Many Nigerians were shocked when news filtered in on Monday that President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, has barred the African Independent Television (AIT), from covering his activities.
Buhari allegedly gave the order through his security team.
AIT’s crew were walked out of the Defence House during the Cuban Ambassador’s visit.
The episode which is still being scrutinized by staff of media houses, right groups and followers of national issues has been described in many circles as unfortunate.
Providing a justification, All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Organisation spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, said “AIT has been asked to stay aside based on security and family concerns.”
“In addition, Gen Buhari has decided that they will have to resolve some issues relating to standard and ethics.
“We will be talking with them to try and resolve the matter but for now the station has been asked to stay aside because like I said, there are some family and security concerns.
“They have been asked to step down their coverage until we resolve the matter with them on ethics and standards.”
Shehu also denied that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was been barred along with AIT.
The ban was reportedly hinged on AIT’s ‘hate campaign’ against APC and Buhari during the just conclude election campaigns.
It however turned out that Buhari did not authorize the ban, going by a contradictory statement signed by same Shehu 48 hours later.
He said Buhari has instructed all his staff, including the personnel attached directly to him, to steer clear of all dealings with the media, and leave all media affairs to his official media team.
In the statement issued in Abuja on Wednesday, Buhari aligned himself with the pronouncement of his party which had earlier expressed disagreement with the temporary barring of the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities.
“I would like everyone to henceforth stay within his/her defined area of responsibility,” Buhari warned.
Buhari added that his media team should be left to continue to deal with their media colleagues in the best possible way.
Buhari said he was neither consulted nor informed about the AIT barring, and only became aware of the matter after the public uproar it generated.
“The time of CHANGE has come and we must avoid making the same mistakes that the outgoing government made,” it added
<>PDP cashes in
Apparently delighted by the development, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wasted no time in joining denunciation that trailed the ban home and abroad.
PDP described the directive as “unacceptable”, saying the suppression of the media under any guise portends danger for the nation’s democracy.
National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh in a statement on Tuesday said that after carefully studying the defence posited by “General Buhari’s campaign spokesperson as well as the smokescreen statement by the APC to cover and mitigate his anti-media posture, the PDP and indeed all lovers of democracy are persuaded that the action was not only unjustifiable, but also unconstitutional and completely against the spirit of liberty and the rule of law in a democracy.”
He said “the PDP as a party that have nurtured the nation’s democracy in the past 16 years cannot afford to fold its hands and watch the constitutional rights, media freedom and personal liberty of Nigerians, the basic tenets of democracy being demolished.
“We ask, is this a beginning of the feared erosion of the freedom and personal liberty the media and Nigerian citizens have been enjoying in the last 16 years under the PDP led-administration? Has our dear nation finally fallen into the clutches of totalitarianism and impunity where government actions will based on egocentric decisions and impulses of individuals rather than the rule of law?
“While we assure the President-elect of our resolve to run a mature and responsible opposition based on issues, we are disturbed by this emerging development and reassure the Nigerian people that we will continue to stand with them on issues of democracy and freedom at all times.
“Perhaps, we need to remind General Buhari that part of the challenge of his new position, even as President-elect is that he has lost his private life which is now subject to public scrutiny and media interrogation, as required of the custodian of the mandate of the Nigerian people.
“The PDP is not oblivious of the background of the President-elect especially as it relates to the freedom of the media, but we had thought that having declared to be a converted democrat, he would make himself amenable to the basic principles of democracy by following the due process of the law on any circumstance.
“General Buhari may also wish to be reminded that the Nigerian constitution upon which provisions he emerged President-elect, also gave the media powers to cover activities of public office holders while at the same time providing legal avenues for redress in the event of any violation.
“If the right of the President-elect was in anyway violated by the AIT or any media house for that matter, he is expected to act within the law and seek redress in the courts otherwise one would have no option than to conclude that he is out for personal vendetta.
“The APC and the President-elect may have one or two lessons to pick from President Goodluck Jonathan, who though the most maligned and abused President in the history of our nation, even by the APC, allowed his actions to be sufficiently guided by humility, tolerance and the rule of law.”
