In 1984, two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were jailed by military dictator, General Muhammadu Buhari under the infamous Decree 4 which sought to curtail and suppress press freedom.
Thompson was the diplomatic correspondent of The Guardian while Nduka Irabor was an assistant editor when they were both arrested by the secret police, the National Security Organisation (NSO).
There was a huge outcry because The Guardian, just one year old, had in that space of time become Nigeria’s most respected newspaper. Set up by business man Alex Ibru, The Guardian guided by Stanley Macebuh and his co-travellers, brought a new kind of journalism to Nigeria. One that was forthright, unencumbered by sentiments and not beholden to the government just like the Daily Times and other government owned newspapers were at the time.
Buhari and his sidekick, Tunde Idiagbon were not moved. They sentenced the duo to one year imprisonment each for reporting about the sack of some diplomatic staff.
Why this history lesson? The internet is abuzz with news that General Buhari who has taken up residence at the Defence House, Abuja in readiness for his eventual move into Aso Rock has banned the African Independent Television, AIT from covering his activities. An AIT crew is reported to have been asked to leave and not cover a meeting between General Buhari and a Cuban diplomat.
This action, if true, portends grave danger for Nigerian journalists; citizen journalists, affiliated journalists, and independent bloggers. What it means is that press freedom is about to become an oxymoron as it was in 1984.
A president-elect who is already barring press men from events, one month before inauguration, may well see nothing wrong in jailing them and General Buhari has history on his side.
On twitter and elsewhere General Buhari’s supporters are already defending General Buhari and citing examples from America and how Obama barred the Boston Herald from covering White House events but no one has bothered to remember that Fox TV has remained a thorn in Obama’s flesh yet they are invited to every White House event.
They forget that some Nigerian newspapers and online platforms were unofficial mouthpieces for the APC who made life unbearable for Goodluck Jonathan with hilarious memes lampooning him and his wife as well as outright malicious reports that skirted the lines of decency and ethics yet, not one of them was ever barred or censored.
So, why is General Buhari attacking AIT? Why is this born again democrat reverting to dictatorial tendencies? Well, the answer is simple; old habits die hard and for all those yapping on social media in defence of the indefensible there is only one advice – be afraid, be very afraid!
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