Posted by: Adekunle Ade-Adeleye
Early last week, security aides of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari barred the African Independent Television (AIT) media crew from covering the activities of the newly elected president. They hinged that drastic measure on security and ethical concerns, both for the president-elect and his family. The AIT ban engendered deep emotions and hullabaloo. A day after the ban, the All Progressives Congress (APC) clarified and tempered the action of the president-elect’s security team. There were indeed security concerns and ethical issues involved in AIT’s conduct during electioneering, argued the APC, but these should not be enough to bar any media establishment from carrying out its constitutional duties.
While helping the president-elect to backtrack from a potentially damaging conundrum, the APC admonished the media to reactivate its code of ethics in order to place a lid on the buccaneering tendencies of some of its errant members. The president-elect, who was apparently not privy to the action of his security team, on his own warned his aides to both steer clear of media matters and leave anything connected to the media to members of his team and party designated for media relations. He did not explain who those media aides were, for after all, one of his media aides, Garba Shehu, had been asked on Tuesday why the president-elect took that precipitous step. Mallam Shehu had seemed to defend the temporary ban.
Reacting to what he concluded was an indication of the president-elect’s totalitarian streak, the sulking Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, gloated that Nigerians would begin to realise in whose hands they had misplaced their democracy, and regret it. It then sanctimoniously counselled the president-elect and his party, the APC, to imbibe the culture of democracy and not endanger press freedom as guaranteed by the constitution. Said Mr Metuh: “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?”
Not done gloating, Mr Metuh then added: “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.” It is not clear where Mr Metuh got the wild impression that President Jonathan humbly, tolerantly and lawfully allowed the media to operate without molestation of any kind. Nor is there anything in the past 16 years of PDP presidency to justify the statement that the defeated party nurtured democracy.
President Jonathan had once described himself as one of the most abused presidents anywhere. That he chose to ignore correction when many analysts faulted his exaggeration does not make him right; nor does it give Mr Metuh the latitude to repeat the fallacy. President Jonathan was well travelled, but nothing in his frequent trips suggested he at any time and at any point acquired the education and the cosmopolitanism that often accompany and festoon travels. As this newspaper can attest, President Jonathan and a few members of his cabinet, particularly the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, did their utmost to stymie the operations of The Nation newspaper and starve it of advertisements on account of its unrepentant opposition to the ruling PDP.
Moreover, President Jonathan, in direct subversion of the constitution, hid under security excuses to execute the most brutal repression ever against this newspaper. Mr Metuh was wrong, blatantly wrong. And his party, the PDP, did nothing in terms of media freedom to promote democracy. Worse, in its 16 years in office, the PDP did precious little to nurture the democracy it has so vauntingly tried to smooth talk.
In a documentary entitled The Real Buhari broadcast during the campaigns, AIT portrayed President-elect Buhari and a few APC leaders whom the television station identified as the brains behind the Buhari phenomenon in brutally unsavoury light. It allegedly fabricated facts and proofs, and dredged the bottommost part of propaganda to undermine the APC and its leaders as well as defame their persons. What is even more worrisome is that AIT and its owners simply and flagrantly refused to draw a line between political partisanship and media ethics, misdeeds that sadly did not attract any significant censure from regulatory bodies.
But President-elect Buhari and his team will have to learn to live with the media frenzy and fusillade expected to open against him in the coming months. He will remember that more media establishments supported President Jonathan during the campaigns than favoured him. He should simply encourage professional regulatory bodies to carry out their functions in accordance with the constitution. In a democracy, there is not much else he can do. We believe him when he said he was not aware his aides placed a ban on AIT. But in democracy and government, the buck stops at the president’s table.
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