Imo govt: suspension of Vivian Ottih and the freedom of speech

Vivian Ottih

Since last week the indefinite suspension of Barr Vivian Ottih, an Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) staff and a nursing mother has been trending in the media circles. It has attracted varied reactions, some for and some against. The woman was reported to have made a Facebook comment to the effect that her employer was yet to redeem their 3 months’ salary obligations to her employees

This it was reported attracted the ire of the IBC management who promptly queried her and followed it up with an indefinite suspension. She was accused of flouting the civil service rules breaching the oath of secrecy which compels her not to disclose issues affecting her job to the public. The management of the parastatal felt embarrassed eliciting the Information Commissioner to act as stated above.

Some people hold the view that the government which according to them is battling illegitimacy ought to tread cautiously on issues of public concern which will likely give it out to the opposition who are looking for opportunities to attack the government. Others caution that the government should stay focused on where it is heading to and avoid distractions of this nature. 

Other comments view the government’s action as the height of insensitivity and high handedness likening it to a case of beating a child and stopping the child from crying. Yet, some stated that she may be acting for the opposition and is deserving of what befell her since it is a clear breach of established rule which she ought to know and respect.

Ottih is a nursing mother, a senior staff of the Corporation on Grade level 10 and was reported to have spent 20 years in service. She is a lawyer by training. In her journalism career she has been found worthy to lead the women journalists as the Imo State Chairperson of the National Association of Women Journalists, NAWOJ.

Given her above pedigree it is easy to assume she is conversant with the implications of breaching any rule especially when it comes to her job which she has devoted over 20 years dutifully growing herself to become a senior staff.

Without holding brief for her, it is not unlikely that she may have acted under pressure as a nursing mother and given the economic situation which has presently challenged many families. As a leader of a trade union it is not unlikely that the pressure from colleagues concerning the payment of their emoluments may have weakened her to comment on the situation publicly.

Edge Express supports strict enforcement of discipline especially in the civil service which is the driving force of government but in the instant case the government appears too stringent given that its own action precipitated the offence. Such situation would not have arisen if the government had honoured its own contractual obligation to its employees.

An emerging fact from this action is a conflict of interest in obedience to laws of the land. While the constitution of the land offers its citizens unqualified right to freely express themselves, the civil service rules seem to gag the people and compel them to accept any situation they may find themselves such as the instant case. This tangle needs to be given attention by those concerned.  Edge Express would advise that the government should review the situation and recall the journalist. It should not in the least give the impression that the charge that it is intolerant of the press is any way correct. We trust that it would also promptly give attention to the issues that generated the rumpus even as we trust the employee would have had her lessons.

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