By Terfa Naswem,
During Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime, he attempted to stifle criticism. Journalists were harassed, and many critics were arrested. The government of Buhari made no pretence of its intention to censor the media. In an interview with SUNDAY CONCORD, Buhari was explicit that he would tamper with freedom of the press. According to THE COMMUNICATOR (1985), he was reported to have been particularly irked by the role the press played in the N2.3 billion oil money controversy when he was the Minister of Petroleum Resources. Shortly after, his administration enacted the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No.4, by 1984. In his book MASS MEDIA IN NIGERIA: PERSPECTIVE ON GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT (2007), Rodney Ciboh writes that the decree came eleven days after two GUARDIAN journalists Messrs Nuduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were arrested and detained without explanation over a report on ambassadorial appointments carried by THE GUARDIAN of April 8, 1984. Tuned Thompson, senior diplomatic correspondent was arrested on April 11, 1984. The arrest of Nduka Irabor, an Assistant News Editor followed six days later on April 17. For ten days no explanation was given for their arrests. On the eleventh day late Tunde Idiagbon, then Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters came out to say that Government was embarrassed by a report on diplomatic missions carried by THE GUARDIAN of April 8, 1984. THE GUARDIAN reports on April 8 titled: “HARUNA REPLACES HANNANIYA AS NEW UK ENVOY” had speculated that then major General Haruna may replace Hannaniya as new U.K envoy. Two previous editions of the paper had also carried stories on diplomatic missions.
THE GUARDIAN Journalists were later arraigned on June 4, 1984, two months after their arrest, before the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Tribunal on charges of publishing false statements contrary to Decree 4 of 1984. Their trial lasted for one month. On July 5, 1984, the Justice Olalere Ayinde tribunal jailed each of them to one year imprisonment and fined THE GUARDIAN newspaper N50, 000.00 to be paid within 24 hours of the judgment day without appeal. Harassment of Journalists became frequent and government withdrew advertizing from private newspapers and denied them newsprint. Ciboh says that newsprint imported and duly paid for by Concord group was impounded and distributed free to government owned newspapers.
Buhari should not temper with the freedom of the press this time. The proposed hate speech monitoring team on Social Media should be halted. Nigerians should have the freedom to criticize. How can Buhari and Federal Government effectively distinguish between hate speech and criticisms? Since political bias is felt all over, the proposed hate speech monitoring team will be bias and just fight anyone against Buhari and the Federal Government. Buhari should know that he cannot fight corruption effectively without press freedom. The media should be given the freedom to work for the interest of the nation especially when it comes to investigative journalism and media report on the misdeeds of corrupt leaders and others regardless of who they are.