The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Wednesday condemned in strong terms the attack of journalists covering the ongoing screening of Commissioner-nominees in Ebonyi State House of Assembly by political thugs.
The thugs, numbering over 40 with dangerous weapons, allegedly led by the member representing Afikpo South West Constituency, Nkemka Onuma, had on Tuesday descended on the journalists and inflicted injuries on three of them: Ogochukwu Anioke of The Nation Newspapers, Samson Nwafor of Nigerian Pilot Newspapers and pregnant Mrs. Grace Egbo of Nigerian Tribune Newspapers, who was hit on her stomach.
During the melee, the legislator, Onuma, threatened to prevent journalists from covering the State Assembly, describing them as touts.
After attacking the journalists, the thugs also held one of them, Anioke, hostage inside the Assembly premises by ordering the gatemen to lock the gate as he made to drive out of the Assembly complex on Nkaliki road in Abakaliki, the state capital
It took the intervention of the State Chairman of NUJ, Comrade Tony Nwizi, to prevent further attack on the journalists and vandalization of their vehicles by forcefully opening the entrance gate which aided their escape.
The incident happened after the screening of one of the nominees in which the Speaker of the House, Francis Nwifuru, noticed some irregularities as the year of the nominee’s graduation from Primary School did not correspond with the year, he claimed to have started secondary school on his documents.
Nwifuru had asked him to explain how he started secondary school a year before the year he graduated from primary school as stated in his result but he could not give any reasonable answer to the query.
Reacting to the attack on the journalists, the National President of NUJ, Comrade Chris Isiguzo, who condemned the action of Onuma and the thugs, demanded for an apology for their action.
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 honorable member of a House of Assembly to have abandoned his legislative duty to begin to unleash mayhem on innocent journalists in Ebonyi state.
“It is totally unacceptable to us and we demand that Ebonyi state House of Assembly should not just apologized to those people that were manhandled, they should also make sure that they are taken care of in the hospital because I learnt that one or two of those people is already in the hospital. So, they should take care of their bills in the hospital and assure us of their safety in that House of Assembly.
“There is no way that the legislature which is of course part of the ingredients of democracy in governance will still be the one to cause trouble or problem to the safety of journalists in Ebonyi state. so, the attack is totally unacceptable and we think in the next couple of hours, the House of Assembly should do the needful”.
On the threat to prevent journalists from covering activities of the Assembly, Isiguzo said: “the lawmaker in question does not have powers to stop journalists from covering the Assembly as he threatened.
“It is a public place and it does not belong to that particular lawmaker or the Speaker, it is a public institution and they don’t have right or such powers to bar any journalist from covering the state House of Assembly, it will never happen. If they try it, we will take the next line of action. They can’t even try it; the lawmaker was only trying to grandstand.”
As many reactions continues to trail the attack on the journalists by thugs at the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, another journalist, a female, on Wednesday revealed her ordeal.
Speaking to journalists, the victim and correspondent of Tribune Newspapers, Mrs. Grace Egbo, who is pregnant, stated that the House member suspect-in-chief, Hon. Onuma, hit her on her belly without any form of restraint.
Narrating her ordeal, Grace said: “As the impasse ensued at the House of Assembly, the member representing South West state constituency, Hon. Onuma hit me on my belly. I am pregnant. He didn’t even apologise for his action but rather walked away from me.
”I am going to see my doctor. My head, eyes and body are now paining me. The attitude of this House member is unbecoming and dishonorable. He should be called to order.”
He was reported to have threatened to stop journalists from covering the activities of the State House Assembly.
Reacting, the State Vice Chairman of NUJ, Mr. Benjamin Nworie, stated that: “I feel saddened that the most incompetent Ebonyi Lawmaker, Nkemka Onuma, should supervise and coordinate attacks on journalists in Ebonyi State. NUJ in Ebonyi State highly condemns the attack perpetrated by the thugs working for the white bearded lawmaker.
“The attack is most unfortunate at the time when the state governor, David Umahi, has launched total clampdown on all forms of social vices in the state. It is therefore worrisome to note that Nkemka has not contributed meaningfully to the legislative growth of the state but has constituted himself as a threat to practicing journalists in the state.
“The unfortunate incident therefore demands the leadership of Ebonyi State House of Assembly to assure and guarantee the safety of Journalists covering the state legislative arm, for actions like the one executed by Hon. Nkemka Onuma is not healthy for the state.
“It’s therefore expedient for the hallowed Chambers of Ebonyi State House of Assembly to suspend the member representing Afikpo South West, Hon. Nkemka Onuma for, ridiculing the hallowed Chambers and committing acts inconsistent with his mandate.”