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Adamawa bars journalists over coronavirus

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Runsewe warns govs against attacking media practitioners
• Momoh, Akinfeleye, Arogundade decry similar ban by Ebonyi
• Newspaper petitions IGP over alleged intimidation of its employee

Governor Ahmadu Fintiri has banned reporters from the Adamawa State Government House, Yola for fear of infesting employees with the dreaded coronavirus.

The embargo comes in the wake of the index case three days ago in the North East state that happened to be a member of the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

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The patient had returned from Kano with symptoms relating to the disease.

But on Wednesday, the governor barred correspondents from the seat of power with the exception of in-house journalists.

When The Guardian sought the Fintiri ‘s broadcast speech at the Government House yesterday, it meant a brick wall as security personnel on duty denied our reporter entrance.

After several failed attempts, one of the security men said: “My brother, this is an order from above.”

Contacted, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Humwashi Wonosikou, stated: “Sorry o my brother, this is an order from above that no journalists must come in, you know this issue of the index case.

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“Don’t worry, I have your email and WhatsApp contacts. I will forward (a) copy of ‘oga’ (governor’s) speech to you.”

However, the state NUJ has ordered the closure of its secretariat, believing that it was the surest way social distancing could be maintained among media practitioners.

In a similar fashion, the Director-General of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Segun Runsewe, has warned governors against attacking journalists in the course of duty, noting that they remain instrumental to information dissemination during this crisis period.

Runsewe, who spoke yesterday in Abuja at a forum to distribute 8,000 facemasks and hand sanitisers, noted that any act of hostility against journalists, who are also front liners in the fight against COVID-19, would only create unnecessary distractions.

He also urged politicians to desist from playing politics with the virus. Rather, he called on Nigerians across party lines to form a common force against the disease.

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To curtail the spread of fake news, which is likely to cause panic among the public, the NCAC DG suggested that everyone should establish a neighbourhood watch where authentic information about the virus could easily be accessed.

However, former Minister of information, Tony Momoh, erstwhile lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, and Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, have condemned the life ban on the Ebonyi State correspondents of the Vanguard and Sun newspapers by Governor David Umahi.

According to Akinfeleye, “I think it is only a person intoxicated with power that can do that kind of a thing at this period. Journalists are the trustees of the public, and they have the constitutional obligation as enshrined in Section 22 of the constitution.”

Similarly, Momoh noted that “however angry anybody can be, that person must know the limit the laws of the land gives in respect of the people. There is freedom of expression, and that freedom is without interference. If you feel hurt about what anybody says about you, you can follow the due process by going to court. Chapter 2, Section 22 of the constitution says the media are free to hold government accountable to the people and you cannot interfere with that role.”

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To Arogundade, any attacks on journalists over the performance of their legitimate duty are antithetical to democratic norms and values.

Besides, the management of Sun Newspaper Limited yesterday alleged harassment, intimidation and abuses of its state correspondent, Chijioke Agwu, by the state Commissioner of Police and the governor.

In a petition to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), signed by its Managing Director, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh, the news medium stated that the ordeal of the reporter followed a report he wrote over the outbreak of Lassa fever in the eastern state published on April 17, 2020, titled: “Anxiety, fear, as Lassa fever wreaks havoc in Ebonyi.”

Explaining that the story was based on figures released on the ailment by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the company said its reporter had the following day (April 18) been “intimidated, harassed and arrested while attending a press conference in Government House, Abakiliki on the orders of Governor Dave Umahi by his Chief Security Officer (CSO), who subsequently whisked him away and handed him over to the Commissioner of Police.”

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Ahmadu FintiriCoronavirus
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