Buhari: Let The Media Be

By Julius Oweh
ESPITE the huge political capital invested on Candidate Muhammadu Buhari as transparently not corrupt, a section of the Nigerian population dreaded his unfriendly disposition to the press and that it was likely for him to bare his dictatorial fangs once in a while as a former military dictator. The APC spin doctors and propagandists went to town to convince Nigerians that the man was a born again democrat. Today some of his supporters and media handlers will be sorely disappointed from the vibrations of the Buhari camp. That president-elect that rode on the crest of popular mandate and the mantra of `change` so early in his administration yet to be inaugurated could be hostile to the mass media, is unfortunate. I am talking about the recent order that AIT crew should not be allowed to cover his activities based on some nebulous notion of security and family concerns.
Mallam Garba Shehu, a former editor and the director of the APC presidential campaign gave the order and he seems to be acting on the order of his principal. These are the exact words of Shehu:`AIT has been asked to stay aside based on security and family concerns. In addition Buhari has decided that they have to resolve some issues relating to issues of standard and ethics`. For a professional, it is unfortunate that Shehu did not advise his principal on the implication of closing door against the press. Whatever may be the crimes of AIT during the presidential campaign, it is highly undignified for Buhari to exert a pound of flesh from the news organization. A man popularly elected by the people should have minimum tolerance of the press even those against his person and programmes. We begin to entertain the fear that Nigerians would be treated to a highly intolerant presidency that would march on the freedom of the press and the rights of the people to express their opinion. Let it be stated clearly here and now that once you are in public office, you must be under the constant surveillance of the press. If you do not like it, then you have no business seeking public office.
Truth is that during the presidential campaign AIT because the owner happened to be a PDP man allowed itself to be used for the hate documentaries and campaign messages. I was even put off by the obvious and nauseating partisan reportage of the AIT and I am even surprised that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission looked the other side. But that is history and that should not be a valid excuse for the president-elect to bar the AIT crew from covering his activities. Here we are talking of a president-elect and not some obscure retired armed general. Those in Buhari team must draw a line between what is of public value and strictly private affars. Nobody is supporting the unethical reportage of AIT during the campaigns. But what we are protecting here is the freedom of expression and the rights of the Nigerian people to know what the president-elect is doing from time to time.
That is why this piece believes that Shehu got it all wrong. The Nigerian people want to know the so called security and family concerns. When did the media become a security threat to the president-elect? What are those family concerns that Buhari wants to protect? This is very untidy and unpresidential of Buhari? Those who described President Goodluck Jonathan as clueless and incompetent are jittery about adversary journalism. The naked fact is that not all sections of the press can be friendly to those in government. Here in Delta State, there is a publication named Zion Nationale which stripe of journalism is to publish the sleazy affairs of those in government. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has not banned the reporters from covering government activities. In the United States of America, Fox News does not see anything good in the Obama administration yet the president has not stopped the medium from covering the White House. There are other right wing conservative media houses that demonized the Obama administration yet the man has carried on with his administration. If Buhari and his handlers in their wildest imagination believe that all sections of the press shall be friendly to them, they have to wake up from that delusion. He must learn to live with irritant section of the press and the ability to tolerate the press shall show his democratic credentials. This is just beginning and more are likely to come in the next four years. In the phraseology of Chinua Achebe, a man with maggot infested firewood should expect the visit of the lizards.
It is hoped that the ban of AIT from covering the activities of the president- elect is not an echo of decree 14. Agreed that members of the press are neither elected nor appointed as the members of the fourth estate of the realm, but the critical and near indispensable role of the media is to hold those in government accountable to the masses, the owners of electoral sovereignty is clear. This is what the Buhari team must come to terms with. That is why the Buhari people should move fast and do the damage control. They have to lift the ban and allow AIT to cover the activities of the president-elect unless they are telling us that such activities are not of public interest. If Buhari and his team are expecting a docile, compromising and apologetic press, then they are in for a rude shock. The vibrant Nigerian press fought for this democracy and would not want anybody to abridge it. We are not doing that for any personal or group gain but for the greater interest and welfare of the Nigerian people on whose behalf, those in governments are holding the electoral mandate. This is the minimum standard of obeying the tenets of democracy and free speech which is the glue of representative government. Should any member of mass media or any organ runs afoul of the law, the relevant sanctions should be imposed. But the recourse to self help under the veneer of banning a news organ from covering the activities of the president- elect or any other government officials for that matter cannot be tolerated. It is abridging the rights of the people to know what those with their mandate are doing. The Nigerian press demands an unreserved apology from the president -elect for closing his doors the against AIT. It is not personal matter, not a security matter but has with the fine grains of democracy. Those who do not like the inquisitive role of the press have to do with the fine grains of democracy.
PS. This article was written before the reversal of the AIT ban by the spokesman of the APC, Lai Mohammed.