Saturday, May 28, 2022

One year after, Buhari regime continues illegal restriction of Peoples Gazette’s website from Nigerians

The restriction followed an exclusive story that cast a spotlight on Bolaji Gambari as the new head of a cabal in the regime.

• January 28, 2022
President Muhammadu Buhari/Peoples Gazette
President Muhammadu Buhari/Peoples Gazette

One year after its clampdown on the operations of Peoples Gazette, President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime is yet to lift its restriction of access to the outlet’s website, thereby denying Nigerians access to information.

On January 26, 2021, Peoples Gazette suffered a steep cut in its readership after the Buhari regime ordered mobile telecommunications companies within Nigeria to block access to the website.

Subsequently, readers received error messages such as “ERR_CONNECTION_CLOSED, ERR_NAME_NOT_RESOLVED, and DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN.” leaving many to opt for the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to boycott the restriction.

A forensic analysis by Qurium, a Sweden-based foundation had concluded that mobile operators deliberately implemented the restriction of access to the website of the Abuja-based digital outlet. 

Several rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Global Rights, Amnesty International, Paradigm Initiatives, and the Reporters without Borders, had condemned the restriction as repressive and undemocratic.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists and former Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar had also condemned the attack and called for the restriction to be lifted.

Despite these calls and criticisms, the Buhari regime has yet to lift the restrictions, as readers still continually receive error messages while trying to access the website.

Although, presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina had denied that the government targeted The Gazette’s website, MTN, in late 2021 admitted blocking its subscribers from accessing the website based on written directives from the Buhari regime.

A Lagos-based rights attorney, Festus Ogun, who had earlier condemned the restriction, told The Gazette over the telephone that the regime’s refusal to lift the restriction was “a symptom of the president’s tyranny.”

Citing Section 22 and 39 of the Nigerian 1999 constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and obligates the media to hold the government accountable, Mr Ogun said the current administration lacked the power to “arbitrarily” or “unjustifiably” shut down the website of Peoples Gazette.

“So, the question I’ve been asking myself is if the government can shut down a media which is the fourth arm of government, then, why should we call it a democracy?” he queried.

“It’s just that we are in an era of tyranny, an era of impunity because if indeed our laws rule in this country, we should not have a situation where the government just because they are not comfortable with the secret truth that the media platform is publishing or the criticisms that ensued from the media platform go ahead to shut it down,” he added.

He submitted that the clampdown can be likened to the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, adding that “it is a naked show of power and force, a sort of dictatorship that should not happen in a democracy.” 

Further criticising the Buhari regime, Mr Ogun said the government “must pay for it” because this is how they destroy Nigerian democracy. “They must also apologise to Peoples Gazette,” he added.

The restriction on the website followed an exclusive story that cast a spotlight on Bolaji Gambari as the new head of a budding cabal of administration associates inside the Presidential Villa.

The outlet, which launched in September 2020, came under severe security pressure shortly after the story was published and received financial offers to pull down the story. But the harassments were firmly rebuffed.

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