LAST Friday, February 2, 2018, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, addressed a press conference, where he made grave allegations against the nation’s media and specifically, The Sun newspaper, accusing it of “promoting hate speeches.”
In a voice dripping with unmasked anger and irritation, Mr. Shehu descend- ed on The Sun, profiling it as a newspaper that was reckless and irresponsible in its coverage of the Benue/herders crisis. He also accused the newspaper of not supporting the government. Mr. Shehu’s broadsides was, to say the least, shocking and unbelievable.
Ordinarily, we would have ignored Shehu’s diatribe, but for the sake of many undiscerning members of the public, who may not be apprised of the issues at stake, and also to set the records straight for posterity, we are constrained to offer a response.
First, what were the deputy spokes- man’s evidences in the press conference? An interview granted to Saturday Sun by one of the Miyetti Allah’s
leaders, threatening that there would be more violence if the anti-grazing law was not repealed by the Benue State government. The second, was an opinion piece by a columnist, Dr. Amanze Obi, calling on the authorities and leadership of the country to rise to the challenge of protecting life and property or they would vicariously have to be held liable for their actions and inactions.
These were the issues for which he descended on The Sun newspaper and hoisted it for public ridicule and opprobrium.
We reject in its entirety Garba Shehu’s hate speech against The Sun as well as tag of promoter of ‘hate speeches,’ which he, maliciously and unfairly, laboured to foist on our newspaper without any scintilla of evidence. We hope this is not a calculated ploy to give a dog a bad name in a bid to hang it.
Shehu, in his press conference, alluded to an interview granted to The Sun by one of the Miyetti Allah’s leaders threatening more violence as evidence against this newspaper. But as we write, we are not aware the man who spoke has either denied making the statement or quizzed for his utterances, if it was considered offensive. The newspaper was merely drawing attention of the authorities to the possibility of a likely more violence, going by the utterances of one of the key parties to the conflict. Nothing more. Our publication can not, by that act, be accused of promoting hate speech, and then publicly pilloried.
One of the emerging absurdities in the journalism profession in Nigeria is the penchant of erstwhile professionals, who, on becoming government officials, mount the high horse and holler pontifications on rules and ethics, which they hardly practised while they were in practice. The man, who accused this newspaper of propagating hate speeches, himself holds a distinguished medal as purveyor of hate speeches. In case he has forgotten, here is what he said about his principal, as spokesman of Atiku Abubakar, in the run up to the primaries: “I don’t even think Buhari is the best candidate, because Buhari as military head of state has the worst human rights record in the country. I will prefer a neutral candidate. I don’t mind, but I will prefer a neutral candidate, because we would, if Buhari becomes the president, even get back to a worse situation than we are going through now. There are many top contenders for the alliance presidential ticket who are really truly democratic, and who we can always support to emerge.”
At this juncture, we wish to reiterate what The Sun stands for (and has always stood for): Pro-people and pro-Nigeria. We are not an ethnic, religious, sectional or politically biased newspaper. We are The Sun. We are voice of the nation. We shine for the benefit of all Nigerians and mankind.
We are not and have never been the mouthpiece or megaphone of a government in power. That is not part of our mandate as boldly enunciated in our volume one, No1 edition of January 18, 2003. Right from the Olusegun Obasanjo era through Umar Yar’Adua to Goodluck Jonathan, we have maintained consistent loyalty to our nation and her people. We are not about to deviate from that.
On the charge of not offering enough support to the administration, our response is unambiguous: Our chairman/publisher’s political leaning has never coloured or blighted our mission and vision at any time since our founding 15 years ago. Even when he was in the PDP and PPA, we remained unwavering in our defence of truth and justice, to the consternation of the powers-that-be then.
In 2014 to 2015, as many Nigerians will readily attest, this newspaper, in its editorial position, solidly sided with the Nigerian people who yearned for change, even when our publisher was a very close friend and ally of the leadership of the country at the time.
And when he moved on to APC, we were categorical of what our position will be: Loyalty to Nigeria and Nigerians. Not to any political party. Not to any other interests: ethnic, political or religious, because as we stated then: “We believe strongly that every newspaper is public trust, which is bigger than the proprietor, the government and the leaders of the country at any time. Governments will come and go; presidents will come and go, but our nation and people remain. We are for nation and people.”
A newspaper with such robust manifesto cannot descend to the gutter of promoting hate speeches, as Mr. Shehu has unfairly alleged.
Finally, we wish to advise government functionaries to be more decorous and civil in their language when addressing public issues. There’s more mileage to be garnered when insults and attacks are not part of communication processes and responses.
Government officials at all levels must continue to remind themselves that they are servants not masters of the people; that it is a privilege, not a right to serve in government of a country with over 170 million people; that they are not the only purveyors of patriotism, simply because they have found themselves in office and power. The media is not lacking in patriotism. The Sun is a patriotic partner in the Nigerian project.