There has been an on going debate since the news broke that the president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari barred the reporters of African Independent Television (AIT), a privately owned tv station from covering his activities citing security concerns over his family and ethical issues as reasons for the decision. Nigerians are divided over the expedience of this decision, with a section of the populace insisting that it doesn’t bode well for our democracy especially in the light of the fear among certain quarters that General Buhari who was a former military dictator cannot totally shed his military toga and embrace the ideals of democracy altogether. With a history of fiercely clamping down on the media and free speech through the enactment of the Decree 4 which forbade any journalist from reporting any information considered embarrassing to any government official during his first stint at the helm of affairs, some people are justifiably worried by the news of Buhari barring AIT.
On the other hand, others are of the opinion that it is a step in the right direction considering the fact that AIT ran a campaign of calumny against the president-elect in the build up to the presidential elections. The one-hour long documentary portraying General Buhari as a tyrant among many other obnoxious names readily comes to mind. First of all, it was must be stated unequivocally that AIT acted in the most unprofessional and irresponsible manner by airing a documentary which was clearly aimed at defaming the character of an individual. Many of the accusations leveled against Buhari were outright lies and only ended up presenting AIT as a bias news medium that can hardly be trusted for fair and balanced reporting which should be the hallmark of any media outlet and indeed the way good journalism should be practiced. Yes, there is freedom of information which is aimed at giving the press free access to information but the press also have the responsibility of ensuring that whatever information they disseminate to the public is true! Freedom without responsibility degenerates into anarchy!
I can empathize with the president-elect. AIT unarguably hit him below the belt, especially by implying that he was responsible for the death of his late ex-wife and daughter who lost their respective battles with diabetes and sickle cell anaemia. The loss of a loved one is something most people don’t even wish on their enemies, and so for AIT to play that card just to disparage the person of Buhari is something I still can’t wrap my head around. Most people who have experienced the loss of a spouse or child never really recover from it throughout that lives and so that part of the documentary must hurt General Buhari till this day and for a long time to come. Those who expect him to “man up” and rise above AIT’s low blow with a snap of the fingers are only being either hypocrites or highly ignorant. The incoming president is first and foremost a human being, made of flesh and blood just like the rest of us before being whatever else that defines him. And so, in this regard I cannot begrudge Buhari on his decision.
But then again…there’s more than one way to skin a cat. General Buhari’s history with the media essentially translates to the harsh reality that he cannot really win if he decides to go down the route of snubbing AIT (even though this is not new even in the western world) or any other media house for that matter. True, he is still technically a private citizen (albeit one in the limelight) and reserves the right to decide who he would like to have around him, but caution beckons. It would be better for the incoming president to sue AIT for libel as a proper channel to get justice, as well as make a mental note to disband the currently toothless Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and appoint media professionals who can enforce the ethics of broadcasting and hold media platforms accountable for their content in order to forestall a future occurrence of such shameful journalism when he gets into power than to toe the path of blacklisting any media house.
The timely intervention of the APC in reversing Buhari’s contentious decision is a welcome development in this matter, as it has doused a tense situation. There is no way the people’s general as he is fondly called can muzzle the press successfully in a democratic dispensation regardless of the circumstances leading to his decision. The incoming president must realize and quickly too that hateful comments and propaganda are a part of the package. Things will likely get worse when he becomes president and has to take certain controversial decisions. He will be misunderstood many times, he will be criticized brutally. He is going to be the president of an eclectic mix of people housed in the most populous black nation in the world. Bad press undoubtedly comes with the territory. Welcome to democracy Mr President-Elect.