President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against press freedom begun many years back, a renowned journalist revealed.
Buhari had as far back 1984 vowed to tamper with press freedom. This claim was revealed in an exclusive interview with KAYODE OYERO, former Editor-In-Chief of Newswatch Magazine and Chief Executive Officer of MayFive Media Limited, Ray Ekpu.
Recently, the federal government of Nigeria under the leadership of Muhammadu Buhari suspended the operation of Twitter in Nigeria. Following the suspension of the widely used social media platform, the Federal Government is also pushing for the amendment of the Nigeria Press Council Act and the National Broadcasting Commission Act in the National Assembly to ‘regulate’ the press.
Reacting to the current moves by the Nigerian government on press freedom, Ekpu recalled his encounter with the Nigerian leader 37 years back.
What are your thoughts on these moves? Ekpu asked with readiness to narrate a scary comment made years ago by the incumbent leader of the nation.
Ekpu said: “The people who are doing these have never followed the history of the Nigerian Press from pre-colonial days up till now. If they followed that history, they will see how the press, particularly the print media, fought the colonialists to a standstill to get independence.
Both military and civilian governments that we’ve had in the past tried to muzzle the freedom of the press and the press has always fought valiantly. The people who are doing this have no idea of the historical significance of the struggle for press freedom and free speech in this country.
“What is happening is not strange because President Buhari is not a democrat even though he claims that he is a born-again democrat. I was one of three persons – the others were Dele Giwa and Yakubu Mohammed – who interviewed Major General Muhammadu Buhari on February 6, 1984, and we were shocked when the man said, ‘I will tamper with press freedom. I will tamper with press freedom’.
The veteran journalist continued: “When we came out of the interview from Dodan Barracks, Dele Giwa said, ‘We are all in trouble’. I said, ‘Yes, we are all in trouble with this man’. And he (Buhari) has not changed. He has not changed. He now has a Minister of Information (and Culture, Lai Mohammed), who is vigorously anti-press; he wants Nigeria to be like China.
If it is a question of making money like China, let him show the way but if it is a question of going to borrow money from China, we are not ready. There is nothing in terms of freedom of democracy that we can borrow from China because we’ve had our China here – many years of military rule, that was China and we fought the military to a standstill.
“I don’t know whether they know the history of the press council. General Yakubu Gowon (retd.) tried it, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo tried it, we blocked it, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) tried it, the first one we shut it down, the second one, they reviewed it, we were managing it, we made some input and we said, ‘Okay, it was alright’.
“Later, some people said to General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.): ‘Let’s revive this thing’ and General Abubakar said we should look at it. The Nigerian Press Organisation sat down and we had a meeting. We had several meetings of the NPO and we came up with our own position which was acceptable to the generality of the people in the media and the civil society groups. The mischievous people within the government went and tinkered with it and introduced punitive measures but we kicked and rejected it. We went to court.
The NPO led by Ismaila Isa, Sam Amuka, Ray Ekpu, Nduka Obaigbena, we brought in a few other people and went to court; we took the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Information to court and won. The case is at the Supreme Court now and we are waiting for the last ruling. [Credit: The PUNCH].
On Tuesday, June 22, the ECOWAS court sitting in Abuja ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration should not stop anyone from using Twitter until the final suit is determined by the court.
Naija News reports that the court barred the federal government and its agents from intimidating, sanctioning, arresting, or prosecuting anyone for using Twitter in Nigeria, pending the final determination of the suit.