In a remarkable show of courage and display of a high sense of responsibility, Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper – PUNCH – on Wednesday took a stinging swipe at President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, describing it as autocratic and lawless.
In a well-crafted and compelling editorial reflecting the newspaper company’s stand on the continued abuse of the country’s laws by the Nigerian Government and its many agencies under Buhari’s watch, PUNCH also condemned the rearrest and violation of rights of pro-democracy campaigner and journalist, Omoyele Sowore, who remains in the detention of the Department of State Services despite two valid court orders directing his release after meeting stringent bail conditions.
The newspaper 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”.
The respected media establishment said that 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 civic society lawfully exercising their inalienable rights to peaceful dissent”.
While not expressing surprise at how government and its agencies had operated under Buhari, PUNCH, in its widely applauded editorial, said: “this regime’s actions and assaults on the courts, disobedience of court orders and arbitrary detention of citizens reflect its true character of the martial culture”.
Expressing its views further, the newspaper said, “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.
“Until he and his repressive regime purge themselves of their martial tendency, therefore, PUNCH will not be a party to falsely adorning it with a democratic robe, hence our decision to label it for what it is – an autocratic military-style regime run by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
“Sowore’s travails are symptomatic: having ignored court orders granting him bail, the SSS, after much pressure following 125 days in captivity, released him only to stage a GESTAPO-style raid on the court where the journalist was standing trial.
“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.
“Some governors have borrowed from this nefarious model, deploying security agents and perverting the law to punish critics and journalists. Critics, Dadiyata Idris and Stephen Kefas, have been arrested and arraigned. Agba Jalingo is facing a treason charge for offending the Cross River State Government. Jones Abiri, a local publisher in Bayelsa State, has been charged with terrorism while, in Delta State, two journalists are facing criminal defamation charges.
“The regime chooses which rights or court orders to respect or obey. This is unacceptable. Critical segments of the society have been assaulted, silenced or compromised.
“Nigeria has had more than its fair share of draconian rulers, whether in military or civil garb, but none has succeeded in breaking our resilience and irrepressible spirit. This regime will not prove to be an exception. Nigeria and Nigerians will overcome. The strong desire of our people to enjoy the unfettered freedoms guaranteed by the constitution and the rule of law, including the freedom to speak freely and assemble peacefully, will again outlive, outlast and crush the spirit of despotism.”
PUNCH went on to say that as a way of registering its displeasure at Buhari’s autocratic and repressive administration, all its publications and digital platforms 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 newspaper company’s position is the latest in a series of hard-line punches from around the world that have hit the Buhari regime in recent days especially after operatives of the DSS invaded the Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday to forcefully arrest Sowore less than 24 hours after he was released on bail by the agency.