Ray Ekpu, a veteran journalist and former Editor-In-Chief of Newswatch, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, of trying to bring back the anti-press freedom Decree of 1984 through clampdown on free speech.
Ekpu, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the Buhari-led Federal Government is planning to turn Nigeria into a country like China, which he said Mohammed has been referring to in his latest defence of the ban on Twitter in Nigeria.
The federal government suspended operations of Twitter in the country on June 4, over allegation of the platform being used to undermine Nigeria’s cooperative existence.
The ace journalist recounted that during an interview as the military head of state in 1984, Buhari vowed to tamper with press freedom.
He said Buhari is not a born-again democrat he is claiming to be.
“What is happening is not strange because President Buhari is not a democrat even though he claims that he is a born-again democrat. I was one of three persons – the others were Dele Giwa and Yakubu Mohammed – who interviewed Major General Muhammadu Buhari on February 6, 1984, and we were shocked when the man said, ‘I will tamper with press freedom. I will tamper with press freedom’,” he said.
“When we came out of the interview from Dodan Barracks, Dele Giwa said, ‘We are all in trouble’. I said, ‘Yes, we are all in trouble with this man’. And he (Buhari) has not changed. He has not changed. He now has a Minister of Information (and Culture, Lai Mohammed), who is vigorously anti-press; he wants Nigeria to be like China. If it is a question of making money like China, let him show the way but if it is a question of going to borrow money from China, we are not ready.
“There is nothing in terms of freedom of democracy that we can borrow from China because we’ve had our China here – many years of military rule, that was China and we fought the military to a standstill.
“I don’t know whether they know the history of the press council. General Yakubu Gowon (retd.) tried it, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo tried it, we blocked it, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) tried it, the first one we shut it down, the second one, they reviewed it, we were managing it, we made some input and we said, ‘Okay, it was alright’.
“Later, some people said to General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd.): ‘Let’s revive this thing’ and General Abubakar said we should look at it. The Nigerian Press Organisation sat down and we had a meeting. We had several meetings of the NPO and we came up with our own position which was acceptable to the generality of the people in the media and the civil society groups.
“The mischievous people within the government went and tinkered with it and introduced punitive measures but we kicked and rejected it. We went to court. The NPO led by Ismaila Isa, Sam Amuka, Ray Ekpu, Nduka Obaigbena, we brought in a few other people and went to court; we took the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Information to court and won. The case is at the Supreme Court now and we are waiting for the last ruling.
“There is a long struggle to the issue of press freedom. I won’t kid myself and say that the struggle for press freedom is over. These people in the National Assembly, these people in the Buhari government were never part of the struggle, so, they don’t know that we fought every inch of the way to gain freedom for Nigerians and freedom for the press. Journalists must be ready for the fight. It hasn’t ended, there are very mischievous people, there are anti-democratic people in government.”