A leading Nigerian national newspaper, Punch, has “as a symbolic demonstration of [their] protest against autocracy and military-style repression,” to “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.”
The reference points to human rights violations levelled against President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, violence and high handedness of security officers and detention of journalists.
President Buhari first came into power in Nigeria as a coup plotter. He quickly started his repression against the media and Nigerians by starting a facile reformation tagged War Against Indiscipline, (WAI). The reformation saw Nigerian soldiers walk around the nooks and crannies of the country, meting out brutal punishments to civilians between 1984 and 1985.
In 2019, the proverb, “a leopard never changes its spots” has revealed the error of many Nigerians in voting president Buhari into power in 2015 as many Nigerians feel betrayed. President Buhari who had contested thrice before emerging as president was marketed as a “reformed democrat” who had learned the ropes of democracy in the period he had been absent from power.
Since Buhari came into power, the civic space in Nigeria has shrunk and court orders have been flouted at every point in time. On Thursday, (Dec. 5) officers of the State Security Service (SSS) stormed a Federal High Court in Abuja in an attempt to re-arrest Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian journalist and activist who had been in custody for 125 days.
Punch newspaper in its editorial stated, “PUNCH will not adopt the self-defeating attitude of many Nigerians looking the other way after each violation of rights and attacks on the citizens, the courts, the press and civic society, including self-determination groups lawfully exercising their inalienable rights to peaceful dissent. This regime’s actions and assaults on the courts, disobedience of court orders and arbitrary detention of citizens reflect its true character of the martial culture. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) ran a ham-fisted military junta in 1984/85 and old habits obviously run deep.”
The response by Nigerians across social media has been overwhelmingly supportive of the editorial by the newspaper. At a time when dictatorship rules, Wole Soyinka’s quote comes to mind, “the man dies in all who keep quiet in the face of tyranny.”
Meanwhile the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, Femi Adesina has dismissed the newspaper’s editorial stance and said in a tweet: “If you decide to call him Major General, he wasn’t dashed the rank, he earned it. So, you are not completely out of order. The fact that you can do so is even another testimony to press freedom in Nigeria.”