Calling Buhari Major General is abuse of press freedom, says Lai Mohammed

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Nigerians have misinterpreted the government’s efforts to ensure responsible use of social media as an attempt to gag the press.

Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has said that it is an ‘abuse of press freedom’ to address President Muhammadu Buhari by his military title in a democratic administration.

Mohammed stated this on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, when members of the International Press Institute (IPI), Nigeria chapter, paid a courtesy call on him at his office in Abuja.

The minister was reacting to the ranking of Nigeria as a country that is antagonistic to journalists in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. The country had ranked 120 out of the 180 countries graded.

Reporters Without Borders, which publishes the annual index Press Freedom Index, had stated “Nigeria is now one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested or even killed.”

The IPI Nigeria President, Muskilu Mojeed, had during the visit cited Nigeria’s ranking on the index as an example of the country’s low rating in press freedom.

But Mohammed denounced the rating, insisting that the Nigerian media remains the most vibrant and freest in the world.

I disagree with your assessment of press freedom under this government. Honestly, at times when I read what the media write here about Nigeria, I begin to wonder whether I live in the same country that they are writing about,” he said.

I disagree vehemently with the assessment because it is unfounded and has no scientific basis. I have been the Minister (of Information and Culture) since 2015 so I know the state of press freedom in Nigeria.

After all, this must be one of the very few countries in the world where a section of the media can refuse to recognize popular sovereignty, or how does one describe a situation in which a President who was duly elected by millions of Nigeria is willfully stripped of that title, President, and then cheekily cloaked in the garb of a dictator by playing up his military title? Despite that abuse of press freedom, those doing that have continued to practice their profession without hindrance.

Ours must also be one of the few countries in the world where a reputable medium will report fake news and, when called out, will not retract or apologize,” he said.

Recall, in 2019, Punch newspaper said it will now prefix President Buhari’s name with his rank as a military dictator in the 80s in all its publications in protest against the “disregard for the rule of law by his administration.”

Mohammed added that the media can effectively play its role without acting as political opposition.

He further charged IPI Nigeria to take seriously the issues of ethics, credibility, and fake news, amongst others.

For example, on the issue of ethics, is it part of the ethics of journalism for a media organization to function like an opposition party, seeing nothing good in the government of the day and only reporting bad news?” Mohammed queried.

According to the minister, Nigerians have misinterpreted the government’s efforts to ensure responsible use of social media as an attempt to gag the press.