Tracking news and reporting or investigating them in Nigeria is fast becoming a cumbersome affair in a country where scandals unfold in unimaginable proportion every passing moment of the day. Once there is a news break, before you settle down to look carefully at the issues involved, another news break comes in to unsettle you. With the frequency and rapidity of news breaks in the country, the media world is facing a deluge of news items. The screaming headlines in our daily newspapers attest to this fact, as journalists engage in a rat race
to undo one another in news coverage.
Last Monday, a good number of senior journalists attended a one-day workshop on reporting financial crimes. The event took place in Abuja under the auspices of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Ibrahim Lamorde, the humble chairman of the EFCC, was on hand to declare the workshop open. So also were some of his henchmen-Osita Nwaja, deputy director, public affairs, and Wilson Uwujaren, acting head of media affairs unit, as well as many other operatives of the commission. Almost all the nation’s media houses -newspapers, magazines, radio, TV – were represented at the event.
Papers were presented by eminent journalists in core areas of ethics, news reporting and investigations. Thereafter, the floor was thrown open for participants to ask questions. A number of issues bordering on free flow of information between the commission and news hunters were raised. While the journalists believed they were not getting enough, the commission explained that, in some cases, news is deliberately held back so as not to jeopardize their investigations. According to the commission, once the news gets to the
public domain, those who could be targets of arrests easily go underground, while witnesses also get scared and may be unwilling to volunteer information to the agency.
The decision of the commission to host the workshop underscores the importance which it attaches to the role of the media in the fight against corruption and economic crimes in the country. Just as Lamorde puts it,
“Without a doubt, the media is a critical stakeholder in the anti-graft war.
With your pen, you could make or (break) the fight against economic crimes and corruption … We need the media to help sensitize the people to the ills of corruption and economic crimes”.
The chairman of the EFCC then used the occasion to correct the “notion that the commission is selective in investigating persons suspected of committing economic crimes; that only those who have fallen out of favour with the powers that be are touched by the commission; that the commission has gone to sleep” and all that. The chairman then went on to say that “even in the midst of contrary evidence, a section of the press has been so swayed by this stereotype that they are unwilling to shift their gaze”. “This”, according to him, “is sad”. “Corruption “, he said, “threatens all sectors, including the media. I expect the media to lend its investigative skills to helping the EFCC fight corruption and not allow itself to be sucked in by the corrupt and become a pawn in their hands to undermine the commission”.
The take-home from the workshop is the fact that the media should exercise its constitutional mandate as the fourth estate of the realm with the highest sense of modesty and responsibility. All the speakers at the parley seemed to have agreed that to make meaningful impact on the anti-graft war in the country, the media must be very cautious in their
coverage of economic crimes matters and ensure they verify their facts before publication.
“Perhaps, it is not inappropriate to refer to the splinter group as rascals because what Nigeria needs now is the emergence of some rascals in the polity”
A number of publications on the war against corruption were freely given out by the EFCC at the workshop. One of them was a bulky magazine titled Zero Tolerance. Two days after the workshop, some of the contents of the magazine went viral in the media. As usual, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was widely quoted as throwing jabs at his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, and the immediate past EFCC Chairman, Farida Waziri. These have elicited serious controversy and debate in the polity. With both Atiku and Waziri up in arms against Obasanjo, the public is, once more, being treated to another season of accusations and counter-accusations, all bordering on corruption by major actors in our nation’s political history. As it is, the last may not have been heard in the last few years about what transpired in the corridors of power in the war on corruption and official sleaze.
On the political turf itself, all is not well with our politicians, especially among the ranks of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. A splinter group among the PDP, with about seven governors as arrowheads, now known as the New PDP or NPDP, is doing all that is possible to assert themselves in the political space. It is now a war between the old and the new PDP as the struggle for power in 2015 assumes a frightening dimension. In the meantime, all efforts by the NPDP to open offices in Abuja and the states have met with
stiff resistance with the old PDP using the police as veritable weapons against its perceived opponents. Offices have been barricaded by the police in Abuja and Port Harcourt. The climax was the prevention of Chibuike Amaechi and his guests from accessing the Government House in Port Harcourt last Thursday.
In the meantime, Bamanga Tukur, the chairman of the old PDP, has continued to spit fire by referring to the members of the splinter group as rascals. Tukur is at the epicentre of the ongoing controversy over his style of leadership of the party since he took over as chairman.
Perhaps, it is not inappropriate to refer to the splinter group as rascals because what Nigeria needs now is the emergence of some rascals in the polity. This is to invigorate the process of governance in the country.
The political temperature in the country was further heightened in Warri, Delta State as the Itsekiri people gave their monarch, the Olu of Warri, an ultimatum to vacate the throne. This was predicated on the recent proclamation of the monarch renouncing the Ogiame title and other traditional rites being practised by the Itsekiri nation. The renunciation sparked off several protests with the indigenes barricading the palace of the monarch for several
days. Not even the timely interventions of Emmanuel Uduaghan, the state governor, could sway the people. After four days of protest, the monarch capitulated, and rescinded his earlier decision to renounce the title. That is the triumph of people’s power and an indication that the people can no longer be trampled upon. This is a signal for people who are holding positions of authority either at the community, local government, state or national level to understand that they are doing so on behalf of the people and not vice-versa. Sovereignty belongs to the people and these powers must be exercised in conformity with the wishes of the people. Not to terrorise them or impoverish them.
Last Thursday, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who had been in kidnappers’ den for about twenty days, was set free. But this was not without paying a ransom, the value of which has not been properly laid in the public domain. It is indeed a sad commentary in our national life that a flourishing kidnap industry has taken over everywhere with people’s lives being endangered every day. Not only this. Millions of hard-earned money is also involved in the thriving and criminally lucrative business. It is sad that the country’s security agencies have not found an enduring solution to this epidemic, which is why many people tend to accuse some of them of connivance.
However, the week ended on a sadder note as Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State, died in Lagos last Friday night. May the Lord grant Olufunke, his wife of many years, his children, family, his colony of friends and admirers the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. His sudden death, once more, underscores the transience of life. May he find solace in the bosom of His creator. Amen.