Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
In two separate statements, the Presidency, yesterday, tackled The Punch newspapers over its decision to address President Muhammadu Buhari as “major general” and refer to his administration as regime. In its editorial, yesterday, Punch Newspapers stated it took the decision to protest the president’s “disregard” for the rule of law hence its decision to address him by his military rank of Major General.
Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, had stated that there was “nothing untoward in it. It is a rank the President attained by dint of hard work before he retired from the Nigerian Army. And today, constitutionally, he is also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. All over the world, just as in our country, a large number of retired military officers are now democrats. It does not make those who did not pass through military service better than them. Rather than being pejorative, addressing President Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press, which this administration (or regime, if anyone prefers: it is a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve.”
In his verified Twitter handle (@FemAdesina), Adesina tweeted that Buhari’s rank was not dashed but earned, noting that Punch Newspapers was not completely out of order in its decision. “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.” In a second statement from the Presidency on the matter, Shehu said: “The Punch Newspapers should separate journalism from partisan politics. What it is embarking upon is purely political and it is designed to play to the gallery and cause confusion.
“Punch Newspaper’s double standards in cuddling some of our past dictators and their open contempt for President Buhari clearly show that the paper has sinister motives for its current curious editorial judgment. Its personal hatred for President Buhari should not be allowed to becloud its good judgment.”
He described Punch newspapers’ decision as absurd particularly when it never changed former Olusegun Obasanjo’s title to General, even when he disobeyed Supreme Court.
He said: “It is unprecedented and absurd in our recent political history. The Punch never changed President Olusegun Obasanjo’s title from the President to General Obasanjo, despite the latter’s refusal to comply with Supreme Court judgment, ordering him to release N30 billion of Lagos State local councils funds.
“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.
“It is obvious that the Punch newspapers are playing partisan opposition politics which has nothing to do with journalism.”
The full statement reads:
“The reported new editorial policy of the Punch Newspapers to address President Muhammadu Buhari as Major General in his official title and refer to his government as a regime instead of administration, comes to us as totally curious and utterly incredible.
The paper claimed that it is changing President Buhari’s official title to General because of his government’s alleged disregard for the rule of law.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), for that is his title, and he was indeed a Major General, but today retired from that position and now twice democratically elected president of Nigeria – is not the choice of Punch Newspaper’s editors and owners, that is clear.
He is, however, the two-time electoral choice of the voters of Nigeria, those very people who Punch Newspapers described this morning as “lethargic”: a disdaining epithet apportioned to decent, hard-working, everyday Nigerians for not agreeing with, and for not having voted in line with their publication’s editorial and political opinions.
The Punch’s editorial today is, however, entirely in line with holding and exercising the right of free speech and freedom of the press, as my friend and colleague, Femi Adesina said earlier today.
Femi said the fact that The Punch could insult the president in a front page editorial and they go home to sleep, peacefully, is the best testimony to the prevalence of the freedom of the press and of expression in the country.
To quote him, “rather than being pejorative, addressing President Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press, which this administration (or regime, if anyone prefers: it is a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve.
“In countries around the world where this right does not exist, newspapers do not publish articles such as the one Punch did today; nor do they get to express political opinions contrary to that of government. The exact freedoms Punch claims are missing are self-evident here – in print, on the internet – for all Nigerians and the whole world to see.
“There is nothing wrong with expressing contrary opinions to this government – nor being in opposition to the president: this is the right of very Nigerian.
“However, calling for the armed overthrow of the democratically elected administration is a different matter entirely: this Punch has in no way done – but others who they seek to defend, have.