Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, and supporters of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), again came under fire on Friday over their reactions to PUNCH’s front page comment titled “Buhari’s lawlessness: Our stand.”
In the front page comment published on Wednesday, PUNCH assessed the retired General and stated that Buhari, who ruled the country as a military Head of State from 1983 to 1985, had failed to “wean himself off his military antecedents.”
The newspaper said as a symbolic demonstration of its protest against autocracy and military-style repression, all its titles would 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 agencies of government purge themselves of “their insufferable contempt for the rule of law.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement, disagreed with the newspaper, saying a newspaper does not have the power to change the title of the President.
But some groups and individuals on Friday carpeted Shehu for his comment.
The spokesman for the pan-Yoruba cultural association, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents expressed disappointment over Shehu’s reaction.
“It is a shame that Garba Shehu, a former president of the Guild of Editors, could behave like Uche Chukwumerije and the rest of them under late Sani Abacha regime, which General Buhari was a part of,” he said.
Odumakin regretted the failure of the Buhari regime to follow due process, citing the removal of the former Chairman of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, Muiz Banire, as an example.
He added, “A few days ago, Buhari said he cannot afford to be reckless having secured a second term, but he is now taking his recklessness to the point of perpetrating illegality, violating rights, circumventing due process.
“You saw the way they removed AMCON Chairman, Muiz Banire illegally. They can’t even follow due process anymore.”
Also on Friday, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, Farooq Kperogi, took on Buhari’s supporters who he said have no capacity for grasping what he called PUNCH’s symbolic message on the President.
Kperogi said the newspaper’s decision to prefix Buhari’s name with Major General was not to ridicule his rank but to call his attention to his dictatorship.
He made his position known in a message he posted on his Facebook wall and his Twitter handle, @farooqkperogi.
He wrote, “I see that Buharists are trying to blunt the sting of Punch’s decision to prefix Major General to Buhari’s name by celebrating the title and replacing their profile photos with Buhari’s photo in military uniform.
“But the point of calling him Major General is to call attention to his dictatorship, not to ridicule his rank, which, by the way, he didn’t even legitimately earn since he failed all his military exams.
“Buharists are truly bio-chemically wired to be irredeemably stupid. They have no capacity for nuance and for grasping the subtleties of Punch’s symbolic message.”
The Convener, Free Nigeria Movement, Ralph Adebayo, in a separate interview, said Shehu was defending Buhari purely for personal survival, noting that he was “only defending the tyrant that ensures he has food on his table.”
The activist added, “Has Garba Shehu ever done anything right since he became a lackey of General Buhari in 2015?
“The question isn’t whether or not he is right; the fact is that he is committed to defending the tyrant that ensures he has food on his table.
“The PUNCH will do well to remember that one cannot argue with or expect a high standard from a man who earns his pay by defending tyranny.
“Rather, PUNCH should remember that there are legions of Nigerians behind it for taking a stance against the tyranny and despotism of Major General Buhari.”
The Chairperson, Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said Shehu’s reaction was watery and lacked substance.
She said, “Garba Shehu is working for the General and one will not expect anything lesser from him, so we should not in any way be disappointed.
“His response was at best watery and lack substance. It is obvious that he resorted to blackmail, than addressing the issue.
“PUNCH’s editorial was hinged on the extent of lawlessness that pervades the system and the militaristic behaviour of the President, Major General Buhari.
“I would have expected that Garba Shehu will tackle the issues surrounding the justification for calling the President a General which PUNCH alluded to than beating around the bush.”
The Chief Executive Officer of US-Nigeria Law Group, Emmanuel Ogebe, said recent revelations have shown that Shehu is “performing for inscrutable drummers and not for the master.”
He said, “The era of the thoroughbred media professional as spokespersons to rulers has been replaced with them as court jesters to despots just as democracy has downgraded to dictatorship.
“There was a time when senior journalists in such positions had the ear of the President and the tongue of the President before they spoke.
“It is clear from Prof Kperogi’s expose and Aisha Buhari’s that he (Shehu) is a masquerader performing for inscrutable drummers and not for the master.”