PT Exclusive: My case against Punch reporter — Buhari’s CSO

President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief Security Officer, Bashir Abubakar has defended his decision to expel a reporter for The Punch from the State House, saying journalists have a responsibility to be patriotic in reporting matters of national importance.

In an internal memo he distributed Tuesday to several presidency officials, including Femi Adesina, the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Mr. Abubakar detailed alleged transgressions and ethical concerns observed in Lekan Adetayo’s reporting of activities of the State House, and pronounced him unfit to continue on the beat.

“You may wish to advise the Punch Newspaper that it reserves the right to send a more matured, professional and patriotic representative that will work in the overall interest of the nation rather than self-serving and parochial interests,” Mr. Abubakar, a former Director of State Security Service in Bayelsa State, said in the April 25 memo, which was also copied to the President and the Director-General of SSS, Lawal Daura.

Mr. Abubakar’s memo, obtained exclusively by PREMIUM TIMES, went out a day after he withdrew Mr. Adetayo’s accreditation, drawing nationwide condemnation and renewed allegations of media suppression against the Nigerian government.

The Punch slammed Mr. Abubakar for humiliating its reporter in a statement Tuesday, describing the expulsion as “unwarranted”, “unjustified” and “condemnable”.

The paper asked the presidency to formally rebuke the CSO, and demanded apology as a precondition for its reporter’s return to the State House.

“In this dispensation, vindictive and overbearing security operatives, like Abubakar, ought to bear three things in mind as they carry out their duties.

“One, Nigeria is a democracy, the martial antecedents of its current president notwithstanding.

“Two, those who hold positions of authority do so at the pleasure of the public.

“Three, public servants, no matter how influential, are mere tenants in the corridors of power,” The Punch said.

Mr. Abubakar highlighted some of Mr. Adetayo’s stories he found problematic in his correspondence to presidency officials.

“Olalekan Adetayo, the State House correspondent for the Punch Newspapers, in his Saturday column of April 22, 2017, titled: “Seat of powers event centres going into extinction,” reported that currently there have been less or no activity at the seat of power. Adetayo mentioned that important venues such as Council Chambers, Presidential Banquet Hall and State House Conference Hall have been left empty for a long time and are all gathering dust.

“He also claimed that no event had been held in the Council Chambers in at least the last two months.

“Similarly, he claimed not to have remembered the last time the president received letter of credence from newly posted Ambassadors and High Commissioners at the Presidential Banquet Hall.

“He, however, failed to state whether there had been any instance where a newly posted diplomat was denied access presenting his letter of credence to the president.

“Also, subject (Mr. Adetayo) mentioned Guest House in the Villa, House Seven, and claimed that political meetings were held there by the last administration and faulted that no such meetings have been held there since the inception of this administration.

“He, therefore, hoped that the proposed law for unoccupied buildings in Abuja will not affect the buildings in the Presidential Villa, and posited that the development is a sign of the end of time,” Mr. Abubakar said.

The CSO also raised concerns over a story about alleged cover-up of President Buhari’s health situation, which The Punch led with on Sunday.

The report said some State House staffers were allegedly growing increasingly sceptical about the president’s ill-health, especially as he had been rarely sighted in public since he returned to the country from a 50-day medical vacation on March 10.

The report suggested that the president’s fragile health might have prevented him from meeting some of his top officials, including ministers, adding that most of the duties in the presidency had been passed to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Mr. Abubakar said the stories were not true and that Mr. Adetayo allegedly denied authorship of the story on the president’s ill-health, owned up to wrongdoings about his limited contribution and “pleaded for leniency, promising that he will not repeat such ‘grievous’ mistake.”

“On the lead story in the Sunday publication of the paper, subject stated that he was not the author of the story but was only asked and pressurised by his editor to get the State House reaction to make up the story which he did by enquiring from the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina.

“However, when asked to put his explanation and plea into writing, he maintained that what he wrote on the Satrurday column was based on his observations,” Mr. Abubakar said.

The CSO said he met Mr. Adetayo on Monday in the presence of the chairman of the State House Press Corps, Ubale Musa.

Mr. Musa, a Deutsche Welle reporter who was himself ejected from the State House in the last days of the Jonathan administration, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Adetayo verbally apologised, but that he was not privy to the content of his colleague’s written statement to the CSO when asked if he, indeed, denied authorship of the Sunday story.

“I don’t know what he wrote in his statement,” Mr. Musa said. “I only know he apologised.”

Mr. Abubakar also accused Mr. Adetayo of reporting on security personnel allowances and accidental discharge in the State House with little attempt to balance and get the facts of the stories.

“All these were reeled out with the mischeivous intent especially as he championed the stories inspite of being cautioned and advised by his colleagues as well as the chairman of the State House Press Corps to be circumspect and objective in his reportage,” Mr. Abubakar stated.

“Aggregating the foregoing and the interactions with the reporter smack of irresponsibility and mischief as Adetayo’s stories in Saturday column of the Punch Newspaper of April 22, 2017, lacked objectivity which is one of the cardinal principles of journalism.

“Similarly, his belligerence and non-repentance on his ways suggest his desperation to satisfy some subterranean interests of certain individuals who are bent on undermining the government.

“In view therefore, Olalekan Adetayo is deemed to have lost the privilege of representing his media outfit in the State House.

“You may wish to advise the Punch Newspaper that it reserves the right to send a more matured, professional and patriotic representative that will work in the overall interest of the nation rather than self-serving and parochial interests,” Mr. Abubakar said.

PREMIUM TIMES’ efforts to get Mr. Adetayo’s reaction on all the allegations failed throughout Wednesday.

The reporter said he had detailed all he knew about his encounter with the CSO in a piece for his newspaper on Tuesday.

But in his account, Mr. Adetayo did not address claims that he apologised or denied authorship of the story or begged for leniency.

No official of The Punch was available for comments on Mr. Abubakar’s memo throughout Monday.

Contacted, Mr. Adesina said he would not confirm or deny receiving any such memo from the CSO.

“As far as we are concerned, we have closed the issue and we are not talking about it any longer.

The CSO, Mr. Abubakar, declined to speak with PREMIUM TIMES on his memo, warning the paper not to publish his confidential internal communication with other presidency officials.

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