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A civil society organisation, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), has called on Abubakar Sani Bello, Niger State governor, to investigate reports that his chief press secretary, Mary Noel-Barje, ordered the arrest of Adebayo Ayinde, a reporter with The Punch.
This is contained in a statement signed by Segun Fatuase, MRA’s project director, and made available to The ICIR on Monday.
According to MRA, Noel-Barje also directed security personnel to bar the journalist from the Niger State Government House for undisclosed reasons.
MRA charged the governor to immediately relieve Noel-Barje of her office if it was established that she engaged in using law enforcement agents to intimidate, harass and prevent the journalist from carrying out his professional duties.
The group said Noel-Barje was also harassing other journalists and antagonising the Government House Press Corps instead of supporting them and facilitating their work of giving effective coverage to the programmes and activities of the state government.
“It is obvious that she is not serving the best interest of the Governor or the State Government but pursuing other agendas that are clearly inimical to government’s success,” the statement read in part.
The group further said that Noel-Barje was reported to have sent The PUNCH correspondent’s pictures to some security men in the state and instructed security operatives at the government house to bar him from entering the premises.
MRA noted that security men at the government house confirmed that the chief press secretary had told them to arrest Ayinde but did not provide any reason for the directive.
“It is certainly not the role or function of a Chief Press Secretary, who should facilitate good relations between the government she is serving and the media, to be ordering the arrest of journalists or obstructing the performance of their professional duties.
“It is apparent from her actions that Ms Noel-Barje either does not know her job or is too incompetent to carry out her duties properly,” Fatuse added.
The Punch had reported that its journalist was harassed by Noel-Barje in an attempt to ‘coerce’ him into writing stories from her point of view.
Ayinde, who is a Niger State House correspondent, told The Punch that one of the security operatives attempted to evacuate him from the government house.
“The man beckoned on me and when I approached him, he wanted to take me out of the government house. He said I must follow him. When other colleagues saw his move, they rallied around and insisted that I would not follow him.
“It was during the argument that we got to know that the CPS told the security aide to arrest me. Many of the security officers confirmed it,” said Ayinde.