Expelling journalist was silly move from presidency

Marching out a state house correspondent from Aso Rock was daft move from Buhari's presidency.

Buhari with a few of his media, communication aides

Adetayo got into trouble with the Villa over a story he authored with the headline: “Fresh anxiety in Aso Rock over Buhari’s poor health”.

The story posed several questions pertaining to President Muhammadu Buhari’s failing health and why the nation’s number one citizen hasn’t been seen in public in recent times.

From a journalistic point of view, it was a decent enough story.

The journalist is a traditional gatekeeper. He owes the public information and education even at the risk of his life. He’s tasked with asking questions everyone else is scared stiff of asking.

It’s a tough job but it’s what we all signed up for.

To paraphrase a line from that famous commercial, “It’s a tough job, but hey, somebody’s gotta do it.”

However, what the journalist doesn’t owe the public is misinformation and on a later date, the court of public opinion or the law courts should determine whether the journalist sold his audience a fib in this case.

However, in gestapo fashion, Adetayo was herded into the office of the President’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) and quizzed over his story.

The journalist spent 45 minutes with his interrogators.

Thereafter, the officer in Charge, Department of State Services, Victor Nwafor, was asked to withdraw Adetayo’s accreditation tag.

He was later seen out of the Presidential Villa by security operatives after being asked to pick his belongings from the press gallery of the council chamber.

This was Buhari’s Decree 4 of 1984 all over again and it’s a good thing that Nigerians took to social media to rail against Adetayo’s treatment because it evoked memories of that infamous draconian decree.

An embarrassed presidency corrected its mistake within minutes. And just as well.

“We weren't consulted in the media office by the CSO before he expelled The Punch reporter. President Buhari is committed to press freedom”, said Femi Adesina who is the President’s Special Adviser on media and publicity.

“An amicable solution would be found to The Punch reporter matter. President Buhari does not intend to muzzle the media in any way”, the President’s aide added.

Hours later, the Punch reporter was asked to make a return to the Villa.

“Lekan Adetayo, The Punch Correspondent, has been recalled to the State House. We reiterate PMB's commitment to press freedom,” read a twitter post from the handle of the Nigerian presidency.

Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said “We just got a clearance from Malam Lawal Daura, the DG SSS, to recall Lekan to the Villa. Please come along with him tomorrow.

”The Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adesina and I will resolve the issues”.

What was the CSO or DSS boss Lawan Daura thinking when they ordered Adetayo to leave the Villa?

The point has to be made here that in a democracy, a free press is a sine qua non.

The Villa hated Adetayo’s story but you seek redress if you feel you’ve been dealt an unfair hand in a story, through democratic channels; not interrogate the journalist like he was a common criminal and yank him off his duty post because you can.

This was certainly the handiwork of overzealous security officials and they should be educated by their bosses.

On March 29, 1984, the military administration of General Muhammadu Buhari promulgated Decree 4.

A couple of sections of the decree read as follows:

“Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement, being a message, rumour, statement or report which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree”.

Decree 4 stands as one of the most dreaded and repressive laws ever drafted in this nation.

A couple of journalists ended up in jail during the period as well, after having been adjudged of running foul of the law.

On Monday, April 24, 2017, the presidency took Nigerians 33 years down memory lane.

Adetayo should be apologised to at the next press briefing inside the State House.

His right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution was violated by the Villa on Monday.

He was humiliated for doing his job.

In this case, the journalist was intimidated and an attempt made to gag him.

He deserves better. We all deserve better.


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