The Presidency has debunked claims by a Nigerian newspaper that President Muhammadu Buhari is in support of the activities of violent herdsmen.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu said: “The Presidency has dismissed the wicked and unfounded conclusion by a media house that President Muhammadu Buhari is sympathetic to the activities of violent herdsmen, and has been indifferent to their atrocities.
“We reject The Punch newspaper’s September 4th, 2018, editorial which alleged that President Buhari had sympathy for criminality perpetuated by a misguided group. The editorial was not only disrespectful of the President and his office, but was also reckless, thoughtless, inflammatory and totally irresponsible.”
Shehu said the newspaper is used to twisting facts.
“It is steadily becoming clear from the views, news and opinions of this newspaper that it will explore every opportunity and twist every fact to declare every Nigerian and ECOWAS member with Fulani blood a terrorists, who must be stripped of their rights as citizens, or worse subjected to ethnic cleansing.
“We believe and strongly insist that criminality perpetrated by some miscreants should not be used to demonize other responsible and decent members of the same ethnic group. The collective demonization of any ethnic group because of the misguided behaviour or conduct of criminals is improper and no responsible government will ever do so.
“The Punch editorial is, therefore, sheer blackmail and mischief designed to push its own sinister and unpatriotic agenda disguised as free speech. By inciting the people against an ethnic group because of the criminal activities of a few is unhelpful and deleterious to peace.
“Rather than proffer solutions, the editorial only regurgitated simplistic narratives of complex national issues, deliberately neglecting the broader and unbiased understanding and interpretation.
“After the highly biased and misleading editorial, the newspaper could not but come to terms with the established fact that climate change and criminality remained key drivers of the farmers-herdsmen conflict.”
Outlining the efforts made by President Buhari to tackle the problem, he said: “Currently, a massive and fierce military operation is going on in Zamfara State to neutralise the activities of bandits who have been sacking communities and killing innocent people, and the security outfits have been deployed to safeguard lives and property.”
Shehu noted that the President’s commitment to the security and wellbeing of all Nigerians is unwavering and total, and no criminal group, herdsmen or ethnic militias, will be spared the wrath of the law.
“In its attempt to build a case against the President and tarnish his hard-earned reputation, the newspaper misquoted and removed from the actual context words attributed to him, one or two of which we wish to clarify here.
“In pointing out that some Nigerians, who dare the desert and the Mediterranean in order to migrate illegally to Europe have to blame themselves, the President had a context, following severe warnings by local authorities that were clearly being ignored. The unfortunate Nigerians were always lured into harmful and unsafe journeys, with high likelihood of death or slavery.
“The President said the ECOWAS protocol allows freedom of movement but Nigeria will not tolerate the illegality. An administration that paid USD500,000 to evacuate 3,000 stranded Nigerians in Libya and a similar amount to bring back those that went to Russia to watch the World Cup this year cannot, in all fairness, be accused of insensitivity to the plight of illegal migrants.
“The question to ask the newspaper is simple: are we to say nothing, do nothing when our young citizens make the wrong choice of embarking on journeys that lead to slavery and death in the Mediterranean? Is it out of place to warn of the dangers of such wrong decisions?
“For the second issue, the President could not have been wrong in drawing attention to negative, abrasive and insensitive reporting by a section of the press that threatens to jeopardize national security by draining the morale of our uniformed men and women who are sacrificing their lives to keep the country united. Without a safe, peaceful and stable country, it is difficult to imagine how newspapers can prosper in their trade.”
The Presidential spokesman, however, affirmed that the current administration will not intimidate or muscle any journalist or media house no matter the level of provocation.
“Under this administration, no media, no matter how provocative, will be fettered in their freedom of expression. Rather, we will continue to appeal to their conscience to place national interest and professionalism above narrow concerns.
“The Presidency advises members of the media to exercise restraint and good judgement for the larger good of the society. We must not forget the significant and unsavoury roles played by journalists in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which claimed almost one million lives.
“We should all work for the good of the country and all citizens,” he concluded.