Tinubu campaign-Arise TV spat raises fear of media repression
The demand by two senior campaign officials of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that ThisDay newspapers fire editors they say are critical of their party flies in the face of a free press and threatens to continue the pattern of repression from President Muhammadu Buhari, should the party win the next presidential election.
The Board of Editors of ThisDay/Arise News, in a release on Sunday, accused Bayo Onanuga, the APC Presidential Campaign Council’s director of media and publicity, Dele Alake, its director of strategic communication, of attempting to silence independent media and bully the free press ahead of the 2023 general elections to elicit favourable reporting on their principal.
They said the attacks worsened since the publication in the ThisDay edition of 18th November, 2022 on the death of one Mueez Adegboyega Akande, a Tinubu associate mentioned by the United States authorities as being involved in a drug trafficking investigation of Tinubu in 1993.
According to the editors, the ThisDay report introduced the person who died as Mueez but included a condolence message from Lagos State governor to the family of Kolapo Akande.
Following the report, the Tinubu campaign council was miffed at the suggestion, especially from social media commentary, trying to link the death to a possible cover-up for a case concluded decades ago.
The ThisDay Board insists the paper has a legitimate right to report the issue. According to ThisDay/Arise Board of Editors, with documents already in the public domain about Tinubu’s funds forfeiture over drug investigation in the US, it was important to state that for national security, foreign policy, and national interest, any candidate aspiring to be the president of Nigeria should not shy away from media scrutiny concerning any link with drug trafficking, or be associated with anyone so involved, however tangentially.
They stressed that it was a national security question for which all patriots must seek answers, saying it goes to the heart of the country’s nascent democracy and indeed its political stability.
However, the development has not gone down well with the Tinubu campaign council. The organisation has attacked the media house in press releases, sponsored articles and social media posts. It has also rejected all the invitations to town halls organised by the ThisDay/Arise with other presidential aspirants.
“We noticed that Arise News has also been running a campaign on the so-called constitutional duty of the presidential candidates to participate in its debate by dubiously citing section 22 of the Constitution of Nigeria on the obligation of the Mass Media…there is no part of the constitution and the section 22 that says a presidential candidate of any political party and least of all, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu must participate in Arise Town Hall event..,” said the Tinubu campaign council.
Some of the more unnerving accusations refer to efforts to get the media company to fire journalists it perceived as critical, cast aspersions on the person of the publisher and force the paper to desist from reporting on the alleged ties of its presidential candidates to drug trafficking in the 1990s.
“Imagine this insecure duo of Onanuga and Alake already threatening the free press when they are seeking our votes. What will they do if Tinubu was elected President? Kill independent media or take their markets over using the power of the state and replacing them with media platforms they control and which kowtow to them?” the editors said.
Many who reacted to the post on social media expressed concern that a Tinubu presidency may precipitate a far worse hostile atmosphere for free press than the Buhari government.
Fola Folayan, media entrepreneur and communication specialist, tweeted that the move “is the height of ridiculousness and an indication of what their attitude will be towards independent media if you allow them into Aso Rock.”
Under the APC-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari, several Nigerian journalists have been arrested, media houses targeted, a law to gag the media has been proposed and Twitter access has been restricted for Nigerians.
Analysts say it would be dangerous for Nigeria’s wellbeing if these attacks against independent media organisations were to fester.
The Nigerian government’s template for gagging the media is passing obnoxious laws that violate section 39 (1) of the 1999 constitution which protects free expression and a free press.
When that fails, they subtly try to control the media by choosing only favourable media outlets to place statutory adverts and other media partnerships to strip the media of revenue.
Sometimes, brute force is employed when media offices are ransacked and journalists arrested on trumped-up charges.
An even more insidious pattern of press intimidation by the Buhari government is through paid social media influencers, including his Buhari Media Organisation, who have coalesced into a vengeful army to disparage media reports and journalists that appear critical of the government.
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So far, social discourse has degenerated into virulent name-calling and savage attacks by young people who have no idea that they are doing violence to their own future, and that they are merely keyboard warriors employed in defence of their marauders.
The influencers include grifters hired to deodorise dumb economic policies like border closure with intellectual sophistry.
Under this government, the roar of civil society has been replaced by helpless barks, the judiciary has been defanged, protests are crushed with fury, and the gambit is to muzzle the press.
Analysts say the Nigerian press has sufficiently been defanged so that even the worst revelations about corruption and abuse of power by the APC-led government are met with smear campaigns, state-sponsored attacks and whataboutism by former journalists and other e-bandits hired to whitewash the image of a failed government.
“When you publish things online, there are some hired people, what you call e-rats, hired by government officials who come to attack the publications or make some uncomplimentary comments about the writer and the organisation,” Lekan Otufodurin, executive director/managing editor at Media Career Development Network, told BusinessDay.
The challenge for the nation now is how to keep another person keen on muzzling the press away from Aso Rock.