The party called on Nigerians not to despair but remain steadfast and unite in resisting any anti-democratic tendencies intended to instil fear in them and set the stage for a dictatorial order and the erosion of their personal freedom and liberty as citizens, which they have been enjoying in the last 16 years under the PDP.
On Thursday, the PDP Caucus in the House of Representatives announced its position on the matter.
According to the group, Buhari’s action was “reprehensible”.
A statement by the caucus noted that that, while it abides by the PDP’s decision not to insult or denigrate the office of the President the way the APC did against President Goodluck Jonathan, it was deeply concerned about the, “anti-mass media disposition that culminated into AIT’s ban, and its far reaching implications for democratic freedom under the coming Buhari Presidency.”
It said “except for the utterly obnoxious Decree 4, which the military dictatorship under the same General Buhari once foisted on Nigeria, nothing in the laws of the federation and international protocols to which Nigeria has subscribed, prohibits media freedom under any circumstance.”
The caucus mocked APC’s decision to quickly reverse the controversial decision on Tuesday, wondering if it was a sign of worse things to come.
The caucus added: “While we do not hold brief for any media organisation, well-meaning people expect that rather than begin on a wrong footing by signalling a keenness to go to war against the mass media, even before being sworn in; the President-elect and the APC should be democratic and tolerant.”
Rights Group alerts to anti-democratic ethos
In its response, a human rights group, the Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice (CHRSJ), condemned the alleged plan to resuscitate the anti-democratic ethos in a democratic setting, noting that General Buhari’s action shows that the President-elect has hidden agenda in governance of this country for the next four years.
The rights group however declared that General Buhari should be tutored on how to conduct the act of governance in a democratic era, believing that democracy was new in the President-elect dictionary and strange to his nature because of his military dictatorship background, stressing that the Freedom of Press is one of the ground norms of entrenching democracy in the world.
It urged genuine pro-democracy Nigerians to stand up to be ready to defend our current democratic experiment before the anti-democratic forces returned the country back to the dark days of military era where freedom of expression were withdrawn through draconian decree of 1984.
CHRSJ Executive Chairman, Comrade Adeniyi, Alimi Sulaiman, in Lagos on Tuesday, insisted that Buhari has goofed with the decision.
The group said General Buhari lacks moral right and constitutional justification to ban any media outfit from coverage of his activities since he elected as the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for period of another four years.
Continuing, “Nigeria people, particularly, the men of fourth estate of realm should be extreme careful now with this present development from Buhari, the President-Elect so as to avoid being the first victim of Buhari’s government after inauguration in May 29th, 2015.”
“Buhari should know that this is a democracy where there is no privacy for any political leader. When Mrs Turai Yaradua, the wife of Late President Yar’Adua, declared that She has power on her husband, Nigeria people told her that her husband, was President of Nigeria people and they ought to know the where about of their President, which shows that no privacy for General Muhammadu Buhari in a democratic setting again until he finishes his term of office in 2019.”
Comrade Sulaiman also declared that the functional media sector of a country was the basis where the genuine democracy rest on, urged Buhari to be ready to uphold the democratic ethos and values and demonstrate strong believe in our democratic institutions by seeking any redress of his(Buhari) grievances in the court of law.
CHRSJ boss supported his position with the provision of 1999 constitution as amended in section 22 which stated that: “the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
“By virtue of this provision, the constitutional powers and duties or obligation of the press are to help government realize the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy as contained in the constitution. The media or the press is also expected to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
Lawyers add voice
Legal practitioners too were taken aback by the ban on AIT.
One of them, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, argued that despite the clear position of the Nation newspaper, TV Continental other Nigeria’s online media against President Goodluck Jonathan’s policies, ”he did not cultivate the habit of denying any media outfit access to cover his events.”
He said that the best thing for the President-Elect is to approach the court if he feels aggrieved over any news item aired by AIT.
He said “with ominous concern, alarm and great worry, the report indicating that the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, stopped the crew of African Independent Television, from covering his official activities, purely on account of documentaries aired by AIT in the course of the just concluded Presidential campaigns.”
“This is totally unacceptable, unpalatable and dictatorial. It has no place in our new Nigeria.
