Nigerians have been decidedly unimpressed with the way the federal government has handled the events leading up to and after the massacre in Benue state which left over 70 dead.
From the porous security to the verbal gaffes by government officials to the seeming lack of empathy by Pres. Muhammadu Buhari, there is very little about the government’s handling of the issue that has inspired confidence.
The Nigerian Presidency has however chosen to pass the buck and blame the media for how Nigerians have reacted. On Friday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, accused the media of promoting hate speech.
“We want to state emphatically that a segment of the Nigerian media is sinking deeper and deeper into the mesh of hate speech in spite of repeated appeals by recognised and reputable media bodies, the Government and concerned Nigerians,” he said. “Unfortunately, self-regulation which is the norm in civilised societies has taken flight from many of our newsrooms.”
“For instance, a recent column published in a national newspaper (The Sun newspaper), said ‘‘President Muhammadu Buhari was the first to endorse the Benue massacre’’ on New Year Day. The same columnist described the Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali as ‘‘a dyed-in-the-wool Fulani irredentist who places trade over and above human life’’.
“The diatribe went further to invite citizens of the country to arm themselves and fight each other. In addition, one of the newspaper’s Saturday headlines proclaimed: ‘Expect More Blood in Benue…’,” he said.
The presidential spokesperson also said apart from the basic tone of respect expected from an individual who is “supposedly intelligent and educated enough” to know better since they have been granted space to write in a national newspaper, there is the risk of inciting the public to actions that will have gory consequences for the entire nation for generations to come.”
He also reminded those “beating the gongs of war and fanning the embers of discord” to remember what prevailed in Rwanda before the genocide of the early 90s, during which hundreds of thousands of lives were lost as a result of consistent hate speech spewing from that country’s media.
“We must learn to express our grievances and criticisms without resorting to gutter language or to name calling, and the press has a responsibility to maintain that even if it means calling their columnists to order,” he said.
He also said Mr. Buhari, by the Constitution, has the primary duty of protecting life and property of all Nigerians, adding “and that is what he has been doing in Benue and across the country.”
“Calling him a murderer is not only grossly disrespectful but unfair, especially when the President has written a letter to the Senate detailing his efforts to quell the crisis in Benue State, including dispatching the Minister of Interior and the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of operations for an on the spot assessment of the situation in the aftermath of the unfortunate incident; and receiving a direct briefing from the IG the following day”.