How I Was Kicked Out Of Aso Rock By Former President Jonathan, German Radio Reporter Narrates Experience
A reported with German radio Deutsche Welle, Ubale Musa, was at the tail end of former President Jonathan’s administration kicked out of the presidential villa and had his press accreditation to the villa withdrawn because he asked what was considered to be an embarrassing question to the visiting President of Chad, Idriss Deby.
Musa in an interview with Daily Trust narrates his experience on what happened and why he asked the question which got him thrown out. See excerpts below:
Your embarrassing experience in Aso Rock in the hands of former president, Goodluck Jonathan and his aides created quite some buzz. Have you been wondering why you were so treated?
I will say, first and foremost, that it was because of the timing and the environment. When I said the timing, I mean that, here we had a government that just lost power and a question that bordered on its integrity was being asked. Everybody here and the world at large were already suspicious of how the government was handling the issue of Boko Haram. They were suspicious of the role of the military, that of government and of everybody that was involved in the crisis.
So for anybody to come out and ask such questions that I asked the visiting president, if care is not taken, anything can happen to him. I was not surprised when the President asked who I was and, thereafter, ordered that my card be removed from me.
Second, environmentally, we are in a Third World country where questions are never asked a president anyhow. When a question must be asked a president, it has to be what he wants to hear, like his achievements and things like that. If you ask critical questions, you are bound to get the kind of treatment I got. It was not surprising to see the president of a country like Nigeria, even though we claim to have the Freedom of Information Act in place here, behave the way the former president behaved to me. To me, it was no surprise.
What is the interview norm at the Villa at such events? Do the president’s aides always draw up questions for journalists to ask the President?
Even if questions are not drawn up, it is assumed that for you to have access to that place, you are supposed to know the type of questions to ask the President, and those you shouldn’t. He is the symbol of authority and if you dare ask questions that make him unhappy, like I did, it is assumed you have no respect for the institution.
Again, this has to do with the environment. It is not only in Nigeria that such things happen. We have seen in Egypt and other places where journalists had been harassed and attacked for daring to do their work. The most important thing is that we have to keep pushing and building the media as an institution that can be at par with the political institutions we have in Africa. If we allow the politicians to be calling the shots all the time, it will be dangerous for journalism. They have failed us over the past 50 years, and it is now time for the media to dictate the pace, set the agenda and direct developmental activities, otherwise we will continue to be in the hands of this kind of people who call themselves democrats and hide under the guise of democracy to perpetrate social, economic and political crimes.
As I said, things like this happen in many other African countries. We have someone in Burundi who is trying to perpetuate himself in power simply because he is the President. The media has the full responsibility to say no and, even under harsh circumstances, act courageously and responsibly for good leadership to emerge.
Was there any issue between you and the Presidency before that incident?
There was nothing like that. What we normally experienced was censorship of some kinds. Only those who were considered friends to the President’s media advisers were allowed to ask the President questions. On many occasions, we would attempt to ask questions but would be denied the opportunity. As for the treatment they meted out to me, they probably felt their administration was exiting anyway and it was over, so there was nothing any more to hide.
Secondly, maybe it had to do with the manner the Chadian president was received at that time. I remember how West African leaders came to the Villa almost on a daily basis to demonstrate their solidarity with the President, telling him he was a hero for accepting defeat and that West African countries should learn from Nigeria. The media section of the Presidency was thinking it was time to celebrate a hero in Jonathan, so they would only encourage and allow questions that would uplift the ego of the former president.
The personality that visited on that fateful day was a different one. Idriss Deby, the Chadian President, is at the centre of the anti-terror war. So it was left for any journalist that is sensible and responsible to ask the kind of question that I asked him.
When the former President said you should be walked out of the Villa, what came to your mind and how did you feel?
I didn’t feel bad because I knew what I did. Even before I asked the President the question, I told one of my colleagues that when I ask my questions, all hell would be let loose in the Villa. A lady colleague who was standing beside me pleaded with me not to ask the visiting President that question. She wanted me to ask him a different question, but I insisted that was the question I would ask him. I won’t ask him about the Chibok girls because that was the question she wanted to ask the President. I knew the answer I was going to get on that, the kind of flimsy excuses that the Presidency usually gave.
I knew that the issue of hiring mercenaries to fight for the Nigerian Army was embarrassing to Nigeria, and that was why I asked the President that question. I have no regret asking Deby that question at all because lies had been dished out to Nigerians that the Army was having the upper hand in the anti-terror war when, in reality, government had illegally hired some people from outside the country to do the job. Nigerians needed to know what was happening.
Has your accreditation been restored?
What steps have you or your organization taken in that respect?
A series of steps have been taken. My organization had written a protest letter, through his Special Adviser on Media, to the President before he left office. I believed the letter was passed to him. There was also an official protest from the German government to the Nigerian government, from the foreign embassy in Berlin to the Foreign Affairs Ministry here in Abuja. I have also read a lot of write-ups by friends and well-wishers who felt that the former President’s action was wrong.
What was your impression of that incident?
The press freedom in Nigeria is still far from what we expect. We still have a long way to go. If, with our Freedom of Information Act, we are still behaving this way, it means we still have many battles to fight in other to win that freedom and to practise the way we should. The reaction it attracted from within the media and outside was tremendous. People reminded that now we are far from military dictatorship, that we are in a democracy, which should protect our rights to practise journalism freely and exercise our freedom of expression, among other rights. If our fundamental rights that are enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution are denied us, then it behoves everybody to wake up, fight and continue to fight until those rights are guaranteed in the country.