Over 80 journalists previously accredited to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja were on March 24, 2020 barred from covering activities at the seat of power by the Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, ostensibly as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Adesinaissued a statement on March 24 restricting the coverage of activities within the Aso Rock Presidential Villa to only 13 media organisations with immediate effect, as part of measures being taken to curb the spread of the Coronavirus
Among the media organisations which had their reporters barred are The PUNCH, ThisDay, Tribune, The Guardian, Vanguard, Daily Trust, AIT, Arise TV, STV and Ben TV etc.
According to Femi, Channels TV, NTA, TVC, News Agency of Nigeria, Sun Newspaper, Voice of Nigeria, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, and photographers of ThisDay, The Guardian, Leadership, Vanguard and Daily Trust, would remain to cover the Villa for a yet-to-be specified period.
The Presidency received knocks from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) for the decision to ban some media houses from covering activities in the Presidential Villa.
The PDP described the restrictions placed on media houses as another form of official victimisation executed in bad faith. PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said the decision was undemocratic and totally against the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act, as well as the tenets and guiding principles of rule of law.
Kola said: “This is therefore not the time for unnecessary pettiness, victimisation and barring of media houses, a development which has sparked suspicion in the public space as being designed to conceal certain facts from the public. It is indeed instructive for the Buhari Presidency to note that our nation is in dire need of hope and direction contained in timely information, especially from the government.”
He warned that clamping down on the media, which is a critical stakeholder in the effort to defeat COVID-19, was completely at variance with the national interest.
“What our nation needs now is for all hands on deck, with those in power shelving their pettiness, parochial interests, pointless and unreasonable ego as we collectively seek solutions.
“The PDP, therefore, charges the Presidency to, immediately and without any further delay, lift the ban on the affected media houses and allow them to discharge their responsibility to the Nigerian people, in line with the provisions of the law and their professional requirements,” he said.
In his reaction, the National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the action was a clear indication that the Buhari administration was no longer comfortable with public scrutiny of its activities by the free press in Nigeria.
According to Emmanuel, “The restriction infringes on the constitutional obligations of the State to the people of Nigeria in line with section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“HURIWA hereby totally condemns this outrageous and grave threat to the constitutionally guaranteed media rights of citizens who are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria and have donated the legitimacy to government officials to exercise responsibility within the legal framework. We think the current administration is rapidly becoming a tyranny and totalitarian regime.”
Condemning the action, Executive Director, Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwual Musa, said, “When we said there was a systematic attack on free speech and the freedom of the press supporters of this regime called us liars and wailers. Now it is clear for all to see. This restriction which is clearly targeted at independent-minded media organisations is further proof of this regime’s growing intolerance of alternative views. It is such a shame.”