Opinion: Nigerian journalism is collapsing. Here is how

by Orukotan Samuel

The Press is a business that spans the shared occupational philosophy of the cultural diversity of journalistic values plus media objet d’art, and a common understanding of writing balanced stories, long-form journalism and investigative reporting among news workers. Therefore, whether as a populist disseminator, opportunist facilitator, detached watchdog or critical change agent, nothing should tamper with the ethical code of objectivism, empiricism, accountability and impartiality.

In recent times, the fourth estate in the Nigerian structure is collapsing. Hungry journalists push stories in Nigerian dailies. A hungry man has an instant cure: Give him food to eat, he will be fine.  The belly is the hungry man’s weakest point. Such is the life of a hungry journalist. These journalists have resorted to conspiracy of unparalleled proportions, lopsided reportage, manipulated headlines and deflated stories. They write stories from the sides or angles that soothe their pay-masters. They collect “bribe” from victim-players, alleged corrupt persons and thieves in big-flowing ‘agbada’ damask through their media-aides. Even, sons of political thieves currently undergoing judicial trials give them bribe. Bribe? An act inimical to the practice of journalism, anywhere in the world. That should stop!

Newsprints have a new trend of unsustainability going for them. Salaries are no longer paid as and when due. No thanks to the flip-flop state of the Nigerian economy and top-management recklessness. These has pushed some news-hawks to receive gratification, carrot and cut corners. At any rate, that is not enough reason to be crooked as a journalist or reporter.  Even though, some journalists have resorted to conspiracy of unparalleled proportions and burying evidence of perjury.

Recently, I was in Abuja and I had the privilege of going to places of interest. A journalist has to make certain decisions per diem: whether to be here or there. As part of my perfunctory sightseeing, I was at the Federal High Court, Abuja. Whilst, some cases were also going on concurrently at the FCT High court, Maitama, Abuja.

At the Federal high court that day, the persons, Dasuki, Alex-Badeh, Nyako, Abba Mohammed, Justice Ngwuta were all seen in the court premises. Obviously, they had cases that day and in any criminal case, the accused must be present. Else, the trial is stalled.

Actually, the dock is a very lonely place. I have seen Senate President, Saraki sometimes dose off in the dock at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, not once, not twice. It happened that Abba Mohammed, the son of Bello Haliru, the former chairman of the ailing PDP; Bello Haliru, himself; and BAM Project and Properties Limited (Abba’s company) were all standing trial on four counts of money laundering. This means, Abba, ditto other defendants in that corruption trial are considered corrupt, until proven otherwise.

Apparently, it was a relief for Abba to leave the dock after the adjournment of his case. Abba descended the stair-case, and walked towards the journalists chatting inside the court premises. Abba greeted them, a warm handshake and a smile on his face, Abba grumbled about his health condition and the need for him to travel abroad for medical treatment. The chit-chat with the journalists stopped and Abba put his hands in his pocket, counted some wads of naira and gave one of the journalists (to be shared among his corrupt type). The money could not be more than 5,000 naira.

I shook my head in despair because the journalist collected the gift from Abba in broad daylight. I have asked myself, what service will the money render? To tell a “better” story? or to strengthen the command of their journalistic pen? I rather concluded, it to be the usual practice of many Nigerian journalists to receive money from corrupt Nigerians in a bid to help them through court-trials. The corruption besetting Nigerian journalism today is that “of twisting or playing down the truth by correspondents”, “of receiving gratification to doctor headlines and lopsided narratives” and “of collecting bribes to write exclusive stories”.

In the early days of Saraki’s trial at the CCT, Jabi, Abuja, one of Saraki’s media aides was seen sharing money, pleading with journalists to take it easy with his boss, a defendant in a corruption case. Yes, some journalists collected that bribe. Some didn’t, they walked away with their heads up high. My heart blessed those journalists that day. But guess what? They were just a few of them. Those “induced” correspondents wrote lopsided stories, especially in Saraki’s case till today. Money can speak at difficult times. Saraki bought reporters to doctor headlines for him, signalling that the FG is losing. Those journalists have been enticed with money to believe that Saraki is standing trial for “political” reasons. Subconsciously, they become subjective: the act of impunity in journalism.

Recently, at the CCT, Saraki’s media aides (Yusuf and Co.) were fanatical about the “professional” attitude of some reporters or correspondents. Why should Media-aides always question the objectivity, empiricism and accountable posture of correspondents? Why should a media aide meet with journalists after court proceedings and start pleading the case of his boss by playing the victim? Why? Isn’t that trying to buy the truth? Isn’t that trying to drag the already stained integrity of Saraki to the mud again? Perhaps, Dr Bukola Saraki, needs to caution his media aides, especially now that he thinks, the FG has no case against him at the CCT or why should Saraki’s media aides be that desperate still, even when Saraki had said the case before the tribunal does not speak to evidence?

