Police arrest NAN reporter for “defamation of character, falsehood”
The Benue Police Command has arrested Mr Emmanuel Atswen, a reporter of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), over a report on the protest by IDPs at the International Market camp in Makurdi.
IDPs, on Sept. 12, protested against alleged diversion of relief materials, and blocked the main entrance into the camp to stop vehicles loaded with the assorted relief materials, from driving out.
Some of the protesters, who spoke, said that they were prompted to protest because such diversion had become more persistent, insisting that it was not the first time camp officials were loading materials from the camp”s warehouse.
Atswen, who was at the camp when the protest took place, not only filed the story, but took still and video pictures of the protesters. He also spoke with the Commissioner of Water Resources and Environment, Mr Joseph Utsev, who promised to investigate the protest.
The state government had earlier removed the camp manager over alleged “irregularities”. Miffed by the protests, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr. Boniface Ortese, recently closed down all the camps hosting victims of the Benue floods, after claiming that they had been taken over by hoodlums.
Atswen, who was arrested on Friday in Makurdi, is being accused of “defamation of character and falsehood”. One Mr Offor, the police officer investigating the case, turned down pleas by journalists and lawyers to release Atswen on bail, and ignored arguments that the offences he was being charged with were bailable. NAN reports that prior to Atswen’s arrest, the SEMA boss had petitioned NAN over the same story, demanding N3 billion as damages, even though neither his name nor his agency were mentioned in the report.
The NAN management, in a press statement on Saturday in Abuja, however, said that it was standing by its protest story, and reiterated its commitment to reporting the truth always. The NAN management declared that the said story did not violate the tenets of the journalism profession.
The Management of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has assured its subscribers within and outside the country of its unalloyed commitment to balanced reportage, saying it stands by its protest story of Sept. 11, 2017. In a statement on Friday in Abuja, the Editor- In-Chief of the media giant, Malam Yusuf Zango, said the agency was aware of its responsibilities “as the sole content provider of news to hundreds of news outlets within and outside the shores of the country.”
According to him, such responsibilities make the organisation to be upright in its reportage of events and will not compromise on professional standards. Zango said the agency was shocked by the claims of Dr Boniface Ortese, the Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), that a NAN reporter instigated protest at the International Market camp housing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to enable him get a story to write.
“We were shocked and surprised by the claim made by Dr Ortese; the facts of the case are that on Sept. 11, 2017, there was a protest at International Market camp housing IDPs affected by the recent flooding in Makurdi.
“Our reporter was at the camp on another assignment and was having discussion with the Commissioner for Water Environment, Dr Joseph Utsev, when he heard some noise at the gate of the camp.
“He, along with the commissioner, went to the scene where they discovered members of the camp blocking vehicles loaded with relief materials, which they alleged were being diverted by camp officials.
“The reporter did not only report the protest, but took pictures and video of happenings; he also had interviews with some of the protesters.”
Zango said the reporter acted in conformity with the tradition of the agency in ensuring balance in stories by seeking the reaction of the commissioner, who said he would investigate the matter.
The EIC, therefore, wondered why the SEMA boss would address the press claiming misrepresentation and demanding N3 billion when his name or that of his agency were not mentioned in the said report. Zango, therefore, said the agency was standing by its story as published, since it did not violate the ethics of the journalism profession.
It would be recalled that the Benue Council of Chiefs, led by the Chairman, Prof. James Ayatse, the fifth Tor Tiv, warned camp officials of diversion of relief materials.
The IDPs camps at the International Market and Agan had at different times protested alleged diversion of relief materials. The Camp Manager of the International Market, Mr James Iorhuna, was relieved of his duties on Sept.10 over acts of disobedience.
He was relieved by the Deputy Govenor of the state, Mr Benson Abounu, also the Chairman of the state’s Flood Relief Committee.
Abounu had also chided the SEMA boss for not releasing blankets meant for IDPs at the same camp when the UNHCR team had brought materials to the camp.
The SEMA chief himself had alluded to the fact that hoodlums had taken over the camps and were causing trouble, which prompted him to order the closure of the camps.