- Reaffirms commitment to rule of law
- Presidency pledges to uphold free speech, free press
- Says no newspaper can change Buhari’s official designation
Ejiofor Alike in Lagos and Olawale Ajimotokan, Alex Enumah in Abuja
Apparently responding to public outrage against the invasion, by the Department of State Services (DSS), of the court of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu at Federal High Court, Lagos last Friday, the federal government has instituted an enquiry into the incident.
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), said this wednesday while speaking to journalists shortly after a visit to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, in Abuja.
The DSS had last Friday invaded the courtroom in its bid to re-arrest Publisher of Sahara Reporters and Convener of #RevolutionNow, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, who was released from detention, following a bail, granted him by the court, less than 24 hours after his re-arrest.
The security operatives had swooped on Sowore just as he was stepping out of the court after his case was adjourned till February 11 next year.
However, efforts by the DSS to immediately seize him was unsuccessful as Sowore with the aid of some of his supporters managed to run back into the court room where he took refuge for nearly an hour before a truce was reached between his lawyer and the DSS.
However, the DSS denied the invasion, saying it re-arrested Sowore outside the precinct of the court.
The agency also got the backing of the presidency, which said it had powers to deal with security threats.
The action of the DSS was widely condemned both within and outside the country as it was seen as a desecration of the temple of justice and flagrant disobedience of court orders and the rule of law.
Responding to questions from journalists, Malami said although the incident was worrisome he would wait for the outcome of the investigation into the event.
“It is worrisome for us but I cannot be pre-emptive of an incident that I was not a live witness; the government has put in place mechanism to investigate the reported incidence and I would not want to pre-empt in terms of concluding, one way or the other without allowing the conclusion and consummation of the investigation process,” he said.
The AGF, however, assured the nation that the government remains committed to the rule of law and sanctity of the courts.
Malami said aside the case of Sowore, there were many serious cases the federal government had interest in but would observe the rule of law in pursuing them.
He said the visit to the CJ was to congratulate him on his confirmation as the substantive Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
According to him, it is traditional of the AGF to pay a visit to a new CJ and assure him of the support of the government.
“To reassure his lordship of our commitment as a government, we want to congratulate him, having been appointed, having been approved, we want to assure him of our allegiance to the institution of the judiciary as well.
“As a government, we have established a tradition of respect for the rule of law; we have established a tradition of interest on the independence of the judiciary,” he added.
He cited recent efforts by the federal government to ensure independence of the judiciary at the states level.
Following recommendation of the National Judicial Council, President Muhammadu Buhari had nominated Justice Tsoho as substantive Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
His nomination was recently confirmed by the Senate.
Presidency Pledges to Uphold Free Speech, Free Press
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday restated his commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, saying the fact that the media were free to hold political opinions contrary to those of the government was a testimony that the president, despite his military background, had imbibed the ethos of democracy.
The reassurance was contained in two separate statements from the two presidential spokesmen, Mr. Femi Adesina and Mr. Garba Shehu, on an editorial in yesterday’s edition of a national newspaper (not THISDAY), which criticised the administration’s human rights records and stated its symbolic decision to henceforth refer to him by his military rank, Major General.
However, the presidency responded that “it is not within the power or rights of a newspaper to unilaterally and whimsically change the formal official title or the designation of the country’s president as it pleases.”
It also stated that addressing Buhari by his military rank is another testimony to free speech and freedom of the press in the country.
The clarifications by the presidency came just as the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, accused Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, of disloyalty.
Garba could not be reached at press time to respond to the allegation.
The first statement by Adesina said there was nothing untoward in addressing Buhari by his military rank.
According to him, the rank is what the president attained by dint of hard work before he retired from the Nigerian Army, but has become the democratically elected as President Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces under the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“All over the world, just as in our country, a large number of retired military officers are now democrats. It does not make those who did not pass through military service better than them,” he pointed out, adding: “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 is a matter of semantics) has pledged to uphold and preserve.”
A few hours after Adesina’s statement, another one came from the presidency; and this time, it was signed by Shehu, who described the decision by the newspaper under reference to address Buhari as Major General in his official title and refer to his government as a regime instead of administration, as totally curious and utterly incredible.
