Someone copied this message to my daughter: “Ray Ekpu made a confession that startled everybody present. He pointedly said the media would never support PMB’s regime because all media houses that collected huge sums of public funds from Johnathan’s regime were compelled to refund what was given to them by PMB. He said that is the grouse of the media against PMB and so we shall not expect the media to be fair – Obono-Obla (SAN)”. My daughter copied the message to me and asked: “Daddy, is this true?”
I promptly replied: “Of course not. What I said at a corruption conference in Abuja is in writing. This guy must be a truth shredder.” I was going to leave it at that until my son-in-law told me that the stuff has been circulated within his group, but that, knowing me as he does, he knew that must be fake news. Several other people have copied the nonsense to me, which is why I decided that many more people may have been exposed to it, so, I should give a response. Besides, I have seen no denial by the Obono-Obla fellow so I can assume that he authored the stuff.
This statement is a typical social media stuff, completely bereft of thoroughness or truth, but clearly fabricated to hoodwink people who are unschooled in the fake news subculture of some of the social media platforms.
Part of the hoodwinking process is that Mr. Obono-Obla made no mention of where I made the purported confession, when I made it and on what occasion. Was it in writing or was it verbal? He did not say because supplying such details would lead to the unveiling of the uncomfortable truth, which is that no such statement was ever made by me.
The only forum at which Obono-Oblo and I were together as far as I can remember was at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua centre in Abuja in February this year. There was a conference titled “The Future of the Anti-Corruption Campaign in Nigeria”. It was organised by the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD), I was the chairman of the media segment of that conference. The paper presenter was Mrs. Eugenia Abu of NTA, while the discussants included Mr. Segun Adeniyi, chairman of the This Day Editorial Board and Mr. Waheed Odusile, president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists. As chairman, I presented a nine-page paper in which I mentioned the achievements of the EFCC in curbing corruption, complaints of some editors against the government and preventive measures that ought to be adopted in dealing with the scourge. I also made 10 recommendations on how to improve the fight against corruption. My paper was available at the conference.
I had not met Mr. Obono-Obla before the conference, but I have seen him on television raving and ranting. I recognised him at the conference because he is a tall, handsome man with a generous spread of white chalk on his hitherto charcoal coloured hair. Besides, his contribution at the conference was the equivalent of rabble rousing, so everyone must have noticed him. This conference was a serious affair. We had the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. We had Professor Ibrahim Gambari, chairman and founder of the SCDDD, a former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and a public intellectual of note. The keynote speaker was Professor Abdullahi Shehu, a former Director-General of the ECOWAS Inter-governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa.
He was also a programme expert (Anti-Corruption and Money Laundering) at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria. He had also been the director of the EFCC Training and Research Institute. A well-regarded professor of criminology, Shehu is an author of several books. There was Ambassador Abdullahi Omaki, executive secretary of the SCDDD, Dr. Usman Bugaje and many other intellectuals. This was a gathering of serious-minded people who wanted to put some new ideas in the pot and stir for the benefit of our country. It was an ideas conference, a solution-seeking meeting to which, according to the organisers, Federal Government officials were invited but they did not turn up. Mr Obono-Obla was hollering at maximum decibel, accusing the conferees of not appreciating that President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of integrity and people had refused to see the good work he was doing for Nigeria. Eventhough he said he was there to represent government he brought no paper, no facts, no figures and made no suggestions on the way forward. He did not engage the organisers or the participants in any conversation because he always came late and left early. His mission was to come and shout. He brought no new ideas, he offered no defence on the lapses in the anti-corruption campaign, he offered no road map to the future of the campaign. Each time he spoke, he lapsed into dangerous demagoguery.
My speech was written and any serious analyst should have read it before spreading falsehood. What I said was: “my view of the media’s role in our democracy is that it must be episodic. If the government takes a good decision, the media should applaud it. If it takes a bad decision, the media should oppose it and, in opposing that decision, it should offer alternative policy options.”
How could I have said that the media will not support or be fair to President Buhari? Am I the commander-in-chief of the media? Even a commander-in-chief can be disobeyed. Apparently, Mr. Obono-Obla does not know that the media are not a monolithic entity. Neither do they have a single proprietor. There are broadly three media proprietors in Nigeria: Federal Government, state governments and the private sector.
Some of the media, including the privately-owned ones, belong to some of the politicians in Nigeria. So, how can they be expected to take a common position on any issue in the country?
Besides, most of the mainstream media in Nigeria are manned by very well-educated journalists who are also well-adjusted professionally and ethically and are fiercely independent. It would be disrespectful for anyone to suggest that they, all of them, are going to take a permanent partisan position on any issue. That is preposterous.
Mr. Obono-Obla, who is the president’s Special Assistant on Prosecution, must be living in ancient times. The issue of the grouse that he is referring to occurred in December 2015 when the Buhari government asked 12 newspapers to refund N10 million each to government. I wrote a column titled, “The Baby and the Bath Water”, which was published in The Guardian of December 29, 2015. The facts of the matter are as follows: Between June 6 and June 8, 2014, some security operatives impounded newspapers belonging to members of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in about 15 states.
The military authorities claimed that they got information that newspaper vans were used in carrying arms and bomb-making materials. Despite their elaborate searches they found nothing incriminating in any of the newspaper vans. When the newspaper owners threatened to sue the government, President Goodluck Jonathan decided to intervene. He came to Lagos and met with the publishers at State House, Marina, on June 12, 2014. He apologised for the action of the security personnel and offered to pay compensation for the loss of money by the publishers. And the government paid N10 million to each of the 12 publishers. My company was not one of the beneficiaries but I thought an agreement by the former government was valid and ought to be respected by the new government.
I raised it with the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at an NPAN function on May 5, 2016, at the Chinese Restaurant, OPIC Plaza, Ikeja. He promised that the money would be refunded to the publishers but apparently the hawks within the government blocked it. But even at that, I have seen no difference in the attitude of the private media to the Federal Government.
It is obvious that Mr. Obono-Obla never read my paper at the conference. He is simply trying to exploit my name unfairly for his sycophantic exertions. There are quite a few of his type around. They make little or no sensible input into the public conversation; they are those who cry louder than the bereaved. They think that raising false alarms and raising their voices against genuine crusaders for a better society will win them a place in Buhari’s innermost kitchen cabinet. Such dangerous demagoguery exploited by groveling sycophants, can become the chink in the armour of our democracy and the building blocks of an anti-intellectualism culture in our country.