SENIOR Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu has attacked The Punch Newspaper over its editorial piece which vowed to address Buhari as ‘Major-General’.
The PUNCH had published an editorial piece on Wednesday expressing discontent over violation of human rights under Buhari’s administration.
“As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, PUNCH (all our print newspapers, The PUNCH, Saturday PUNCH, Sunday PUNCH, PUNCH Sports Extra, and digital platforms, most especially Punchng.com) will henceforth prefix Buhari’s name with his rank as a military dictator in the 80s, Major General, and refer to his administration as a regime, until they purge themselves of their insufferable contempt for the rule of law,” PUNCH wrote.
But in response to the stand of the newspaper, Shehu said The PUNCH’s editorial was a sign of freedom of expression in Nigeria under Buhari’s administration as opined by Femi Adesina, another spokesperson to the president.
Adesina had said “rather than being pejorative, addressing President Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press, which this administration (or regime, if anyone prefers: it is a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve”.
Shehu noted that in countries where freedom of expression is not allowed, newspapers do not publish articles such as the one Punch did, nor do they get to express political opinions contrary to that of government.
He said that The PUNCH should not allow it’s personal hatred stand against the good judgement of Buhari’s administration.
“Its personal hatred for and animus towards President Buhari should not be allowed to becloud its good judgment,” he wrote on Twitter.
Questioning the newspaper’s decision, Shehu said “is it within the paper’s responsibility or power to change the official title of the man who occupies the office of the President? Does that mean any newspaper is free to address the Comptroller General of Customs a Colonel rather than his official title”.
“The Constitution of Nigeria recognises the President as the formal the official title of the occupant of that office. Can the Punch newspapers, in their hubris address the President as Prime Minister as it pleases?” he added.
He said although there is nothing wrong with expressing contrary opinions to the Buhari’s administration but calling for an armed overthrow of an elected government is a ‘totally different matter’.
“We welcome your contribution to the debate, but we ask you not to throw insults at the good voters of Nigeria for not agreeing to your choice at the last election,” Shehu wrote.
In Buhari’s defence, Shehu said that The PUNCH did not change title of former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he disobeyed a court verdict that ordered him to release N30billion of Lagos State local councils funds.
He added that the newspaper did not challenge Ibrahim Babangida when he shut media houses for several months and years, including The PUNCH.
“Punch Newspaper’s double standards in cuddling some of our past dictators and their open contempt for President Buhari clearly show that the newspaper has sinister motives for its current curious editorial judgment,” he further added
He urged the newspaper to separate journalism from partisan politics adding that The PUNCH’s editorial was purely political designed to play to the gallery and cause confusion.