Buhari’s ti­tle: No law states how a Pres­i­dent should be ad­dressed, says NBA

Nige­ri­ans back PUNCH’S stand on grow­ing law­less­ness

The Punch - - FRONT PAGE - Ade Ade­s­o­moju, Samson Fo­larin and Ra­mon Oladimeji

PROM­I­NENT lawyers, in­clud­ing Mr Femi Falana, Ebun-olu Adeg­boruwa and Jiti Ogunye, on Wed­nes­day sup­ported the de­ci­sion of PUNCHTO hence­forth ad­dress the Pres­i­dent of the coun­try as Ma­jor General Muham­madu Buhari (retd.).

But the Chair­man of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee Against Cor­rup­tion, Prof. Itse Sa­gay, and a Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria, Dr Alex Izinyon, op­posed PUNCH’S de­ci­sion.

The PUNCH, in a front page com­ment on Wed­nes­day, as­sessed the Pres­i­dent and stated that Buhari, who ruled the coun­try as a mil­i­tary head of state from 1983 to 1985, had failed to “wean him­self off his mil­i­tary an­tecedents.”

A few hours af­ter PUNCH’S com­ment was pub­lished, two pres­i­den­tial aides ex­pressed reser­va­tions about the de­ci­sion to pre­fix Buhari’s name with Ma­jor General.

The Pres­i­dent’s Spe­cial Ad­viser on Me­dia and Pub­lic­ity, Mr Femi Adesina, in a state­ment, said PUNCH’S de­ci­sion was an in­di­ca­tion of free­dom of speech in the coun­try.

He stated, “A news­pa­per says it will hence­forth ad­dress Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari by his mil­i­tary rank of Ma­jor General.

“Noth­ing un­to­ward in it. It is a rank the Pres­i­dent at­tained by dint of hard work be­fore he re­tired from the Nige­rian Army. And to­day, con­sti­tu­tion­ally, he is also the Com­man­der-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

“All over the world, just as in our coun­try, a large num­ber of re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cers are now democrats. It does not make those who did not pass through mil­i­tary ser­vice bet­ter than them.

“Rather than be­ing pe­jo­ra­tive, ad­dress­ing Pres­i­dent Buhari by his mil­i­tary rank is an­other tes­ti­mony to free speech and free­dom of the press, which this ad­min­is­tra­tion (or regime, if anyone prefers: it is a mat­ter of se­man­tics) has pledged to up­hold and pre­serve.”

But the Se­nior Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent on Me­dia and Pub­lic­ity, Mr Garba Shehu, in a sep­a­rate state­ment, dis­agreed with the news­pa­per for chang­ing the ti­tle of the Pres­i­dent to Ma­jor

General. He said a news­pa­per did not have the power to change the ti­tle of a Pres­i­dent.

He said PUNCH “never changed Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo’s ti­tle from the Pres­i­dent to General Obasanjo, de­spite the lat­ter’s re­fusal to com­ply with the Supreme Court judg­ment or­der­ing him to re­lease N30bn to Lagos State.”

Shehu said when “General Ibrahim Ba­bangida, who wasn’t demo­crat­i­cally elected, as­sumed the ti­tle of Pres­i­dent,” PUNCH did not chal­lenge him.

He re­called that Ba­bangida closed me­dia houses, in­clud­ing PUNCH, for sev­eral months.

“The Con­sti­tu­tion of Nige­ria recog­nises the Pres­i­dent as the for­mal of­fi­cial ti­tle of the oc­cu­pant of that of­fice. Can the Punch news­pa­pers, in their hubris ad­dress the Pres­i­dent as Prime Min­is­ter as it pleases?” he asked.

NBA backs PUNCH

The Nige­rian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, how­ever, threw its weight be­hind the de­ci­sion by PUNCH to be­gin pre­fix­ing the Pres­i­dent’s name by his last mil­i­tary rank, ma­jor general.

The Na­tional Pub­lic­ity Sec­re­tary of the as­so­ci­a­tion, Mr Kunle Edun, in an in­ter­view with The PUNCH, said the news­pa­per did not vi­o­late any law by its de­ci­sion.

He noted that the news­pa­per was only ex­press­ing its right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion in re­ac­tion to the acts of the regime.

Edun stated, “We all know that mil­i­tary regimes have no re­spect for the rule of law and the ju­di­ciary is usu­ally un­der at­tack,” he stated.

Edun said re­fer­ring to Buhari as a ma­jor general was not defam­a­tory since it was his last rank in the mil­i­tary.

He said, “I am not aware of any law that ex­pressly states how the Pres­i­dent of the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Nige­ria should be ad­dressed or pre­fixed; whether as Mr Pres­i­dent, a General or sim­ply as Al­haji, is of no con­se­quence at the mo­ment be­cause it is a fact that Buhari is a re­tired mil­i­tary general and some­one who has un­der­gone the manda­tory hajj.

