The Chairman of the National Conference, Idris Kutigi, yesterday ordered security operatives within the National Judicial Institute (NJI) to stop journalists accredited to cover the proceedings of the conference.
It all started when the Vice-Chairman of the Committee on National Security, Albert Horsefall, was presenting a report at the plenary session.
Horsefall, who was standing in for the committee Chairman, Muhammadu Gambo-Jimeta, had midway into his presentation, advised journalists covering the conference to close their ears and shut their cameras.
“I want journalist inside here to close their ears and shut down their cameras because I am going to discuss very sensitive national security issues.
“Alternatively, Mr. Chairman, I would request that the gallery be cleared of journalists to enable us discuss the issues here,” Mr. Horsefall had said.
Thereafter, Justice Kutigi took the microphone and said, “Journalists get out now. Get out. Shut your cameras and get out of here now.”
As Journalists were getting ready to leave the gallery, Kutigi shouted again, “Disappear from here now. Security, get them out of here immediately, get out of here. Disappear, get out all of you.”
Security operatives inside the chamber rushed at journalists, who were struggling to pack their equipment and threw them outside the gallery.
Other overzealous security operatives, who might have been waiting for an opportunity to descend on journalists, moved swiftly to the press gallery and forced reporters to leave the hall without carrying their bags, cameras and laptops.
However, as the journalists were hounded out, the security operatives pack the bags, laptops and other equipment they left behind and dumped them outside the gallery.
The journalists were left for hours under the scorching sun as Mr. Horsefall presented the report of his committee.
Angered by the action of Kutigi, Chairman of Daar Communications, Raymond Dokpesi, came out of the chamber and directed his staff to shut down all the equipment used in giving live coverage to the conference.
Dokpesi, however, went back to the chamber but later came out with the Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications, Akpandem James, and a representative of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Sani Zoro,
The trio made spirited attempts to pacify the journalists, who were still standing outside under the sun, discussing the ugly treatment.
Mr. James apologised for the embarrassment caused the journalists and appealed to them to be prepared to return to the gallery when the conference resumed from the executive session.
“Gentlemen, I was not there when the incident happened, but I am sorry about it. The Chairman did not mean to insult you. I want to appeal to all of you to calm down and listen to what we have to say.
“The chairman has apologised for what he said and we want you all to come back when the executive session is over to cover the adoption of the recommendations of the committee after lunch break.”
On his part, Mr. Zoro said the media is an essential part of every democratic process and urged the aggrieved journalists to return to the gallery after the executive session.
He said, “We have been partners in progress in this particular exercise. Everywhere, journalists are embedded into this kind of exercise. Even if it is in a war situation, security agencies still brief journalists in confidence.
“It is even in our ethics that information obtained in confidence cannot be disclosed and we are signatory to this. This could have been avoided. We shouldn’t have had this kind of distraction at all.
“I blame the Chairman for the words he used. But you can see that the Conference came to a stop for about 40 minutes. The Chairman and the leadership were advised and he offered an apology and said he considers the press as partners in this exercise.
“Without participation and cooperation of the media, this conference cannot be successful. However, the point we are now is whether all journalists should be recalled to cover the entire proceedings or whether it should be during the recommendation.”
Mr. Dokpesi on his part noted that he was jeered by some of the delegates inside the chamber when journalists were ordered out.
He said, “They made a grievous mistake and even those at the top echelon of the media threatened a walkout. Others in the civil society groups and lawyers also threatened to walk out.