PUNCH NEWSPAPER, one of Nigeria’s leading national and well circulating tabloid, on December 11, 2019, published an “editorial” titled: “Buhari’s Lawlessness: Our Stand”. In parts, the editorial stated: “As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, 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.”
Monday, December 22, in Abuja, “freedom protesters” were at the office of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, to protest the unlawful and continued detention of Sowore, Dasuki and others, by agents of government in different detention facilities in the country. The “freedom protesters” were attacked, by parallel protesters, chanting “Sai Baba”, assumed to be sponsored by government.
Within the same period, six American lawmakers – Robert Menendez, Charles Schumer, Christopher Coons, Cory Booker, Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer – were reported to have written Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, expressing concern over Nigeria’s disregard to court orders. That Nigeria risked tarnishing its international reputation over Sowore’s indefinite detention and “it will best serve Nigeria’s interest to and uphold the very legal systems that provide for stability and open dialogue.”
These simultaneous pressures on President Buhari and his government, for the release of Dasuki, Sowore and others from detention were remarkable. Most momentous, however, was the PUNCH’s brave, pungent and lethal editorial. It was a shell on the presidency in a democracy. President Buhari go the message, if no one told him. The editorial stands the newspaper out, among recent pressures on government, clamouring for the release of those illegally incarcerated by agents of Nigerian government.
Buhari’s media aids, even though journalists, were in shock. They had no fitting response to PUNCH’s editorial. Neither do the government. Feeble reaction from Femi Adesina, spokesman to the president, in a tweet, said the newspaper was free to address the president by his military rank. His words: “If you decide 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.” Cheap response from a professional media adviser.
Tuesday, December 23, 2019, about two weeks after PUNCH’s editorial; three days after six lawmakers of the United State wrote a letter of concern to Malami over Nigeria’s disregard to court orders; and 24 hours after “freedom protest” to Nigerian National Human Right office; Nigerian government, through the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, ordered the release of Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore from the clutches of Department of State Service, DSS.
Malami’s statement said: “I have directed the State Security Services (DSS) to comply with the order granting bail to the Defendants and effect their release. The two defendants are enjoined to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land.”
Dasuki has been in government and DSS custody since 2015 – over four years. Within this period, several courts have ordered Dasuki’s release on bail. The government its agent, DSS, refused to budge. Yet, Malami was complying with courts order(s) in December 23, 2019. Sowore, in his case, was held incommunicado by the DSS since August 2019, for alleged complicit to topple Buhari’s government for organising #RevolutionNow protest. He was granted court bail, but government and DSS defied the order to release him.
Remarkable about PUNCH’s firm and stern editorial, is that it is coming after years of lull or latency of such firm media position on governance and wellbeing of Nigerians. The PUNCH sets the trail on media objectivity and detachment from government’s ill-conceived policies, programmes and positions on the governed and citizens. More so, with Buhari’s “regime”, as the PUNCH choose to address his government. And the appellation “Major-General”, a military title, to his name and presidency. PUNCH’s position is commendable and consequential.
In world history, the media – newspapers and magazines publishers, reporters and cartoonists have influenced events in governance and leadership at different times. The facts are accessible from the achieves. Just one example. In the wake of America’s Watergate scandals and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, sequence of events took place. The news media played significant role in the chains of events.
Walter Wriston, chairman Citibank, America’s second largest commercial bank, at that time, said: “Since the scandals of Watergate, the news business has been demanding total disclosure from our leaders. No one should or would want to denigrate the important part the press played in revealing the mess. However, the illusion has now been created that a cloud of secrecy has been thrown over every act of government to hide dark motives.”
Journalism critics believe that Nigeria has vibrant and sophisticated media, as well as, professionally, distinguished personnel running media outfits in the country. But they complain that the news media promotes personalities over issues, style over substance. That many newspapers, magazines and television programmes, devote more space to barefaced reports – lacking depth in analysis, full comprehension of situations and issues being reported, ability to accurately, distinguish news makers – in politics, business, and other relevant areas that make news and investigative journalism, among others.
Otherwise, how would PUNCH’s very strong and firm editorial position for the release of all detained prisoners of conscience, held by Nigeria’s DSS and government; which led to the release of SAMBO DASUKI, OMOYELE SOWORE be played down. Or be ascribed to American lawmakers.
Important as the “freedom protesters”, letter from American lawmakers, and other interventions by international observers on Human Right Abuses by the present government in Nigeria are, PUNCH’s position is significant. And should be sustained by media organisations in Nigeria. Charity begins at home. Take your cases up – firmly, decisively and very strongly, others will get to know about it and give you the desired backing.