On Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief Security Officer, Bashir Abubakar, conducted a bizarre, one-sided summary trial in his office.
Abubakar was the complainant, prosecutor and the judge. The defendants were The PUNCH and its State House Correspondent, Olalekan Adetayo, whom Abubakar accused of writing a ‘sponsored story’ and penning an ill-motivated opinion article on the President’s health.
It was in vain that Adetayo tried to explain to the CSO that the said story, Fresh anxiety in Aso Rock over Buhari’s poor health, and his column,Seat of power’s event centres going into extinction, were done in the ordinary course of his duties, and without any ulterior motive.
Thereafter, events took a strange turn. The CSO left the dock where he was the complainant, donned the wig of a prosecutor and levelled more false allegations against our reporter. Then he quickly adorned himself in the robe of a judge and pronounced, with misguided magisterial flair, that our reporter should be thrown out of the Villa.
Abubakar’s judgement was then enforced by one of his minions who seized our reporter’s State House pass, marched him to the gate of the Villa and paraded him before a platoon of security operatives who were ordered to bar him from entering the Villa in the future.
Abubakar’s harassment and humiliation of our reporter are unwarranted, unjustified and, therefore, condemnable. His reckless display of power is an abuse of office and an affront to our newspaper.
This sordid event would have been comical if not for its tragic implications for our democracy, the freedom of the press and the inalienable right of every Nigerian citizen to the freedom of expression.
As our paper went to bed last night, we were made aware of the efforts of saner and less-emotive heads within the presidency to convene a parley to resolve the issue.
We are happy to inform the authorities that our reporter will neither attend the meeting planned for today nor subject himself to yet another Kangaroo trial.
We hold that besides presidential introspection, what this situation requires is not a soft landing for a security operative who acted beyond his brief. What Abubakar deserves is a stinging reprimand from his superiors, heavy censure from his principal and the outrage of all right thinking members of the society.
We are aware that, only recently, Abubakar usurped some of the functions of the President’s battery of media aides and convened a meeting where he sought to teach State House correspondents how to slant, spin and scribble stories on the President and the Presidency.
Our demands are simple: a full and unqualified apology from Abubakar and the presidency, and the unconditional restoration of the reportorial access and privileges withdrawn from our reporter. The apology should be addressed to our reporter and our newspaper.
In this dispensation, vindictive and overbearing security operatives, like Abubakar, ought to bear three things in mind as they carry out their duties. One, Nigeria is a democracy, the martial antecedents of its current president notwithstanding. Two, those who hold positions of authority do so at the pleasure of the public. Three, public servants, no matter how influential, are mere tenants in the corridors of power.
The world is watching. Nigerians are waiting. And the press is hoping that President Buhari will seize the moment to redress this grievous assault on press freedom and scrub off the blot that this incident may leave on his democratic credentials.