PRESIDENCY officials have reacted to the recent decision by Punch newspaper to start referring to President Muhammadu Buhari by his military title of major general from henceforth by declaring that they are not bothered by it.
Earlier today, in its editorial titled Buhari’s lawlessness: Our stand, the newspaper said it would henceforth refer to the president by his last military title when he ruled Nigeria as a military dictator. Punch adopted this stance in response to the recent actions of the Department of State Security (DSS) whose armed operatives stormed an Abuja courthouse to arrest former presidential candidate and Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore.
Last Friday, heavily-armed DSS operatives disrupted the court proceedings, drove away Mr Sowore’s lawyer Femi Falana and chased Justice Ojukwu out of the courtroom at gun point. Incensed at the impunity of the DSS and the manner in which its operatives stormed a courtroom, human rights activists have been calling for the immediate sacking of its director-general Mr Yusuf Bichi.
In its editorial today, Punch, one of Nigeria’s most widely read newspapers, highlighted some of the instances where the Buhari administration has violated court orders. Despite the court granting Mr Sowore bail, the government has refused to release him and as a result, Punch has decided to refer to the president as Major General Muhammadu Buhari from now on.
Punch’s editorial read: “As a symbolic demonstration of our protest against autocracy and military-style repression, all our print newspapers and digital platforms, most especially Punchng.com 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.”
Femi Adesina, President Buhari’s spokesman, described Punch’s stance, however, as a testimony of free speech’ under the Buhari administration. Adding that the government remains unperturbed by the development, Mr Adesina said the government will continue to uphold free speech.
Mr Adesina said: “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 is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. All over the world, just as in our country, a large number of retired military officers are now democrats and it does not make those who did not pass through military service better than them.
“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) has pledged to uphold and preserve. It is a matter of semantics.