The cornerstone, indeed, the beautiful bride, of a civilised democracy is free and uninhibited free speech. Thus, it becomes troubling if the one who should be a protagonist of this free press issues a strong rebuke to the “Fourth Estate” to, like everyone read and understood that directive, desist from objective commentaries on the Benue killings, especially; Mallam Garba Shehu, a spokesperson for President Muhammadu Buhari, even warned “article writers” and “columnists” off.
This is so sad. Why would not this Buhari government be tolerant of objective criticisms and opinions and take everything with great equanimity the way former President Goodluck Jonathan remained rock-solid and resolute in the face of untethered bashings. Mallam Shehu singled out The Sun newspaper for his veiled threat and this is bad because everyone is worried about the North-South policy-divide cleavage or chasm that President Buhari has been accused of instituting.
Moreover, Benue state folks like Professor Jerry Agada, Sunday Adole Jonah, Simon Abah, Terwase Awunah, Nats Agbo Onoja and others have it on their consciences as their civic responsibilities to speak out against the obvious genocidal trends in Benue state; really, my hometown district of Ugboju is generally in the neighbourhood of 50 to 60 or so kilometres as the crow flies from Agatu District and if I do not speak out against atrocities perpetuated by herdsmen at Agatu and elsewhere then Ugboju would be in for a terrible bashing sooner or later and what becomes of my family?
Nigeria has had its very bitter experience with attempt to stifle the free press: until Thisday Newspaper Dome was bombed by a suicide terrorist at Abuja that print media house was the most popular and obviously the most sought-after at the Federal Capital Territory. Surprisingly, a supposedly-illiterate “Boko Haram” found a convenient excuse in the shape of that beauty pageant story to beam its hate searchlight on this newspaper. Despite apologies by the author of that “offensive” piece and entreaties here and there that involved a self-imposed exile by the young female feature writer, the Dome was taken out in a loud boom that shook the foundation of the freedom of speech, as it were.
Now, the Presidency wants to stifle free press by way of the “advisory” given by Garba Shehu and have Nigerians believe that all is well at Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Kaduna, and other states where armed, foreign herdsmen have invaded our sovereign nation and declared a jihad on the settled agrarian Christian communities. Truth should be pursued and must be told in its bareness all the time. According to a maxim of Sunday Adole Jonah, “the consciousness of fear in itself is half-death.”
Sunday Adole Jonah,
Department of Physics,
Federal University of Technology,
Minna, Niger state