By Iteveh Ekpokpobe
Press freedom may be suffering a major setback again in Delta State, as Chief Press Secretary to Delta State Governor, Mr. Oliseh Ifejika has barred a veteran Journalist and State Correspondent of The Champion Newspaper, Mr. Barry Agbanigbi, from the Delta State Government House.
The ban, it was gathered, followed a report on teenage prostitution, published on Page 10 of the Pointer Newspaper edition of Saturday, July 25, 2020.
The report, titled, “Shocker: Teenage Prostitutes Invade Asaba” details the influx of teenage prostitutes into Asaba from neighboring states, for pecuniary reasons.
According to the report, teenage prostitutes have occupied Asaba and can be seen in places like Nnebisi Road, Anwai road, Summit Road, DBS road, Cable Point and Ezenei road amongst other spots after lights out daily.
Our investigation has revealed that since July 27, 2020 running into weeks Mr. Barry, has been denied access to the Government House to carry out his watchdog duties.
Security Told Me, I Can’t Enter Government House — Journalist
Recounting his ordeal, the Champion correspondent, Mr. Barry Agbanigbi, said he was accosted by a police Sergeant stationed at the Press Station of the Government House on that fateful morning July, 27, 2020.
According to him, he was just about stepping into the hall for the usual government press briefing when he was stopped by the Police Sergeant who said he was acting on orders of the Chief Press Secretary, to restrain him from entering for briefing.
Mr. Barry said, since then he has been denied access into the government house, adding that all efforts to reach the Chief Press Secretary proved abortive.
“My colleagues have met the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, who promised to look into the matter severally. For weeks I have been unable to access the Government House. I don’t understand what he aims to achieve. I am quite surprised by his new character. We were co-correspondents here in Delta State before he was transferred out of the state and later appointed spokesman to the governor”.
He lamented that Press Freedom is fast becoming extinct judging by the current realities.
“Another journalist, Mr. Nosa Akenzua was harassed out of the Press Centre, in Government House recently by the same CPS. It took the intervention of some journalists who were present and the Commissioner for Information to calm the situation. We don’t know who the next victim will be, if what we see is anything to go by”.
I Didn’t Bar Him, Journalist Said Delta State Not Safe — CPS, Ifeajika
On the contrary, the Chief Press Secretary to Delta State Governor, Mr. Olisa Ifejika denied ever giving such order adding that he had no such powers in the Government House.
He said, “Nobody barred him, he barred himself. As I am talking to you, some of the correspondents are here. He remains my friend. He comes to Government House. Nobody has stopped him. He is free to come to Government House.I don’t know the medium he reports for now. The last time I checked he was with The Champion.
“Barry wrote a report that all the major roads in Asaba are ridden with black spots. That is not true. He published it in The Pointer. He doesn’t work for The Pointer. He didn’t publish it in his medium. Do you know the meaning of a Black Spot? In essence he is saying Asaba is ridden with criminals and prostitutes. I told him, what he was trying to say was that Delta State is not safe”.
Meanwhile, the International Human Rights Commission has condemned the action of the Chief Press Secretary, describing it as revert to anti-democratic and dictatorial era.
Don’t Suppress Free Press, IHRC says
Delta State Intelligence and Investigation Officer, of International Human Rights Commission, Comrade Victor Ojei, in a statement, stressed that the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, in section 39 (1), recognizes and guarantees the freedom of expression as a fundamental right as well as Section 22 of the Constitution which placed the burden on the press to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government.
He said, “So long the Champion Newspaper correspondent at Government House Asaba, Delta State did not publish a fake news or lies about activities of young girls that are into full time prostitution in Delta State, we see no reason why the governor’s Spokesman will banish him from the Government house Asaba, thereby denying him access to political, social, cultural information which his colleagues have access to.
“This action validates rumors about media dictatorship ongoing at Government House, Asaba. Recall that at the government press briefing two weeks ago, the media were cautioned/ warned of fake news, now we know they were bent on scaring journalists who are supposed to ensure there is transparency, accountability and a balance of policies between the Government and the people.
“In the same vein, other international treaties and conventions recognize the right of the press as fundamental to the existence of democracy. This is a democracy, we do not have military rule, we no longer operate Decree Four”, he stressed.
NUJ’s Dialogue Failed
Although all efforts to reach the State Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) proved abortive, a source who could not speak on behalf of the union disclosed that the Union was well aware of the matter and had exhausted every possible dialogue avenue to resolve the matter.