Palpable apprehension and concern have heightened in Gombe State over attempts by Governor Inuwa Yahaya to stifle the press and free speech in the state.
No fewer than three journalists have either been arrested, harassed or intimidated over trumped-up charges of ‘libel’ and ‘defamation’, after publishing factual ‘investigative’ stories.
Mr Yahaya, it was learnt, is also on the trail of some journalists who went underground to avoid his ‘persecution’.
For instance, PRNigeria gathered that the Publisher of Daylight Reporter, Dahiru Hassan Kera, has been declared ‘persona non grata’ in Gombe and has since fled the State.
Mr Kera, who has not stepped his feet into the ‘Jewel of the Savannah’ for several months now, has also gone into hidden, after receiving Governor Yahaya’s ‘open’ threat to ‘deal’ with him, a family member told PRNigeria in a chat.
The publisher’s ‘persecution’ started after his online newspaper published a syndicated report on Gombe’s huge debt profile, under Inuwa Yahaya’s administration.
Other media platforms like The Peoples Gazette, Premium Times and Sahara Reporters equally published statements by various groups, condemning the ‘ballooning’ debt profile.
In a phone chat with PRNigeria, Mr Kera described the Governor’s resolve to hound him as ‘political persecution since he did not bother to go after any of the other newspapers.
“Aside from the harmless publication of the debt profile story carried by my newspaper, Governor Yahaya is not comfortable with my decision to contest for a seat in the Gombe State House of Assembly, at next year’s elections,” he said.
According to Mr Kera, while two former Governors and five eminent politicians both in Gombe and other parts of the country made attempts to placate Governor Yahaya, he disregarded their interventions by sticking to his gun.
“It was because of the Governor I could not visit my elder brother at a Gombe Hospital when he was bedridden while battling a terminal ailment, prior to his death on April 21, 2022.
“And not only that, but I still could also not attend his funeral the next day he was buried, as I did not know the trap Governor Yahaya may have set for me if I dare visit the State,” he added.
Aside the publisher, another journalist in the State who ‘got more than he bargained for’ in the hands of Governor Yahaya, is a reporter with the Voice of America, VOA, working in Gombe.
In a short, but recorded telephone conversion audio between the Governor and the VOA reporter, which PRNigeria obtained, a visibly angry Yahaya threatened to ‘deal’ with the VOA staff, over a story the reporter did, which the Governor did not find ‘palatable’.
Elaborating on the incident, Abdulwahab Muhammad, the reporter in question, however, said that the Governor did not make good his threat.
He said: “During Governor Yahaya’s first 100 days in office, I interviewed him, and took him up on what informed his decision to retrench over 4,000 youths his immediate-predecessor in office, Alh. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, was recruited into the Gombe State private security network.
“But the Governor, while responding said that those recruited got the job in order to assist in furthering former Governor Dankwambo’s political agenda ahead of the 2019 polls. According to him, those recruited could have joined the Police or Army if they were interested in uniform work.
“So, in balancing the story, I also interviewed the Gombe State PDP PRO, who not only criticised the Governor’s action but went further to describe his first 100 days as ‘Black Days’ for the State.
“It was not long after my report was out that the Governor, perhaps having come across it, called and started saying all sort of things”.
Speaking to a PRNigeria correspondent in a phone chat, Sani Labaran, a social media influencer, recalled the ‘gruesome’ brutality he also suffered in the hands of two thugs and Governor Yahaya’s official driver, last September.
According to the social media influencer, the persecution meted on him by thugs allegedly ‘working’ for the Gombe State Government may not be unconnected to the fact that he has made a series of posts on social media, criticising some ‘anti-masses’ policies of the Governor.
Mr Labaran said: “Around September last year, I was at a mechanic stand to fix my car, when three persons who rode in a jeep having a Gombe Government House plate number, invaded the mechanic shop.
“They instantly descended on me, kicking, slapping and brutalising me with sticks and other hard objects they were wielding. They smashed and inflicted deep cuts on my head, in the process.
“I would later be detained on the orders of the State Government for 11 days, before regaining freedom, eventually.
“The cruelty and horrible torture I received at the Police station where I was detained, made it difficult for me to walk, and urinate easily, after my release. A surgery even had to be performed on me”.
Several attempts by PRNigeria to reach any top official of the Gombe State Government were unsuccessful.
Ismaila Uba Misilli, Director General, Press Affairs at the Gombe State Government, did not answer PRNigeria correspondent’s multiple calls to his phone line.
He also did not respond to a WhatsApp message forwarded to him, at press time.