The Punch Editorial Comment on Buhari Administration’s Lawlessness, By Jerome Utomi

Specifically,  one event in recent weeks that probably did more than anything else to convince Nigerians to look differently at the out of ordered situation in the country is the Punch Newspaper’s front page editorial publication titled, “Buhari Lawlessness: Our Stand, published on Wednesday 11th December, 2019, where the News organization in furtherance of the responsibility which  instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confer on it chronicled the failings, failures and violations of human rights of Nigerians by the present administration.

And as a symbolic demonstration of its protest against autocracy and military-style repression, declared that the PUNCH (all our print newspapers, The PUNCH, Saturday PUNCH, Sunday PUNCH, PUNCH Sports Extra, and digital platforms, most especially (Punchng.com), will henceforth prefix Buhari’s name with his rank as a military dictator in the 80s, Major General, and refer to his administration as a regime, until they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law.

As a natural response devoid of keen effort to study specific concepts or underlying philosophy that propelled  the editorial comment, or  understand   the definitional ambiguities surrounding the term ‘derogatory’, self-styled advocates have but  peripherally characterized the Newspaper’s position as both ‘harsh and derogatory’ in context and content.

Despite the consequences of this asymmetrical assessment, objective evidence overwhelmingly shows that the vast majority of Nigerians are of the view that the position canvassed by the Newspaper is by no means derogatory, unique to the present administration or lacks merit in any form.

Essentially, separate from the allegation that this Government has become reputed for, and gone too far with the abuse of Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law, many Nigerians described Punch’s publication as laudable and their action worthy of emulation by other media outfits as this is an opportunity for the Nigerian Press to gain respect. Others are of the views that Buhari and this administration appear to be cornered and the press should take a stand now bearing in mind that while the administration can take on Punch alone, it will be more difficult to take on the entire press.

To the rest, what Punch deserves is commendation for its stand against impunity. The bad behaviour of the government, they added should be condemned by all, irrespective of which political divide one belongs. They, therefore, called on  other upstream newspapers should also take a stand against bad behaviour by government agencies.

What has, however, caused concern and in some ways an even more brazen move and a troubling manifestation of how seriously off track we have gone as a nation are the two separate but related responses from Mr. President’s media aides.

First, Femi Adesina, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Mr. President, according to reports among other things stated that“If punch decides to call him Major General, he wasn’t dashed the rank, he earned it. ‘So, you are not completely out of order. The fact that you can do so is even another testimony to press freedom in Nigeria.”

Before the dust raised by such casual response could settle, a more devastating one was up-this time from Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity).

He, against all known legitimate logic chronicled the litany of abuse of human rights and flagrant disregard of rule of law/press freedom by successive administrations, and argued that when General Ibrahim Babangida who wasn’t democratically elected assumed the title of President, why didn’t the Punch challenge him or address him by any title it so desired? In fact, IBB closed media houses for several months and years, including Punch. But the paper didn’t stop addressing him as President, despite the fact that he wasn’t elected.-and submitted that it is obvious that the Punch newspapers are playing partisan opposition politics which has nothing to do with journalism.

In my views, not only did Shehu’s comment divert attention from real threat deserving of healthy and appropriate fear, but his reliance on inferences that are hardly objective or explicit and conclusions that are self-serving has, postured the argument as a postulation weakened by national character and drained of positive result.

It, however,remains  a painful narrative that instead of telling Mr. President  what the real issues are or encourage him to keep promises that gave him victory, curtail the challenges confronting the people, and promote consensus politics, they (media Assistants) use illogical arguments to encourage divisiveness and uphold autocratic tendencies. And in most cases become propagandists using radio, television and the internet as outlets to relentlessly false feed Nigerians.

To answer the question whether the Punch newspapers played partisan opposition politics which has nothing to do with journalism,  one point  Mr. President’s handlers failed to remember is that this type of intervention  is by no means the first or unique to the present administration. As it is factually backed that the Punch edition of December 3, 2012, had in a similar   editorial comment titled – Jonathan Spendthrift: ‘Enough is enough”, accused Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, saying that; nothing ‘typifies the frivolous, insensitive and completely inept leadership troubling Nigeria currently than the recent approval of a N2.2bn banquet hall for Aso Villa by the Federal Executive Council. Coming at a time when the country is buffeted by serious security and other challenges, it demonstrates that this government is not a thinking one’.

Comparatively also, by their comparison of present political happenings with what took place during the General Ibrahim Babangida, who wasn’t a democratically elected President, it has become understandable that majority of this government’s information managers are not aware that they are in such position to among other functions; analyze trends democratically, predict their consequences, and counsel political office holders; help the nation deepen information dissemination, enrich democracy and promote peace and unity among  Nigerians of different culture, ethnicity, culture and religion; And help inculcate and reinforce positive political, cultural, social attitudes among the citizenries-as well as create a mood in which people become keen to acquire, skills and disciplines of developed nations.

Indeed, with the routine function in which these Media aides engage to fulfill their roles and responsibilities, which are defined by formal and informal policies, it wont be an overstatement to conclude that such positions now enjoy more burden than goodwill.

Supporting this assertion is the recent statement by Aishat Buhari, the Wife of President Buhari titled, ‘Garba Shehu Has Gone Beyond His Boundaries’, which read in parts;“As spokesperson of the president, he has the onerous responsibility of managing the image of the president and all the good works that he is executing in the country. Rather than face this responsibility squarely, he has shifted his loyalty from the president to others who have no stake in the pact that President Mohammadu Buhari signed with Nigerians.

From the continual commotion, communication collusion, frequent chaos and sometimes crisis that characterize information management by the present administration, one may be tempted to believe that  these media aides are not aware that; every decision they make while discharging their responsibility requires value judgement or that different decisions bring different results; that all decisions have consequences that are direct and indirect, intended and unintended, short term and long term. They are not conscious that their decisions affect others; that those decisions may influence thousands of people’s opinions on a political issue. And the most damaging of all these is that they appear not capped with the philosophy to challenge the nation’s political and economic logic, and capacity to pursue the theory of governance in order to effectively inform their principals.

Jerome-Mario writes from Lagos, Nigeria; via; [email protected]

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