher police authorities.

Governor Mbah had last week, issued an order, banning the sit-at-home, and threatened to shut down markets that refused to open on Mondays in compliance with the over 2 years-old order imposed by IPOB who are protesting the detention of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
But in defiance of Mbah’s order, the Simon Ekpa faction of the IPOB, imposed a seven-day sit-at-home, a situation that led to muscle flexing between the authorities at Enugu and the faceless IPOB.

The gunmen however made good their threat of violence when, in obedience to Mbah’s order, businesses attempted to open, leading to the outbreak of violence in parts of the state. Although it was reported that some of the panic that was triggered in places like Abakpa Nike, Enugu, and Nsukka were the results of false alarms, other reports showed attempts by the gunmen to enforce the IPOB order in some remote parts of the state.

This was later corroborated by reports of the killing of four members of the IPOB by the Nigerian police along the Agbani Road area of Enugu City.

According to a report by Premium Times police operatives recovered “bodies of four of the male hoodlums, in a forest behind G. Ede Filling Station/Seven-Up, at Awkunanaw, Enugu.”
Information gathered from police circles said the arrested journalist was slammed with the charge of “inciting violence,” a broad heading that failed to address the specifics of the crime he allegedly committed.

The regime of violence being perpetrated in Enugu has led to the shutdown of business activities, with the managers of Pinnacle Oil, a petrol station said to be owned by Governor Mbah, employing the services of squads of Mobile Policemen to guard its assets from possible attack by the regional secessionist agitators.

Although Mike Ilediagwu was later released was released Friday night following the intervention of the President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Comrade Chris Isiguzo, fear and panic have gripped pressmen in the city, following reports of Mbah’s determination to ensure that every news item going into the media from the state has to have his seal of approval before it is published in any medium.

The fear was heightened by rumours that another journalist, Petrus Obi, publisher of Every Day News, was also going to be arrested the same Friday evening, but he apparently got wind of the impending denial of his freedom and disappeared.
Petrus is one of the strongest voices among Enugu journalists and it was felt that he would have been a big scalp that would have fully intimidated the media into acquiescence, had the forces of the state successfully arrested him.

Between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, no Enugu journalist reported the arrest of their colleague. The only discussions about how angry they were over the incident is on their closed WhatsApp group, where many vented their anger on what happened, while others, apparently not knowing whether there was a mole among them, called for the verification of stories before publication.

Reacting to the incident, one of the journalists wrote; “This government sees everything as fake news except it’s emanating from their camp. When motorists blocked Nike Nsukka road with even a video circulating to that effect, they called it fake news.”

Another member of the WhatsApp group also wrote this on the platform: “Gentlemen of the Press, good evening. I have been able to find out what happened and why he is being held. Let the rescue team return home. It’s a directive from above within the security architecture, in relation to some fake News carried. But intervention is in top gear with Govt house. But we all need to be careful, especially our colleagues in the new media. Don’t publish what you cannot verify. Don’t even write if you’re sure you can defend it. The Governor we have is not the type that succumbs to blackmail.

He is a technocrat and has no time for shenanigans. No need for further actions. He will be out.”
But this poster was quickly chided by another person who wondered why he had concluded that his colleague was guilty as alleged, and replied thus: “I’m disappointed in you, senior brother. You are already condemning the young man without any benefit of the doubt. People who wrote that there was pandemonium were right in their reports. The issue of fake news does not exist here. This is purely intimidation of the media in the state.

But I can see that the leadership of the council has already pandered to the whims of the government in this. There’s no environment where this kind of thing is done. Let me not conclude yet until I see the action from the council. This is condemnable in every sense of it. It can only happen where everyone.”

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