Shehu said Buhari was indeed a Major General, but had retired from that position and now twice democratically elected president of Nigeria.
He added that Buhari was the two-time electoral choice of voters.
He said the newspaper’s opinion was entirely in line with holding and exercising the right of free speech and freedom of the press, as Adesina said.
He aligned himself with the position of Adesina that the fact that the newspaper “can insult the president in a front page editorial and they go home to sleep, peacefully, is the best testimony to the prevalence of the freedom of the press and of expression in the country.”
He said: “In countries around the world where this right does not exist, newspapers do not publish articles, such opinion or express political opinions contrary to that of government.
“There is nothing wrong with expressing contrary opinions to this government – nor being in opposition to the president: this is the right of very Nigerian.
“We welcome your contribution to the debate. But we ask you not to throw insults at the good voters of Nigeria for not agreeing to your choice at the last election. Oppose in good humour: for that is the mark of the true democrat – that which you purport to be. It is not within the power or rights of a newspaper to unilaterally and whimsically change the formal official title or the designation of the country’s President as it pleases.”
Describing the newspaper’s decision to refer to the president by his military rank as unprecedented and absurd in Nigeria’s recent political history, Shehu said the newspaper never changed President Olusegun Obasanjo’s title from the president to General, despite the latter’s refusal to comply with Supreme Court judgment ordering him to release N30 billion of Lagos State local councils funds.
He also wondered why the newspaper did not challenge General Ibrahim Babangida who was not democratically elected but assumed the title of president; neither did it address him by any title it so desired even when Babangida closed media houses.
He accused the newspaper of playing partisan opposition politics, which he said had nothing to do with journalism.
“The constitution of Nigeria recognises the president as the formal official title of the occupant of that office. Is it within the paper’s responsibility or power to change the official title of the man who occupies the office of the president? Does that mean any newspaper is free to address the Comptroller General of Customs a Colonel rather than his official title?” he asked.
He urged the newspaper to separate journalism from partisan politics, alleging that its double standards in cuddling some of the past dictators and their open contempt for Buhari clearly showed that the newspaper had sinister motives for its current curious editorial judgment.
President’s Wife Accuses Presidential Aide of Disloyalty
However, earlier wednesday, the first lady had accused Shehu of disloyalty.
Aisha, in a statement distributed by the Director Information in the Office of the First Lady, Mr. Suleiman Haruna, accused the presidential aide of going beyond his brief and waging an orchestrated campaign of calumny against the first family through the media.
In the statement titled: “Garba Shehu Has Gone Beyond His Boundaries,” she accused him of sponsoring pseudo accounts to write and defame her and her children.
“Based on Garba Shehu’s misguided sense of loyalty and inability to stay true and loyal to one person or group, it has become apparent that all trust has broken down between him and my family due to the many embarrassments he has caused the presidency and the first family,” she said, adding: “We all have families to consider in our actions and therefore it is in the best interest of all concerned for Garba Shehu to take the advice of the authority, given to him sometimes in the first week of November, 2019.”
She added that rather than face his task of managing the image of the president and publicising his achievements, he had shifted his loyalty to individuals who were not parties to the contract between the president and the electorate.
“To make matters worse, Mr. Shehu has presented himself to these people as a willing tool and executioner of their antics, from the corridors of power even to the level of interfering with the family affairs of the president. This should not be so. The blatant meddling in the affairs of a first lady of a country is a continuation of the prodigal action of those that he serves,” Aisha lashed out.
According to her, Nigeria’s development can only be hinged on the ability of public officials to execute their mandates professionally, while they remain as shining examples in their various areas of endeavour.
She likened to a bad omen when officials abandon their responsibility and start clutching at straws.
The president’s wife said her husband’s spokesman concealed the facts because of “his misplaced loyalty to the Aso Rock mafia by refusing to clear the air” when she arrived the country following a medical vacation in Saudi Arabia, when an old video was purportedly circulated by Mamman Daura’s daughter, Fatima, to deceive the public that she was locked out of the Villa.
Aisha said an atmosphere of complete breakdown of trust now existed between Shehu and the first family in view of his action.
Aisha said Shehu’s behaviour would no longer be tolerated, explaining that in saner climes, the presidential spokesman would have resigned immediately after going beyond his boundaries and powers.