R-L; APC Presidential Candidate, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, Publisher Thisday Newspaper, Nduka Obaigbena annd Publisher of Vanguard Newspaper, Chief Sam Amuka during a meeting with Nigerian Publishers at the Sheraton hotels and Towers in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE
Declares Nigerian media will be free under APC rule
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Despite his recent assertions that he is a reformed democrat ready to comply with the tenets of the Nigerian Constitution, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday failed to apologise for his government’s promulgation of the draconian Decree 4, which empowered him to gag the press and jail two journalists – Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson – who worked for The Guardian Newspaper when he was military head of state 31 years ago.
Buhari, who during an interactive session yesterday in Abuja with proprietors of newspapers who met him under the auspices of the Nigerian Press Organisation (NSO), missed the golden opportunity for a mea culpa when he was pointedly asked by the Chairman/Editor-in-Chief of THISDAY, Nduka Obaigbena, if he was prepared to offer an apology to the journalists jailed by his military junta in 1984.
Instead of responding to the question, it was the Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, who interjected, quoting Buhari’s earlier declaration: “I cannot change the past, but I can change the present and the future.”
Even after Amaechi’s attempt to provide an escape route for the former military head of state, Buhari throughout his session with the media executives failed to express regrets for his actions more than three decades years ago.
The best the Nigerian press got from the retired general was an undertaking that his administration, if elected president in the coming elections, will respect media rights and uphold the supremacy of the constitution of the country.
Buhari said he would ensure that the Nigerian constitution is upheld, including respect for the media, respect for the right to free expression and freedom of speech.
“I am not only subjecting myself to the rigours of democratic elections for the fourth time, but even after being elected, I will continue to promote the consolidation of democracy in our great country, Nigeria, by guaranteeing that the media’s freedom is not compromised in any way.
“I give you my full assurances that the Nigerian media will be free under our APC government,” he said.
Buhari, who told observed that the country was on the verge of something new, said the tide had turned and the world could sense the wave of change about to flood the country.
“In less than two weeks, the Nigerian electorate will head to the polls to make their voices heard. Through the ballot, without a single shot fired, a change revolution will likely take place,” he said.
On whether he would form a national government if he won the poll, he said the issue was not something that could be decided by him alone as a presidential candidate.
On his agenda, he said: “I am a systems man. We have got a committee that sat for several weeks to draw the manifesto of our party. And this manifesto has been widely distributed. Whatever I am going to do, I don’t think it will change. We will go by our manifesto.”
He explained that during his campaign tour of 35 states in the country, he had played up three fundamental issues – insecurity, the economy and corruption – as priority areas.
He also said that education and infrastructure, followed by power supply, would be among the first issues to be addressed by his administration.
On corruption, the presidential candidate expressed concern that there were some people who ought to have been punished but who had been let off the hook by the federal government.
Moving on to the electricity situation, he said: “Now if there is power, the vulcanisers, welders, tailors and more importantly the industries would be able to break even instead of closing down. But they cannot break even by having generators and then buying fuel to maintain them.
“It is even impossible because the way the naira is falling, they can’t even save enough money to buy spare parts and raw materials and so on.”
Responding to charges of avoiding the presidential debate, he argued that there was no reason for the debate since the record of President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in the public domain.
“To be fair to me and Mr. President, after 16 years of PDP, and six years of him (Jonathan) being in charge, is there anything to debate about? Very seriously, you know the condition we are in no matter who you are. So what should I debate there?” he asked.
Buhari also strongly condemned the postponement of the elections, saying the reason adduced by government exposed the inefficiency of the Jonathan administration.
“There were 14 local governments that were in the hands of Boko Haram – 10 in Borno State, two in Yobe, and two in Adamawa. So if some commonsense is to be used to adduce our position on security, if the Nigerian military could not secure Nigerian 14 councils out of 774 local governments in six years, how can they do it in six weeks? We are watching.
“There are about 10 more days to go in the six weeks. Let’s see whether in spite of the help of our generous neighbours – Niger, Chad and Cameroon – whether the remaining local governments can be secured,” he said.
Buhari’s interaction with the media owners came just as the United Nations Under Secretary, Mr. Jeffery Feltham, said during a meeting with the former head of state that the federal government has assured the UN of its determination to hold free, fair and transparent elections on the scheduled dates of March 28 and April 11.