The Nigerian Union of Journalist on Friday said the threat made by the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, against journalists was “vague and empty”.
The union said Mr Umar has no powers to imprison journalists carrying out their official assignment.
The reaction came a day after Mr Umar threatened to imprison journalists who do not accurately report the ongoing trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.
In a reaction to what he described as some newspapers’ distortion and misrepresentation of Monday’s court proceedings, Mr Umar said any journalist who commits such infraction again might have to remain in prison until his retirement in 28 years’ time.
According to Mr Umar, “Henceforth, any journalist carrying concocted or discredited statement which is not adduced before this tribunal, I will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law heavily on the person.
“The journalist will languish there (prison) and may remain there until I retire – that is about 28 years from now. The person will be summarily sent to prison because that is contempt. It does not matter whether the contempt is committed in facie curiae (before the court) or ex facie curiae (outside the court),” he said.
In his reaction, the chairman of NUJ, Abuja chapter, Emmanuel Ogbeche, dismissed the CCT chairman’s threat and asked journalists to continue to discharge their duties without fear or favour.
“It is unfortunate, what is ascribed to the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar. I do not think any journalists is misrepresenting the proceedings of the court as alleged by Justice Umar,” Mr Ogbeche said.
“He lacks the powers to send any journalist to prison for carrying out their constitutional duties to the nation. Just as the judge is carrying out his official duties, journalists are also constitutionally empowered to report what is going on in the court rooms,” he said.
Mr Ogbeche warned judges not to attempt to make journalists scapegoats in the show of power between the executive and judiciary.
He said the union will mobilise its members and the international groups to resist any attempt to intimidate or trample upon the rights of media practitioners.
“We will mobilise and resist all attempts to intimidate journalists. They will not be made scapegoats in the political and judicial drama in Nigeria,” Mr Ogbeche said.