Indeed under and by virtue of section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, every person, including AIT, has a right to freedom of expression and the press. This is restated in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Furthermore, it is contrary to section 42 of the 1999 Constitution, which prohibits discrimination and preferential treatment.
“AIT cannot be subjected to any treatment to which other news media are not subjected to. This is not to endorse the actions of AIT, but such actions must be dealt with in a manner prescribed by law.
“This decision is draconian and dictatorial, throwing us back to the very dark days of 1984, when the same Buhari gaged the press and threw journalists into jail.
“This decision is contrary to the manifesto of the All Progressive Congress, it is contrary to the campaign promises of Buhari himself and it is contrary to the laws of Nigeria and the minimum expectations of human development.
“In particular, section 22 of the 1999 Constitution demands the press to hold government accountable to the people. How can the press do that, if they are subjected to such Stone Age rule and barrack practice of press guillotine? How can a president elect chose which media outfit he will allow to cover his official engagements?
“It is recalled most vividly that the Nation newspaper, TV Continental and not a few of Nigeria’s Online media, human rights activists, lawyers (including myself) subjected President Goodluck Jonathan to rigours of scrutiny and strident criticisms, but he did not cultivate the habit of denying any media outfit access to cover his events.
“His last presidential media chat was attended by the editor of Premium Times, a frontline Online medium that was very critical of the Jonathan administration at the time.
“In his presentation at Chatam House in London, Buhari specifically gave an express undertaking to the whole world, that he had totally repented from his past dictatorial tendencies and that he would not subject Nigeria to any of his past Undemocratic practices. Yet he has now taken us back to his 1984 years of dictatorship.
“If Buhari has issues with any news item aired by AIT, the option open to him in a democratic dispensation, that he openly declared to defend, is to approach the court to vindicate himself.
“It will be too bad for Nigeria, if the President elect has harboured any form of revenge and unforgiving spirit, from the presidential campaigns and he is using such to deal with the people of Nigeria.
“The APC and the President elect are duty bound to respect their campaign promises and indeed the Constitution and other laws of Nigeria.
“The president elect has too many issues to deal with in Nigeria presently, than to carry over his wounds from the campaigns. Nigerians are waiting for his cabinet and his blue print for tackling the blackout that we are currently subjected to.
“Indeed, we are waiting for the president elect to unravel and bring out the trillions of Naira stacked away by so many greedy people, for our common good and development.”
Dokpesi, the hero
In all of these, the owner of African Independent Television, AIT, Raymond Dokpesi, has emerged as a hero and arguably the first victim of attack on the Nigerian press by the incoming administration.
Not exactly adored by many Nigerians, the fact that his station was treated rather badly has attracted sympathy to him.
So much that he reacted confidently swiftly has earned him the support of those who are angry with Buhari’s misstep.
Firing back, the boss of DAAR Communication, parent company of AIT, described Buhari’s action to bar AIT from covering his activities as an attempt to bring back the era of Decree 4.
He told Premium Times, Dokpesi said Buhari lacks the power to stop the AIT from covering his activities, as doing so would amount to breaking the law.
“I am sure that the President-elect needs to be reminded of Decree 4, and he should be clearly reminded that section 32 of the constitution makes it mandatory for the media to hold public officials accountable to the people,” he said.
He also cited Section 39 of the constitution which grants Nigerians the freedom of expression and to hold opinion, insisting that the controversial documentary were factual.
“The president-elect said that he does not want to be covered by AIT, but AIT has a responsibility to the Nigerian public to report the things that are happening,” he said.
“There are three national networks available for national coverage in Nigeria, the NTA, AIT and Silverbirds. You cannot stop a foremost private station from reporting in Nigeria, it brings us back to Decree 4 era.”
Dokpesi also acknowledged that Gen. Buhari may have taken his decision based on the documentaries ran by the station during the electioneering campaign.
“If they had produced their own documentary to say this is what we want and AIT did not publish it, then that is another matter,” he said.
“What is obviously very clear is the fact that AIT believes that the historical information about the President elect that were ran, were factually correct. Nothing was done to defame him or impinge on his character or integrity.”
“We take responsibility for the running of these items and I as an individual is satisfied because due diligence was followed in ensuring that the things that are contained were factually right”.
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