ON Monday, April 24, 2017, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to President Muhammadu Buhari, Bashir Abubakar, purportedly expelled The Punch’s State House correspondent, Olalekan Adetayo, from the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He had earlier invited Adetayo to his office and questioned him on two reports he considered uncomplimentary of Buhari and his administration. The reports were published by the newspaper in relation to the health of President Buhari and the lull in the activities at the Aso Rock event centres.
Apparently, the perspectives of the reports displeased Abubakar. He directed Victor Nwafor, the officer in charge of the State Security Service (SSS), to withdraw the correspondent’s accreditation tag and lead him out of the premises after retrieving his personal belongings from the Press Gallery of the Council Chambers. Nwafor left an instruction at the Reception that Adetayo should no longer be allowed into the premises. He handed Adetayo over to another security operative who led him to his car and ensured that he left the premises as instructed.
The media carried the story with scathing criticism of the manifest high-handedness in Abubakar’s behaviour.The Punch protested what it described as the humiliation of its reporter, describing the expulsion as unwarranted, unjustified and condemnable. The paper asked the Presidency to formally rebuke the CSO and demanded an apology as a precondition for its reporter’s return to the State House. In a swift reaction, the Presidency distanced itself from the sudden expulsion of the reporter from the Presidential Villa. Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said that his office was not consulted before the decision was taken.
However, rather than apologise for his unacceptable conduct, Abubakar, in a memo sent to his colleagues in the Villa, detailed the alleged transgressions and ethical concerns observed in Adetayo’s reporting of activities of the State House and pronounced him unfit to continue on the beat. He advised The Punch to send a “more matured (sic), professional and patriotic representative that will work in the overall interest of the nation rather than self-serving and parochial interests.”
The trend towards harassing journalists by the CSO was first noticed in January when he summoned Daily Trust and The Punch’s correspondents over a story on an accidental discharge that injured a female worker at the State House. Then, on the Thursday preceding the expulsion of the Punch reporter, he had an interactive session with members of the State House Press Corps during which he handed them guidelines on how to report the Villa. This behaviour is certainly not acceptable. The activities of the CSO need to be checked in order to preserve the freedom of the press at the seat of power. While we welcome Adesina’s clarification of the president’s position on the event, we note that the State House is yet to issue an apology to The Punch.
We draw the president’s attention to the escalating spate of arrests of journalists and intimidation of bloggers in Nigeria. These have occurred at both national and state levels. At the last count, no fewer than eight journalists have been either arrested or intimidated by the authorities. According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, Nigeria is classified as a country hostile to press freedom. It occupies the 122nd position in the ranking of 180 countries, down six places since last year. This shows that the Buhari administration has become characterised by the suppression of press freedom.
We call on governments at various levels to respect international human rights laws and the Nigerian constitution by protecting the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. They must ensure that the state machinery is not used to harass and intimidate anyone for expressing opinions that those in power find distasteful. The governments must take steps to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the press by curbing the excesses of security agents.