IBRAHEEM HAMZA MUHAMMAD
Six Judiciary correspondents were on Tuesday detained for over two hours on the orders of Justice Chizoba Orji of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), sitting in Maitama, Abuja.
Justice Orji insisted that journalists must get permission before they could cover her court.
Consequently, she ordered her police orderly to seize a phone belonging to Ms. Wumi Obabori of the Africa Independent Television (AIT) and delete all the pictures and videos in it.
The judge also walked out of the courtroom other journalists, including Mr. Godwin Tsa of the Sun Newspaper, Ikechukwu Nnochiri of Vanguard Newspaper, Austin Okezie of Raypower Fm and a veteran journalist, Mr. Charles Ozoemena.
Trouble started shortly after the judge stood down a matter and entered her chambers to prepare a ruling.
Immediately the court proceeding was suspended, the reporter from AIT attempted to record videos for her story when a female Registrar of the court pounced on her, insisting that journalists have no right to cover the court.
Frantic efforts by the reporter to explain to the Registrar that journalists could take “cut-aways” (visuals) and pictures once the court is not in session, yielded no result as the court official immediately summoned a police officer attached to the judge to arrest the reporter.
The policeman, Mr Gusar Dauda, who claimed that he had the authority of the judge, swiftly locked the main door to the courtroom, pulled his gun and ordered all the journalists to surrender their phones.
Despite the intervention of lawyers and litigants, the police officer and court officials stood their ground that no journalist would leave the courtroom without complying with the order.
After a standoff that lasted over one hour, Justice Orji re-entered the courtroom and summoned the AIT reporter to step forward.
“Why were you taking pictures and videos in my court? Who gave you the permission to do that?”, she fumed.
“My lord, I am an accredited judiciary reporter. It is a normal practice for us to take pictures and videos when the court is not sitting, even up to the Supreme Court”, Wumi of AIT responded.
“You don’t have such right! If there is such permission, it must be in writing. Who gave you the permission? Show me the authorisation?”, Justice Orji added.
At that juncture, other journalists in the courtroom stood up and took turns to identify themselves.
“I don’t want to hear from any of you. Now, where is the device you used to take the pictures and videos?”, Justice Orji queried the AIT reporter.
She, thereafter, ordered her orderly to delete all the pictures and videos in the phone, afterwhich she told the court official to unlock the gate and ordered all the journalists out of the courtroom.