The National Conference Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi (rtd), on Wednesday stopped journalists from covering the conference proceedings, attributing the decision to national security.
About an hour into the plenary to debate the report of its Committee on National Security, security operatives chased journalists away from the conference.
Kutigi had hinged his decision on the sensitive issues contained in the report of the committee, which was presented by its Deputy Chairman, Chief Albert Horsefall.
“Can the press men clear yourselves; the press men should disappear please. Press men disappear. Shut your cameras, shut everything and get out! Disappear please. Press men disappear from the hall,” Kutigi said.
At this point, security operatives came up to the gallery where journalists were seated and chased them away while those inside the hall were also chased out. The security operatives, who manhandled some journalists, also prevented them from picking their belongings and working gadgets.
The treatment did not go down well with the journalists who decried the way they were addressed by Kutigi and their treatment by security operatives for performing their legitimate duty. As the journalists were being walked out, some delegates threatened to stage a walk-out in protest and solidarity with the journalists.
The delegates were those representing the Media, Civil Society Organisations and the Labour Unions. They included former Presidents of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Messrs Lanre Ogundipe and Sani Zoro, Damien Dodo (SAN), Sen. Florence Ita-Giwa, and Femi Falana(SAN). Others were Chief Raymond Dokpesi, owner of Daar Communications, a representative of NAWOJ, Mrs Brenda Akpan and Mrs Joe Okei-Odumakin, among others.
They had contended that the chairman could have addressed the journalists with better words and politely asked the men of the media to excuse the conference. They, however, appealed to journalists not to allow the incident to dampen their reportage of the conference to the public, which they had constitutional responsibility to.
Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications, Mr James Akpandem, said efforts were being made to sort out the matter. “You have to understand that people have different ways of presenting issues and you must please accommodate the chairman the way he speaks because he is from the judiciary. He (Kutigi) is different from the Public Relations man but he did not mean any harm at all,” he said.
Akpandem, however, said some delegates were making a case for the journalists to be allowed to return to the gallery by 4 p.m. after the report had been debated.