The Presidency has condemned an opinion article published by The Sun newspaper associating President Muhammadu Buhari with the killings in Benue and calling him a murderer.
Malam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, made the condemnation when he addressed State House correspondents in Abuja on Friday.
He also frowned at the frequent expressions of hate speech published by some newspapers in form of news stories and especially in columns.
Shehu said: “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.’’
The presidential aide, however, stated that President Buhari, by the Constitution, had the primary duty of protecting life and property of all citizens irrespective of their geo-political backgrounds, adding “that is what he has been doing in Benue and across the country.’’
Shehu stated that calling the president a murderer was not only grossly disrespectful but unfair.
He said: “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.’’
He further noted that the Minister of Interior and the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of operations were also dispatched for an on the spot assessment of the situation in the aftermath of the unfortunate incident.
The presidential spokesman stated that the president had also been receiving a direct briefing from the Inspector-General of Police, Idris Ibrahim on the matter.
He therefore reminded the Nigeria press of its constitutional responsibility of promoting peaceful coexistence among the diverse socio-ethnic groups in the country through fair and balance reportage.
“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.’’