Nigeria’s democracy has again come to a sorry pass with the news from the Kogi state Government House. The development is one that makes the developed world shudder at the manner things are done here. Worst still, it is one that aside worsening Nigeria’s human rights records, portrays the country as one where journalists are fast becoming endangered species.

Interestingly, Nigeria’s image will be this dented not even because of an aggression from the President, Vice-President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governors, but a governor’s chief of staff, who in the first place was not elected but appointed. TheNigerian considers it highly regrettable that a power-drunk chief of staff would act in a manner that would make the civilized world feel sorry for Nigeria and Nigerians.

The chief of staff to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state, Edward Onoja, is in the news for the wrong reason. He is accused by a journalist, Mr. Wale Odunsi of Daily Post of threatening his life over a story published not only by the online newspaper but by two other reputable newspapers.

In a petition submitted to the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Odunsi wrote, “​Mr. Onoja called me at exactly 10:39am on Sunday April 8, 2018​ via phone number 07088698212. The call was less than three minutes. (Please see call record screenshot).​

“He complained about a story we published about him and insisted it was false. I politely told him to write to our management to formally complain.​ ​But he dismissed my advice.

“He claimed the story was a hatchet job but I quickly replied him that some other media houses ​- including The Punch and Guardian Newspapers – ​reported similar story.​

“Mr. Onoja continued to speak in harsh tones and told me point blank that he would order hit on me. I asked if he was threatening me and he said ‘Yes, mark my words. I will kill you’.

“He went on to say ‘Anywhere I see you, I will tear you apart’.” These allegations were denied by the chief of staff who told Vanguard that “the Daily Post has reported that I am incapacitated and unconscious after the road mishap. So I ask how possible it is for an ‘unconscious’ person like me to threaten an able-bodied person?

“That cannot be true. It is the continuation of the spirit of lies that has enveloped them. That is a quantum of lies and falsehood. I never threatened anybody’s life.

“Wale Odunsi is a quack and ‘janjaweed’ reporter. I never travelled with my wife or child; I am hale and hearty.

“He should enroll back into a journalism school and spend at least six months to get the proper journalism training. They failed to look into the tenet of the journalism profession. They didn’t try to cross check the authenticity of the story.

“They will soon hear from my lawyer. But on the issue of threat to life; it is a lie. I didn’t and can’t threaten his (Odunsi) life.”

The issue has now boiled down to a case of Mr. Odunsi’s words against those of Mr. Edwards. But the choice of words by the chief of staff, in his reaction, speaks volume. Be that as it may, what the journalists is alleging is too serious to be overlooked on the altar of hearing the other side.

Given that the story was published by two other national dailies, it may well be that not only Daily Post’s deputy editor is in harm’s way. This has made the matter even more worrisome as the lives of no fewer three journalists are at stake for no other reason than because they were doing their job.

Whatever happened to instituting a legal action instead of threats over the said story? It’s reassuring to note that Mr. Onoja has stated that the newspaper would hear from his lawyers. That remains a better course of action than attempting to instill panic into the spine of journalists. Since the governor’s aide was preparing to file a court case, why then did he go off to cuffs to threaten the life of a journalist and in the process bring public odium on himself and the administration he is serving under?

TheNigerian however welcomes the denial by the chief of staff that he did not threaten the life of the journalist. At least, this indicates that he knows that a threat to the life of a journalist merely plying his trade is an extreme action which the civilised world frowns at as it is akin to gagging the press. While journalists are empowered by Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which guarantees them freedom of expression, Section 39 of the same Constitution states the statutory roles of the press in upholding the accountability and responsibility of the government to the people.

As such, Mr. Onoja must be made to know that no evil must befall any journalist for carrying out this function. If he feels that there has been a damaging report against him or his interest, he can issue a rebuttal or  institute a legal action. Resorting to extrajudicial means such as threats and molestation makes nonsense of the nation’s institutions and negatively impacts on the human rights records. Governor Bello must therefore rein in his chief of staff.

The governor must do this as a way of vindicating himself from the assertion by the Nigerian Senate that he constitutes a threat to Nigeria’s democracy. We recall that during debate on a motion moved by Senator Ahmad Ogembe (PDP, Kogi) on the disruption of his empowerment programme on Saturday in Okene, Kogi State, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said, “It is clear from what we are seeing that Kogi State is coming to the point where it is a threat to our democracy”.

TheNigerian calls on the current occupants of the Lugard House to purge themselves of anti-democratic tendencies. Journalists are integral to democracy and they fought for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria which afforded Mr. Onoja to be a governor’s chief of staff. The press as an institution in Nigeria had survived maximum rulers hence they cannot at this point be cowed into submission. It’s high time those in positions of authority saw journalists as partners in progress rather than adversaries.