“Moreso, the ap­pel­la­tions used are not defam­a­tory. PUNCH has just de­cided how to ex­press its fun­da­men­tal right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion in con­vey­ing its re­ac­tions about cer­tain ac­tions of this gov­ern­ment.”

PUNCH

has not vi­o­lated any law – Falana A Lagos-based rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said PUNCH had not vi­o­lated any law, adding that the de­scrip­tion was ap­pro­pri­ate for the present regime.

The Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria ex­plained that the re­ac­tions of both Adesina and Shehu did not ad­dress the grave al­le­ga­tions of gross hu­man rights abuses that had be­come the hall­mark of the Buhari regime.

Falana noted that con­trary to the di­ver­sion­ary ploy of the pres­i­den­tial spokesper­sons to cover up the des­e­cra­tion of the Fed­eral High Court in Abuja last Fri­day, the State Se­cu­rity Ser­vice had apol­o­gised to Jus­tice Ijeoma Ojukwu and the Chief Judge of the court for the armed in­va­sion of the tem­ple of jus­tice.

He said, “While com­mend­ing PUNCH for im­pos­ing the sym­bolic sanc­tions on the Buhari regime, it is per­ti­nent to re­mind Mr Garba Shehu that he was ar­rested and de­tained by the State Se­cu­rity Ser­vice in 2006 dur­ing the Obasanjo/atiku face-off. It was the hu­man rights com­mu­nity that fought for his re­lease from the illegal cus­tody.

“In the case of the igp vs anpp (2008) 12 wrn 65, we also won the Nige­rian peo­ple the right to protest for or against the gov­ern­ment with­out po­lice per­mit. In ex­er­cise of the right of free­dom of ex­pres­sion won through the court, Ma­jor General Buhari and other APC lead­ers con­vened ral­lies to protest election mal­prac­tices and in­se­cu­rity in the coun­try. But as far as the Buhari regime is con­cerned, any Nige­rian cit­i­zen, who par­tic­i­pates in a peace­ful rally, is li­able to be charged with trea­son­able felony or ter­ror­ism.

“Mr Garba Shehu al­luded to the illegal clo­sure of the PUNCH news­pa­per by the Ba­bangida junta. It is em­bar­rass­ing that the se­nior jour­nal­ist is not aware that the clo­sure was de­clared illegal, while the sum of N22m was awarded in favour of the news­pa­per by the Fed­eral High Court. The said judg­ment has since been af­firmed by the Court of Ap­peal and the Supreme Court. The era of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in Nige­ria has passed. The cur­rent era of civil­ian dic­ta­tor­ship will pass too.

“In recog­ni­tion of the un­de­ni­able fact that he once ruled the coun­try with iron hands, Buhari had as­sured Nige­ri­ans that he had be­come a ‘con­verted demo­crat.’ But since the civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion headed by him has be­come ruth­lessly au­thor­i­tar­ian, PUNCH is per­fectly in or­der in ad­dress­ing him as a ma­jor general head­ing a regime which has con­tempt for the rule of law and hu­man rights.”

PUNCH has com­mit­ted no of­fence

– Adeg­boruwa A hu­man rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-olu Adeg­boruwa, SAN, said PUNCH com­mit­ted no of­fence pun­ish­able un­der any law by its choice to re­fer to the Pres­i­dent as a ma­jor general.

Adeg­boruwa said, “The or­gan­i­sa­tion has had that track record of al­ways stand­ing up to il­le­gal­ity, im­punity and law­less­ness and to­day, Nige­ri­ans have been cel­e­brat­ing the courage of PUNCH news­pa­pers and I am call­ing on other well-mean­ing Nige­ri­ans, es­pe­cially Prof. Wole Soyinka, to stand up and be counted on the part of the peo­ple at this mo­ment.

“It is illegal to re­fer to Muham­madu Buhari as Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari; his name is Ma­jor General Muham­madu Buhari (retd.). That is the ex­pec­ta­tion of the Armed Forces Act. When he con­tested elec­tions in this coun­try, there was no Pres­i­dent af­fixed to his name. It was his rank of ma­jor general that he used in con­test­ing elec­tions. It was when he won in 2015 elec­tions that he sought to change his nomen­cla­ture, which was illegal.”

Ed­i­to­rial calls for sober re­flec­tion by Buhari regime – Ogunye

An­other lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, ar­gued that nei­ther the ex­ec­u­tive nor the ju­di­ciary could pun­ish anyone for an of­fence that was not ex­pressly crim­i­nalised by any law in the coun­try.

Ogunye, said “I’ve read PUNCH’S ed­i­to­rial and the ed­i­to­rial raises a lot of con­cerns about the rule of law, re­spect for the fun­da­men­tal rights of cit­i­zens and the present and fu­ture of the Nige­rian state at this time. I want to say that for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that is in­tro­spec­tive and re­flec­tive, that ed­i­to­rial does not call for an im­me­di­ate knee-jerk re­but­tal or re­sponse; that ed­i­to­rial, be­cause of its im­port and sig­nif­i­cance, calls for a se­ri­ous sober re­flec­tion.”

