The presidency Friday warned the media to stop publishing news reports and articles capable of inciting the people to take arms against another.
This came barely one week after the Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali had hinted while briefing State House correspondents after the National Security Council meeting that security agencies will start monitoring people especially elder statesmen in the country on hate speeches in social media.
Briefing journalists at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu lamented the use of derogatory words against President Muhammadu Buhari by a section of the media in their reportage even to the extent of insinuating that the President was a murderer.
Shehu who said that President Buhari was not a murderer, emphatically stated that the President was fully committed to the protection of lives and property of the citizenry.
He was particularly infuriated with a newspaper lead story (not Vanguard) that stated, “Red alert: Expect more bloodshed in Benue.”
The paper had reported a threat allegedly issued by the Deputy National President of Miyatti Allah where he was quoted as saying that more blood will flow if the Anti Open Grazing Law in Benue State was not repealed. Besides, he condemned a columnist with the same paper who he accused of using foul language against the person of the President.
Maintaining that the President did not deserve what he described as gutter language from the media, the presidential spokesman said it was uncharitable for people to desecrate the office of the President and warned against any act of lawlessness and people riding roughshod against government.
The text of the press briefing read thus:
“I am here this afternoon to address you on some pressing issues concerning our noble profession and to appeal that members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm should show more decorum and professionalism in the reportage of security and humanitarian situation in the country.
“The growing lack of respect for journalism ethics and press laws in the Nigerian media, especially regarding the clashes in Benue State is very unfortunate.
“The frequent expressions of hate speech published by newspapers, in news stories and especially in columns is indeed a source of concern to all.
“We want to state emphatically that a segment of the Nigerian media is sinking deeper and deeper into the mesh of hate speech in spite of repeated appeals by recognised and reputable media bodies, the Government and concerned Nigerians.
“Unfortunately, self-regulation which is the norm in civilized societies has taken flight from many of our newsrooms.
“For instance, a recent column published in a national newspaper (The Sun newspaper), said ‘‘President Muhammadu Buhari was the first to endorse the Benue massacre’’ on New Year Day. The same columnist described the Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali as ‘‘a dyed-in-the-wool Fulani irredentist who places trade over and above human life’’.
“The diatribe went further to invite citizens of the country to arm themselves and fight each other. In addition, one of the newspaper’s Saturday headlines proclaimed: ‘Expect More Blood in Benue…’
“Apart from the basic tone of respect expected from an individual who is supposedly intelligent and educated enough to know better since they have been granted space to write in a national newspaper, there is the risk of inciting the public to actions that will have gory consequences for the entire nation for generations to come.
“Those beating the gongs of war and fanning the embers of discord must remember what prevailed in Rwanda before the genocide of the early 90s, during which hundreds of thousands of lives were lost as a result of consistent hate speech spewing from that country’s media.
“We must learn to express our grievances and criticisms without resorting to gutter language or to name calling, and the press has a responsibility to maintain that even if it means calling their columnists to order. “President Buhari, by the Constitution, has the primary duty of protecting life and property and that is what he has been doing in Benue and across the country.
“Calling him a murderer is not only grossly disrespectful but unfair, especially when the President has written a letter to the Senate detailing his efforts to quell the crisis in Benue State, including dispatching the Minister of Interior and the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of operations for an on the spot assessment of the situation in the aftermath of the unfortunate incident; and receiving a direct briefing from the IG the following day.”