By Our Correspondent
The Joint Military Task Force Codenamed “Operation Scolombo” comprising of the Nigerian Army, Navy, Airforce, Police and the DSS personnel turned the NUJ press center, Calabar to a battle ground on Monday following sporadic shooting to scare journalists from freely choosing their preferred candidate during the rescheduled Union election.
The Press center located at Cross River State Housing Estate in Calabar where members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists gathered to elect new executives to pilot its affairs for the next three years after a court judgment ordered the rerun, became a mini military barrack.
As early as 7:30am, some sections of 3rd Avenue where the Press Centre is located were condoned off by personnel of the DSS and the Police who diverted motorists to other routes, while some persons living in the neighbourhood were prevented from gaining free access to their homes from about 7.00am to about 2.30 pm while the election lasted.
CrossRiverWatch obtained a video of how journalists including the State Correspondent of AIT, Rasheed Olanrewaju and his cameraman Tony Akim, Editor of Nigerian Chronicle, Florence Oluohu who was the only female Chairmanship candidate, Gill Nsa of Daily Independent and Vitalis Ugoh, the Editor of The Eagle who were perceived not to be in support of an alleged government candidate were physically manhandled by the soldiers and DSS personnel who were allegedly deployed on the orders of the State Security Adviser (SSA), Mr. Jude Ngaji.
The video also shows how other members of the union were been bullied out of the press center by vicious security personnel. The Chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Sam Egbala and the representative of the National Secretary, Uwem James, who conducted the election are spotted in the video openly supporting the security personnel in preventing their fellow journalists from doing their work while the only female Chairmanship candidate in the election is seen walking out of the press center amidst a bevy of security men and asking loudly, “Is this what the NUJ has degenerated to?
Some of the journalists who spoke to CrossRiverWatch but pleaded not to be named accused the State Security Adviser, SSA Jude Ngaji and the Chief Press Secretary, CPS to the governor, Mr. Christian Ita, of abusing their offices and interfering with the conduct of the NUJ election.
But the CPS told CrossRiverWatch that it was very uncharitable for anyone to link him or the SSA to the violence and confusion that characterized the election. According to Ita, it is the leadership of the union, having failed to peacefully conduct the election the previous day due to violence, who approached the security agencies to request for security.
He said, “Apart from the fact that there was violence the previous day among the journalists themselves, which necessitated the deployment of security personnel to maintain law and order, it was also the leadership of the union who approached the security agencies to request for help.
“The government also has a duty not to fold its arms and watch anyone, regardless of our profession, cause a breakdown of law and order.”
Some of the journalists who spoke to our reporter also alleged that while the election lasted, sounds of gunshots fired by the combined team of the military, the police and the DSS personnel were heard intermittently, forcing residents of the neighbourhood of the Press Center to remain indoors but CrossRiverWatch was unable to independently verify this information.
There was palpable fear among some of the harmless journalists who were attacked and managed to escape from the scene so as not to be killed by the rampaging armed military personnel and security men, some of whom had become hysterical.
The candidates for the Chairmanship position were Mr. Victor Udu of the State Ministry of Information, Mr. Lawrence Mpama of Watchman Magazine, and Florence Oluohu, Editor of the Nigerian Chronicle.
At the end of the controversial election conducted by the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Mr. Sam Egbala and the representative of the National Secretary, Mr. Uwem James, the Information Officer in the Ministry of Youths and Sports and a Member of the Ministry of Information Chapel, Mr. Victor Odu, who is generally perceived as the candidate supported by elements in the State government was declared winner against Mpama and Oluohu, who stayed away from the election when it was obvious that their lives were endangered.
Other officers elected in the controversial elections include Mr. Oqua Etim (Vice Chairman); Mr. Oka Ibor (Secretary); Mr. Benson Ezugwu (Assistant Secretary); Mrs. Archibong Bassey (Treasurer); Mr. Edem Edem (Financial Secretary) and Mrs. Itam Offor (Internal Auditor).
Though the representative of the National Secretary, Uwem James, described the election as peaceful even at gun point, some of the contestants and stakeholders have already rejected the results of the election.
In a press statement issued before the election, which was signed by Renny Etta, Gill Nsa, Florence Oluohu, Lawrence Mpama and six others, they described the election as a sham that contravenes the provisions of the NUJ constitution and the orders of the Industrial Court which directed the conduct of the elections.
“In view of the refusal of the National Secretary of the NUJ to comply with the judgement that nullified the Ndoma Akpet led State Exco on February 24th, 2016 and the brazen breach of the NUJ constitution, we the stakeholders of the union hereby condemn the purported election of Monday, April 4th 2016.
“We also strongly condemn the use of the Army, Air Force, Navy, DSS and Police in cordoning off the NUJ Secretariat for the purpose of conducting the purported election.
“We draw the attention of the state and Federal Government to the use of security operatives in attacking journalists and shooting indiscriminately at the NUJ press center and therefore call on the authorities to investigate the unwholesome meddlesome and brazen display of bravado and seek that the culprits be brought to book,” the statement reads.
In the same vein, the college of veterans of the NUJ have condemned the use of the military to conduct the NUJ election whose members are less than three hundred in Cross River State.
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