Buhari’s title: No law states how a President should be addressed, says NBA
Nigerians back PUNCH’S stand on growing lawlessness
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.”
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.