Details have emerged about how Akwa Ibom State Chief Judge, Ekaette Obot, ordered the arrest of a Premium Times reporter, Saviour Imukudo, on Wednesday in Uyo.
This newspaper had earlier reported how human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong was ordered to be remanded in jail while Mr. Imukudo was arrested by the police.
But Mr. Udo, who spoke in an exclusive interview with GuardPost Nigeria shortly after he was released described his ordeal as “shocking and unbelievable.”
“I never expected such treatment from the chief judge. As a reporter, I have covered several court sessions and never seen a journalist so harassed by a judge,” Mr. Imukudo said.
“Except on one occasion that I had to meet the chief registrar to ask for permission to cover a particular court session, I have never been told to seek any permission to cover an open trial in the court.
“Today, the chief judge told me that even the chief registrar has no right to grant a journalist the permission to cover her court.”
According to Mr. Imukudo, trouble started barely 15 minutes after the chief judge commenced proceedings on a libel case brought by Governor Udom Emmanuel against a lawyer, Leo Umana.
He said Mrs. Obot asked him to stand up and identify himself and he did, telling the court that he is a reporter with Premium Times Newspaper.
“After I introduced myself, she asked that I excuse her in court. But when I wanted to leave, she directed one of the police officers to search me. The officer did and told the chief judge that I was recording the session.
“She ordered the police officer to seize my phone. The officer after seizing my phone said I should wait till the end of the court session to meet with the chief judge.
“I waited for her. In the afternoon, one of the police officers said the chief judge wanted the chief registrar to bring a form for me to fill so she can attach the phone and send it to the Nigeria Judiciary Commission (NJC).
“We later went and confirmed that the chief registrar was not in the office. After waiting for over two hours, the chief judge sent the chief security officer of the court (name unknown) to take me to the Police A – Division to make a statement.
“I saw a colleague who offered me his phone to talk to my editor. As I was being taken to the station, she again ordered that I be returned to her office,” Mr. Imukudo narrated.
On getting back to the chief judge’s office, the reporter said she again ordered the police officers to take him back to the police station to complete his statement.
It was, however, while the journalist was being taken back to the police station that the Premium Times Regional Editor, Cletus Ukpong arrived at the court.
Mr. Imukudo said that the chief judge for the third time ordered that he should be brought back to her office with the statement he wrote at the police station.
“That was how we went back to her office with my editor, the investigating police officer (IPO) and the judiciary chief security officer. My editor spoke with her after which she asked me to go after reading my statement,” said Mr. Imukudo.
Human rights lawyer remanded
It was not only Mr. Imukudo who got the baptism of fire from the chief judge as fiery human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, got sentenced to one month in prison for contempt of court.
Mr. Effiong, who has consistently accused Mrs. Obot of showing signs of bias in favour of Governor Emmanuel, had asked her to recuse herself from the case.
In a Twitter post, Mr. Effiong narrated how fully armed police officers were brought into the courtroom while proceedings were ongoing.
Not comfortable with the presence of the armed law enforcement officers, he said he raised an objection and urged the court to allow the policemen to stand outside the courtroom.
He also objected to the decision of the court to send away the Premium Times reporter, adding that the chief judge responded by asking him to de-robe while ordering him to be remanded at the Uyo Correctional Centre.