Nigeria’s Buhari not bothered by description with a military rank over rights violations

News Outfit to address President Buhari as Major General and administration as
buhari unbothered by Punch calling him Major General

One of Nigeria’s major national dailies, The Punch newspaper has in a scathing editorial on Wednesday said it will henceforth refer to President Muhammadu Buhari with his military rank of Major General, despite his earlier retirement from the military, over rising violations of human rights. But Buhari’s handlers in a statement said they were not bothered. 

It comes on a day when the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari also sent out a statement castigating a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu for interference in her family’s activities through an act of disobedience to the office of the First Lady. Both events are the hottest topics in most cafés and public areas across the country. 

The editorial with the headline “Buhari’s lawlessness: our stand” and published on Wednesday denounced last week’s invasion of a court premises in the capital, Abuja by Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS to arrest a pro-democracy activist and news publisher, Omoyele Sowore who had been granted bail after previously being held in illegal detention since August 22.

“As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, PUNCH…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.”

The national daily said the “entire country and a global audience are rightly scandalised by the unfolding saga over Omoyele Sowore and the unruliness of the SSS and the government; but it is only a pattern, a reflection of the serial disregard of the Buhari regime for human rights and its battering of other arms of government and our democratic institutions.”

Buhari’s government reacts

The presidency was swift in its response with Spokesman, Femi Adesina in a statement saying that there was nothing wrong with the decision even though some of the accusations were unfair to President Buhari. 

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“A newspaper says it will henceforth address President Muhammadu Buhari by his military rank of Major General. Nothing untoward in it. It is a rank the President attained by dint of hard work before he retired from the Nigerian Army. And today, constitutionally, he’s also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” Adesina stated 

Adesina went on to state that 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’s a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve.”

Despite the response, the daily said it 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 civil society, including self-determination groups lawfully exercising their inalienable rights to peaceful dissent.”

President Buhari had previously ruled Nigeria as a military leader between 1984 – 1985 after he took over from the coup that ousted the democratically elected government of late President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic. 

Then Major General Buhari ran a tight-fisted military junta in his bid to jail corrupt politicians with many of the accused persons jailed by military tribunals for over 100 years, in some circumstances. Many activists and journalists were not left out in the crackdown on dissent during that period.

Ironically, it was the same anti-corruption posture that got Buhari democratically elected in 2015 after his All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition defeated then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) due to agitations for the purging of corrupt politicians in the country.

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The State Security Service (SSS) under President Buhari has recently been accused of high-handedness and serial abuse of court orders and Gestapo-style raid on residences of judges, parliamentarians and opposition leaders. 

Leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim el-Zakzakky and his wife have spent over three years in detention in violation of court orders granting them bail and ordering their release. A former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has also been held in detention since 2015 in defiance of several court orders, including one by the ECOWAS appellate court that declared his continued incarceration illegal. 

“Under Buhari, the SSS has become a monstrous and repressive secret police, acting often with impunity. Buhari bears responsibility for the state of repression because, as president, he can stop it today,” the Punch wrote. 

The newspaper denounced Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, stating that he had suddenly forgotten “how, as opposition spokesman in 2014, he was harassed by the SSS and accused of “loitering.”(He has) been vigorously pressing for anti-hate speech laws to restrict social media. Abdullahi Sabi, a senator, along with others, has re-presented a hate-speech bill: their sole purpose is to insulate officials from criticism and compel unquestioned acceptance of Buhari’s draconian misrule.”

The national daily said it believes that “Buhari can still redeem himself and his out-of-control security agents and reclaim his past facade of tolerance.”

Nigerians divided over editorial 

The editorial has since become a major subject of discussion among Nigerians with many people divided on the matter, including those in government. 

Speaker of the regional Oyo State House of Assembly governed by the national opposition PDP, Honourable Adebo Ogundoyin in his reaction said:

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“Today’s @MobilePunch editorial, its resolution to henceforth prefix @MBuhari with Major General & refer to his administration as a regime in protest against autocracy is another huge feat renewing our hope in the media as a strong voice ready to hold govt. accountable & responsible.” 

Dr Thompson Udenwa called for caution by the newspaper. “Call him whatever you want, but no Nigerian leader in our most recent democracy has exemplified true respect for democracy and its institutions like President (Major General) Buhari has. #Thread” 

Journalist Fisayo Soyombo said “Many of you are happy with @MobilePunch this minute, but what will you do if/when the lawless agents of this govt come after the paper and its editors? Will you look the other way, because you’re not in PUNCH’s employ, or will you be ‘alive’ enough to offer solidarity?” 

One commentator even asked for the resignation of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of law. Boye Steve wrote “This is a great and brave piece of editorial. We all need to stand up against this tyranny. I call on the VP, as a constitutional law professor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to resign from this despotic regime now.” 

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