It is no news that the relationship between the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, and the American media is not rosy. Not a few times, President Trump has been at loggerheads with journalists, banning some of them from covering his Presidential dealings. For example, he once, in November 2018, banned Jim Acosta, a senior White House correspondent at CNN, from attending White House briefings after he queried him (Trump) about his immigration policy.
President Trump has always held the opinion that the American media, such as New York Times and CNN do peddle fake news. In the wake of the October 2018 mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh and a series of mail bombings addressed to prominent Democrats and CNN, President Trump tweeted, on October 28, 2018 @realDonaldTrump: “The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our country. Actually, it is their Fake & Dishonest reporting which is causing problems far greater than they understand!”
In August 2019, he told a journalist, Maggie Haberman of New York Times that he was angered by his coverage of his visits of mass shootings on a Dayton bar and an El Paso Walmart. On August 10, 2019, he tweeted: “Maggie Haberman of the Failing @nytimes reported that I was annoyed by the lack of cameras inside the hospitals in Dayton & EI Paso. In fact I was the one who stated, very strongly, that I didn’t want the Fake News inside & told my people NOT to let them in. Fake reporting!”
Even when President Trump was campaigning for the American Presidency, he was reported to be calling out news organisations for what he termed irresponsible reporting and thus, excluded some of their reporters from his rallies.
Just like President Trump, the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, has a rickety relationship with the media. The former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on September 10, 2019, while speaking during a public presentation of a book – Digital Wealth – by a blogger, Japheth Omojuwa, in Abuja, set the Nigerian media space on fire when he issued a stern warning to social media users to be careful of the kind of content that they tweet about Kaduna State, as there might be consequences.
According to the governor, both persons who tweet fake news and those who retweet, risk being arrested if the effect of the fake news leads to loss of life or pandemonium.
“We should not confuse freedom of expression with freedom to kill. If you tweet something that is fake or you tweet something that is reckless without checking and it leads to the death of people, then you deserve to be tried at least as an accessory before or after the fact of murder.
“In Kaduna State we have done that very aggressively because there are things that have been put on social media that have led to the death of people. So, we take it very seriously. You sit in Port Harcourt or Lagos and start posting stuff that leads to societal instability in Kaduna and we let you go,” he declared.
He went ahead to announce that his government would be fast to file charges against people who make use of the social media to foment crisis in the State.
“We will file charges, we will go and collect you (sic) from Port Harcourt or Lagos and the judge in Kaduna and the judge will decide whether you are guilty. We’ve done that two or three times. The people we have done this to are still being prosecuted,” he said.
El-Rufai was not bluffing when he said: “We’ve done that two or three times.”
In 2017, he ordered the arrest of Audu Maikori, the Chief Executive Officer of Chocolate City for posting inciting tweets on the alleged killing of some Southern Kaduna students by Fulani herdsmen. He was, thereafter, charged with incitement based on a petition by the Kaduna State Government. Upon realizing that the information he tweeted was false, Maikori apologized and retracted the tweet later.
Despite his apologies, the Police obtained an order of arrest from a Magistrate court in Kaduna and picked him in Lagos on February 17, 2017. He was flown to Abuja where he was detained and released on bail the next day.
Dissatisfied with the way he was treated – in relation to his arrest and detention – Maikori filed a fundamental rights suit against the Kaduna State Government at the Federal High Court, in Abuja. In his judgment on October 27, 2019, Justice John Tsoho awarded up to N40 million in damages to Maikori.
“The arrest was improper, irregular and wrongful. By necessary implication, the arrest was unlawful despite being released after 24 hours,” Justice Tsoho declared.
In reaction to the ruling, El-Rufai said that the award of N40 million in damages against him and the Nigerian Police by a Federal High Court would not stop the “criminal trial” of the Chocolate City Group boss. “Our lawyers will study the judgment and take the appropriate steps. We will appeal up to the Supreme Court if necessary,” he concluded.
It is still fresh in the minds of critics that El-Rufai, in May 2019, ordered the arrest and detention of a journalist and vocal critic of his government, Stephen Kefas, for re-posting a SaharaReporters story on the ‘Kajuru 9 elders’ who were detained over the crisis that rocked Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
The Editor of New Impression Magazine, Mordecai Ibrahim, felt El-Rufai’s sting on the media when his special adviser on Media and Publicity, Muyiwa Adekeye, on April 29, 2019, disgracefully chased him (Ibrahim) away from St Gerald Catholic Hospital where the governor had gone to see victims of the Kasuwa Magani attack by armed bandits which left about 40 people dead and many others displaced.
