Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, has accused The Punch newspapers of editorial dictatorship.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Keyamo said he was compelled to issue the release because of the newspaper’s alleged mistreatment of a senior citizen and the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Folake Solanke.
As background to the issue, the minister wrote: “On the 25th of March, 2020, I made these seemingly harmless tweets:
‘God has allowed COVID-19 to afflict the human race only to redirect our steps back to Him. We have so distorted God’s Word to suit our own human weaknesses and satisfy our greed, even in supposed Holy Places. We should collectively ask for forgiveness & it will all end in praise
‘Aside the spiritual angle to this scourge, we must all work and pray; God can only help those who help themselves. Those our recalcitrant Pastors must realise this. All the directives of @NCDCgov must be followed to the letter by all and sundry before it can quickly end in praise.’
“As usual, the tweets generated varied reactions.
“On the 2nd of April, 2020, one Abimbola Adelakun wrote an article on the back page of the Punch entitled, No God Is Punishing US With COVID-19. See it here: https://www.google.com/amp/s/punchng.com/no-god-is-punishing-us-with-covid-19/%3famp=1
“In the said article, the said lady made disparaging insinuations about my person and my rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. My only offence was expressing my personal Christian belief in my tweet and also emphasizing the physical aspect of the fight against COVID-19 (a fact she conveniently left out in her analysis). In the process, she also, by innuendo, disparaged the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”
Keyamo said that as a policy, he does not engage in “petty quarrels with anyone” and that as a public officer, he had fortified the disposition the more.
“However, a few days later, I received a call from Chief (Mrs) Folake Solanke, SAN, who apparently felt slighted on my behalf and on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, about the indiscretion of the said Abimbola Adelakun, in referring to the rank of SAN in such disparaging manner,” the minister continued.
“She shared with me a rejoinder she had written to the said lady correcting her article and insisting that her rejoinder be published VERBATIM. She also shared with me the private apology the said Ms. Adelakun sent to her by mail, but kept mute about publishing Mrs. Solanke’s rejoinder.
“I was effusive in my appreciation to ‘mummy’ (as I often call Mrs. Solanke, SAN) and sent an email to her thanking her. I thought little of the incident again and mentally switched off from the matter.
“However, earlier today, I opened my mail only to see another email from Mrs. Folake Solanke, SAN, addressed to the editor of Punch Newspapers, complaining about the suppression of her response to the article by Ms. Adelakun.”
In the letter, the 88-year-old senior lawyer urged the newspaper’s editor for the weekday publications, Ademola Oni, to publish her response which she titled ‘A Rebuttal of the Verbal Disparagement of the TITLE Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)’.
Keyamo then said he was disappointed to be treated in this manner by the newspaper he claimed to have defended in court in the early and mid-nineties while working with Gani Fawehinmi Chambers.
He said: “My word! An 88-year old octogenarian making all these efforts and STRUGGLING to get a simple rebuttal published??!! What manner of editorial dictatorship is this??!! It is shocking to see a newspapers that supposedly takes the posture of ‘fighting dictatorship’, practicing a worst form of it (suppressing alternative views) even in a relatively small enclave! It is sad to see the Punch that I defended in court so vigorously in the early and mid-nineties when I plied my trade with Gani Fawehinmi Chambers, descend into this morass of moral and political debauchery.
“I will expect Punch to do the needful immediately. As much as public officers are exposed to harsh criticisms, critical and fair comments, there are however limits. Malice is proven when you refuse to publish a rebuttal to such a story or comment. Or when you fail to accord the rejoinder equal prominence as the original comment. In that situation, the legal option would be the only way.”