In a democratic atmosphere, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has stated that addressing President Muhammadu Buhari by his military title is a “abuse of press freedom.”
Lai Mohammed made the remarks during a courtesy call on him at his Abuja office on Tuesday by members of the International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria chapter.
The minister was responding to the World Press Freedom Index’s categorization of Nigeria as a country hostile to journalists in 2021. The country had received a grade of 120 out of 180.
Reporters Without Borders, which publishes the World Press Freedom Index annually, had stated “Nigeria is now one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested or even killed.”
During the visit, IPI Nigeria President Muskilu Mojeed cited Nigeria’s score on the index as an illustration of the country’s low press freedom rating.
Lai Mohammed, on the other hand, criticized the rating, claiming that Nigerian media is still the most lively and free in the world.
He cited a national daily’s choice to address President Buhari by his military title as proof that the current administration is free with the media.
“I disagree with your assessment of press freedom under this government. Honestly, at times when I read what the media write here about Nigeria, I begin to wonder whether I live in the same country that they are writing about.
“I disagree vehemently with the assessment because it is unfounded and has no scientific basis. I have been the Minister (of Information and Culture) since 2015 so I know the state of press freedom in Nigeria,” he said.
According to the minister, Nigerians have misinterpreted the government’s efforts to ensure responsible use of social media as an attempt to gag the press.
“After all, this must be one of the very few countries in the world where a section of the media can refuse to recognize popular sovereignty, or how does one describe a situation in which a President who was duly elected by millions of Nigeria is willfully stripped of that title, President, and then cheekily cloaked in the garb of a dictator by playing up his military title? Despite that abuse of press freedom, those doing that have continued to practice their profession without hindrance.
“Ours must also be one of the few countries in the world where a reputable medium will report fake news and, when called out, will not retract or apologize,” he said.
Lai Mohammed added that the media can effectively play its role without acting as political opposition.
He further charged IPI Nigeria to take seriously the issues of ethics, credibility, and fake news, amongst others.
“For example, on the issue of ethics, is it part of the ethics of journalism for a media organization to function like an opposition party, seeing nothing good in the government of the day and only reporting bad news?” Lai Mohammed queried.