Imagine, Mr Yusuf, telling a journalist that, “you cannot ask ‘every’ question”. This actually occurred after a press briefing at the CCT. An AIT reporter had sought to know, the position of the 8th senate under the leadership of Dr Bukola Saraki on a particular issue through Saraki’s counsel, Paul Erokoro (SAN). Perhaps, you may ask, why should the respondent be Paul Erokoro and not Dr Bukola Saraki? Well, after every court proceeding, Saraki doesn’t speak to the press. He immediately enters his expensive dark-glass-fitted long bus and zooms off.

In a rather polite manner, the AIT reporter asked Erokoro, the available respondent, I paraphrase: “why has the senate refused to swear-in the senator-elect, Bassey Etim after a subsisting court order?” Paul Erokoro replied, paraphrasing, “I can’t answer that question.”

It should be recalled that, the AGF has transmitted a letter dated April 20, 2017, to the Senate president, explaining in details, the court judgment that nullified the election of Senator Bassey Etim Albert in the first place. Obviously, the senate has been unfair to Senator Bassey. In the Senate today, Saraki and Dino Melaye are critical forces. They decide whatever happens in the Senate. You stay outside the circle; you expose yourself to danger. Inside the circle, you are safe. No one prays for their fall-out, because it is going to be another World War 2.

After that press briefing, there was a moment of pandemonium between Saraki’s media aides, his supporters and reporters. What caused the chaos? A reporter asked a pertinent question but according to Mr Yusuf, it was a wrong question to ask. Imagine that incident whereby a reporter was queried for asking questions. That same day, they threatened reporters with libel suits. Ipso facto, that story-line was not developed or published. Or did you see that story online anywhere, even though it was of little or no importance to Saraki’s trial at the CCT?

Mr Yusuf stated boastfully, in the course of that chaos, “I was a reporter for twenty (20) years.” In my own interpretation, as a reporter, he doesn’t ask “every” question, he has helped every alleged “corrupt” person in dire need, and also, doctored story-lines. Perhaps not, but why is he particularly desperate about what correspondents and reporters will report in the news or paper that day or the next?

I also saw the former NNPC boss, Andrew Yakubu, “begging” journalists that, ‘please, you have to help’ me? What kind of help is he asking for? That’s the corruption we are talking about. Expectedly, those help come with “strange” reward-monies. And some journalists “accept” to help. But the most embarrassing of all that I saw was a Senior Reporter of a National Daily whose headquarters is located along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos receiving bribes. The reporter is well-read but yet, she has thrown caution to the wind. For decades as a reporter, she has favoured improving her manipulative skills over her writing skills.

In the temple of justice, Journalists should be “genuine” messengers of justice. But then, some journalists have become polluters of that sacred temple with attendant lies and mendacities. What a shame on the press, a society on its own. If we cannot get the true story from the print media, who else should we turn to? National Orientation Agency (NOA) that is dead? Aides of public office holders that mostly “react” from the two sides of their mouth?

A digression: The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is moribund; the DSS are not strategic enough in their operations; EFCC needs to refocus and settle their “inter-departmental” issues with the DSS as quick as possible. Many ministries of government are sleeping (Ministry of Justice under the AGF is a case in point). Ministries that are critical to the anti-corruption war of this present administration are performing poorly. If the AGF is performing below expectation, who are we to blame the Press for reporting stories that highlight that the Federal Government is losing corruption cases?

The Press must therefore be repositioned, by relevant stakeholders, to combat the pressures, intimidations and dangers of 21st century reporting.

News Organizations need to be more proactive and sensitive. Why should a news-agency suppress the strength of a journalist, in the face of intimidation, litigation or direct assault, and surrender to the whims and caprices of a power-drunk?

In Law, conspiracy to receive gratification is a criminal offence. Not Peccadilloes. Morally speaking, it is wrong. In this common era, Journalism is an institution that must be preserved and protected. Else, our society becomes anorexic. Disciplinary measures should be put in place to check-mate erring correspondents or reporters. More importantly, the salaries of journalists should be prioritized to reduce the propensity to engaging in sharp practices.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Orukotan Samuel is the director, Content Development and Analysis for the Great Brains and Young Intellectuals Initiative, GBAYII Think-tank, wrote in via [email protected]


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