BY TAIWO FAROTIMI
The decision of Punch Newspaper to, in protest over violation of the rule of law under this dispensation, address President Muhammadu Buhari as a Major-General promises to generate reactions as the days roll by. Within hours of its publication online, the statement has generated angry reaction from the official circle, with claims that the paper was able to publish what it did because of the freedom enjoyed by it and Nigerians in general. That is the theme that runs through the statements by two of the president’s aides. But as promptly as the first statement was released, a Nigerian from the opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP faulted the reaction of the presidency and submitted that the newspaper spoke the mind of millions of Nigerians.
Aside from the reaction of Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on media, who said the decision published in the paper’s editorial of Wednesday was a demonstration of freedom enjoyed by Nigerians, contrary to what the paper canvasses, there have been other opinions on it. Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister and social commentator said, ‘Whether he has earned the title of Major General or not the fact remains that Punch has voiced the opinion of millions that your principal is a divisive, vicious, unstable, repressive, fascistic and dangerous tyrant who is unworthy of being called Mr. President.’
Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the president on media, while agreeing with his colleague on the issue carpeted the newspaper for, as he said, insulting Nigerians by describing them as lethargic. He also accused the newspaper of double standard, claiming that while it cuddled past leaders, including General Ibrahim Babangida who proscribed newspapers, one of which is Punch, alleging that the papers ‘open contempt for President Buhari clearly shows that the paper has sinister motives for its current editorial judgement.’
He added, ‘ It is obvious that Punch newspapers are playing partisan politics, which has nothing to do with journalism.’ While arguing that Punch’s position was against the norm, Shehu, a former president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors advised the paper to ‘separate journalism from partisan politics.’ This is because, according to him, the paper was embarking upon a ‘purely political’ course, which he said was capable of creating ‘confusion.’