He also com­mented on Shehu’s as­ser­tion that PUNCH “does not have the lib­erty or right to style the Pres­i­dent a ma­jor general and the ad­min­is­tra­tion, a regime.”

Ogunye stated, “As of to­day in Nige­ria, there is no law pro­hibit­ing re­fer­ring to the Pres­i­dent as a general, if a news­pa­per, for good rea­sons, be­lieves that is what it wants to use.”

Shehu has right to de­fend his boss – Raji

Ahmed Raji, SAN, de­scribed the PUNCH’S ed­i­to­rial as a sub­tle way of telling Buhari that the regime was not ob­serv­ing the rule of law. But he quickly added that Shehu had the right to de­fend his boss.

He also said, “If he has re­tired, and liv­ing in quiet re­tire­ment, he can be re­ferred to as ‘Ma­jor­gen­eral (re­tired)’ How­ever, since he is the Pres­i­dent for now, I be­lieve we should ad­dress him as Pres­i­dent.”

Raji, who is the lawyer to the de­tained ex-na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser, Sambo Da­suki, added, “The point be­ing made by PUNCH, if I un­der­stand PUNCH very well, is a sub­tle way of telling him that the gov­ern­ment is not ob­serv­ing the rule of law.

“De­scrib­ing him as ma­jor general is a fig­ure of speech and that he is be­hav­ing in a man­ner not in line with democ­racy. This is what PUNCH is say­ing. That is PUNCH’S per­spec­tive.

“Some other peo­ple may feel, for the peo­ple to make progress we need strong in­sti­tu­tions, we need iron hands. Garba Shehu has a duty and ab­so­lutely a right to rise up to de­fend his boss and we can­not be­grudge him for that. As to whether PUNCH is jus­ti­fied, that is a mat­ter for de­bate.”

Ap­peal­ing for Da­suki’s re­lease, Raji said, “My own ap­peal is that with­out call­ing the Pres­i­dent a ma­jor general he should please re­lease Col. Da­suki.”

Sa­gay at­tacks PUNCH

On his part, Sa­gay at­tacked PUNCH. In an in­ter­view with one of our cor­re­spon­dents, he said the ed­i­to­rial showed a lack of re­spect for the Pres­i­dency and the Pres­i­dent whom he de­scribed as the face of the coun­try.

Re­spond­ing to our cor­re­spon­dent’s request of his view about the ed­i­to­rial, Sa­gay said, “It is a pity that you are from PUNCH.I think what PUNCH did to­day was dis­grace­ful and dis­re­spect­ful. They didn’t have eti­quette. “

PUNCH’S ed­i­to­rial un­con­sti­tu­tional

– Izinyon Another­san, Dr Alex­izinyon, said PUNCH’S new ed­i­to­rial pol­icy was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

He said de­spite Buhari’s an­tidemo­cratic acts com­plained about by PUNCH, he re­mained the Pres­i­dent, adding that the news­pa­p­er­ought­to­havestoppe­d at reel­ing out the complaints.

He said, “It is not right to say he should be called a ma­jor general. PUNCH can­not side­track the con­sti­tu­tion to call the Pres­i­dent a ma­jor general. De­spite the acts com­plained about (by PUNCH), he re­mains the Pres­i­dent.

“It is un­con­sti­tu­tional to re­fer to him as a ma­jor general be­cause he is no longer wear­ing the khaki, he is now an ag­bada man. So, by the demo­cratic prin­ci­ple of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Con­sti­tu­tion says, ‘there shall be the Pres­i­dent’, it did not say there shall be a ma­jor general.

But an­other Abuja-based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, de­fended PUNCH’S de­ci­sion to de­scribe Buhari by his last mil­i­tary rank.

He said it was backed by the Armed Forces Act and other mil­i­tary con­ven­tions. He said, “Once a General is al­ways a General even when you are no longer in ac­tive ser­vice.”

A United States-based pro­fes­sor, Fa­rooq Kper­ogi, in a post on his face­book, com­mended PUNCH.

He stated, “PUNCH news­pa­pers’ de­ci­sion to pre­fix ‘Ma­jor General’ to Muham­madu Buhari’s name and to call the gov­ern­ment, he’s the in­ept, un­aware fig­ure­head of, a ‘regime,’ is praise­wor­thy.”

Also, a civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion, In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Civil Lib­er­ties and Rule of Law, com­mended the bold­ness of PUNCH’S ed­i­to­rial.

It called on Nige­ri­ans to stop ad­dress­ing any gov­er­nors iden­ti­fied as “agent of state ter­ror­ism and re­pres­sion as his ex­cel­lency.”

The civil rights or­gan­i­sa­tion stated this in a state­ment is­sued Wed­nes­day by its prin­ci­pal of­fi­cers, Emeka Umeag­bal­asi and Chin­wendu Umecher.

•Buhari

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