On seeing Ibrahim at the hospital, Adekeye ordered the governor’s security detail to walk him out of the hospital premises. “It is indeed absurd and unfortunate that Muyiwa Adekeye, a supposed experienced journalist, should have behaved in such a ridiculous manner,” Ibrahim lamented.
It is believed in different quarters that El-Rufai’s highhandedness on the media and people voicing any contrary opinion on the policies and programmes of his administration is now alarming and needs to be tamed.
An interesting episode in El-Rufai’s careful watch over the media occurred in the course of making appointments for his second term tenure when one Aliyu Abubakar was rejected on July 11, 2019, by the Kaduna State House Assembly due to his Facebook posts which was found to be offensive to El-Rufai’s government.
When Abubakar appeared before the House, the speaker, Aminu Shagali, asked him why he wanted to serve in a government that he constantly attacked its policies. Shagali had noted that since 2017, Abubakar had found pleasure in criticizing the education policy of the governor which according to Shagali is “one of the best.”
“Do you think it’s honourable to accept this nomination? To work for an administration whom you think is a bad one?” he queried Abubakar.
Only recently, the controversial governor engaged in an exchange of hurtful words with Chuks Akunna of the Authority Newspaper, on Twitter. The exchange started when El-Rufai announced on September 9, 2019, that his administration had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Danish Company, Arla to boost dairy production which would provide Kaduna residents with 50,000 jobs.
“Arla intends to invest a hundred million Euros in this project, this is a major investment that will create tens and thousands of direct job opportunities, but more than that, its success, provide a template that can be replicated across our 15 grazing reserves and indeed across Nigeria, because the herdsmen-farmer crisis is not just an economic or political problem but has today become a national security problem,” El-Rufai said after signing the MoU.
In confirmation of the signed MoU, the Kaduna State Government tweeted @GovKaduna: “50,000 jobs for Kaduna as Danish company signs MoU to start milk production.”
Akunna found the claim of providing 50,000 jobs as false. Thus, he ran to Twitter and tweeted @akunnachux: “How can he (El-Rufai) claim 50k jobs when the coy his partnership with (Arla Foods, the biggest dairy coy in Scandinavia) has less than 20k workers? Liar!” he said, while daring the governor to come after him for criticizing his government.
El-Rufai, through his official Twitter handle @elrufai replied: “calling a person (including @elrufai) a liar in itself is not a crime in Kaduna State.
“Just post some fake pictures, videos or words that amount to injurious falsehood leading to disruption of our state’s peaceful coexistence and you will have our undivided attention. Go on, try!”
Still holding his claim firmly, Akunna tweeted again: “Gov @elrufai says he’ll come after people who aren’t careful about what they say about his govt. Well, here I am. How can he claim 50k jobs when the coy his partnering with (Arla Foods, the biggest dairy coy in Scandinavia) has less than 20k workers? Liar!”
Akunna did not capitulate to El-Rufai’s threat as he further criticized the governor regarding a statement he allegedly made in the past on why government “shouldn’t be in business.”
“Please go ask Labour Minister Chris Ngige who Chuks Akunna is. Isn’t a contradiction that 15 years after heading BPE, & telling us govt shouldn’t be in biz, you’re inviting a private firm to partner KDSG? By the way, nothing can be worse than the Dadiyata treatment.”
Will El-Rufai ever take it easy with the media?
A careful study of El-Rufai shows that he is one never afraid to pick a fight with anyone. The media space is replete with many instances. From Olusegun Obasanjo to Atiku Abubakar, and from Abba Kyari to some key elements within the Buhari presidency closely linked to the country’s security apparatchik.
The governor may have gained notoriety among the nation’s journalists but there are no signs the ‘war’ will thaw anytime soon. And, the reasons are not far fetched. The stubborn streak runs in El-Rufai’s DNA, something his many admires also consider a positive attribute.
For now, Nigeria’s media space will have to contend with the Kaduna helmsman. The signs had always been there. As far back as May 3, 2018, the former Director General, Media and Publicity to ex-Governor Ramallan Yero of Kaduna State, Ahmed Maiyaki, while delivering a lecture at the World Press Freedom Day, had noted: “Several journalists have been intimidated, arrested and jailed at various times by security agencies and some state governors including some of our colleagues here in Kaduna State within the last few years under Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s Watch.”
Whether El-Rufai’s protracted war with the media will abate soon remains a matter of informed guess.