Posted by News Express | 31 December 2013 | 5,049 times

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The famous press conference of Tuesday night, November 5, 2013 at which Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State and his estranged wife Clara spoke on their marital dispute never took place, News Express can report this morning.

Major dailies such as The Guardian, ThisDay, The Punch, The Nation, Nigerian Tribune and Leadership generously reported the purported conference the following morning. However, weeks of investigation by News Express established that no such conference took place but that selected press men were handed a press statement and told to write the reports in a way to give the impression that a press conference had taken place. This obviously explains the striking similarities in the reports about the purported press conference. The identical reports claimed as follows:

•Clara and Sullivan jointly addressed journalists at the Government Lodge, Enugu, on Tuesday night, November 5, 2013.

•The press briefing took place in the presence of Mrs. Chime’s elder brother, Mr. Tony Igwe, the governor’s siblings, Mrs. May Oji and Dr. Jide Chime, as well as Mrs. Chime’s neuro-psychiatric doctor, Dr. Aham Agumuo, among few others.

•Clara during the press briefing denied having any problems with her husband and also disowned senior lawyer, Chief Femi Falana, who, claiming to be working on her instructions, raised the alarm about her alleged incarceration at Government House Enugu and demanded her immediate release. She also denied sending any petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) alleging unlawful detention by her husband.

•Chime during the press briefing denied Falana’s allegation, saying he had no problems with his wife and had no reason to keep her under house arrest. He claimed she had neuro-psychiatric challenges stretching back to even before his inauguration in 2011 and that her movement was for a while restricted by her doctors. The governor vowed to protect the integrity of his wife.

A source at the Government House, Enugu, however said: “The press conference did not take place.” Other sources, including in Enugu media circles, also said there was no press briefing. Mrs. Chime has since denied ever speaking during the purported media chat and, contrary to the impression given by the reports that the Chime family was at peace, the couple has since separated and Clara, who was returned to the mother on November 11, has vowed that she would file for divorce after the prescribed two-year waiting period. 

After initial investigation showed that no press conference took place on November 5 as claimed by the dailies, News Express Publisher, Mr. Isaac Umunna, publicly challenged newspapers that published the reports to provide proof that the press conference did hold. He wrote on his Facebook wall at 8:13 p.m. on November 13: “I am shocked by claims that the purported press briefing at which Gov. Sullivan Chime of Enugu, his wife, in-laws and neuro-surgeon spoke on Clara’s alleged mental challenges never took place. I expect every serious Nigerian newspaper with a Correspondent in Enugu who reported the said incident to investigate it. If, indeed, the press session never took place, I expect all those who reported it and misled the world on the issue to lose their jobs. We cannot continue to watch while some people for whatever reason give journalism a bad name. Some of us have no other job apart from journalism.

“My investigations so far show that there was no press conference. . . I expect the newspaper houses that published the story (shamelessly identical) to punish the writers except they produce video evidence of the purported press briefing.”

Umunna was backed by several media stakeholders, who challenged newspapers that published the reports to defend themselves. For example, Emeka Oparah, Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications & CSR at Airtel Nigeria, wrote: “Until I see a photo of that so called press conference, I will never believe it held. I can bet it never did.”

Moshood Isamotu, a seasoned journalist who practised in Enugu before joining the banking industry, wrote: “Honestly, Enugu press men have to defend themselves from this ugly revelation. How can there be a press briefing by a Governor of a state and some, if not all, Correspondents of media houses will not be present? Enugu NUJ, Correspondents Chapel over to you.”

On his part, Austin Iyashere, a seasoned journalist now based in Abuja, where he works as a senior manager with MTN, wrote: “I insist that the NUJ needs to speak up on this Governor Chime report issue. The problem is that the state chapter of NUJ will not speak up if the report was true because state chapters largely depend on the goodwill of state governments to survive.”

As for Okwy Onyia, an advertising chief in Lagos, who hails from Enugu State, the facts are clear: There was no press briefing. “Such a press briefing should have been shown on TV considering the dust generated by the issue. No TV, no radio, no photographs,” he wrote.

According to Onyia, who has strong contacts in the Enugu State Government House, “The press conference was a hoax.”

The Enugu State Government has maintained deep silence on the issue and would not respond to News Express’ enquiries on the issue.

Commenting on the issue, Dapo Olorunyomi, Founder at Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting, said: “In a rank ordering of professional crimes of 2013, the Chime/wife saga will take a prized position.”

So what ought to be done? “It is a sacrilege in journalism and must be punished,” says Abuchi Anueyiagu, an Enugu-based veteran journalist now into public relations.

Punish the criminals? Not in a country where anything goes.

•Photo shows Chime and estranged wife Clara in church before their marital problem became public knowledge.

Source: News Express

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