Rather sadly, the erstwhile peace between government and media these past few years collapsed at least for a few hours when armed soldiers occupied the main office of Daily Trust newspaper in Abuja. Decades ago, that would appear normal but we have come a long way since then, during which responsible behaviour was observed.
Somehow, that responsible behaviour gave way, as if in a moment of recklessness, to outrageous misconduct on both sides. All arose from reports in the Daily Trust newspaper detailing planned troops movement to tackle the new wave of attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on military and paramilitary formations, especially in the Northeastern part of the country.
So alarming was the deterioration in the military situation that Nigerians, perhaps unconsciously, virtually ridiculed our soldiers as a fighting force almost incapable of ensuring security all over the country. Indeed, it was more of gloating over ever-mounting casualty figures, not the least at Baga where up to 100 officers and men were reported to have been wiped off.
Trust Nigerians. That sad situation was followed with wild allegations of cowardly soldiers, ill-equipped, unpaid and abandoning posts.
Way back in 2015. Commander-in-Chief Muhammadu Buhari gave orders that Boko Haram must be neutralised within three months. Whatever the achievement of our soldiers on that score, the fact is that President Buhari had to renew his order against Boko Haram. How that was going to be achieved was known or should have been known only to the leadership of the military, or so the military thought except that a section of the print media was privileged with that information and went to town. Understandably, the military was irritated. Give it to the boys. In any armed conflict, they are sacrificing their lives for us, bloody civilians. As much as possible, nothing must therefore be done to endanger their lives. Seeming exuberance to inform the public may end up assisting the enemy.
The enemy? Our reality today is that Nigeria is at war with Boko Haram. Media must, therefore, be very discreet with information on such matters. This is without necessarily violating the ever insatiable appetite of the media for news. Equally, in a state of war, there is no room for professional rascality, moreso, if at the expense of fighting forces who can thereby be exposed to danger.
Meanwhile, it was remarkable how every sector of the media, Guild of Editors, Union of Journalists and Publishers Group jumped into the controversy like mad dogs. Blood is thicker than water. But as we say down South-West, “what is bad is bad.” Amid the criticisms of the invasion of the offices of Daily Trust, it would have been ideal if these (above) organisations put in some words to the media to exercise constant discretion on any aspect of military operations against Boko Haram. Our boys are dying in tens and scores in the battle front. We must give some thought to the sense of loss of the bereaved families, particularly the widows.
Failure to admonish the press to exercise regular discretion on Boko Haram reports or military strategy was a serious and indefensible omission.
Freedom of the press is not an illusion but, all over the world, there is a limit, especially in an emergency, such as the current one against Boko Haram. That limit to press freedom is better self-adhered, to show that media and authorities are partners in progress. In those days of military rule, I was a regular guest of Nigerian Security Organisation (NSO). As long as I justified the report or feature article, my interrogators were always helpless.
On an occasion, I, as Editor of National Concord, had to host them virtually on their knees. Colonel Yohanna Madaki (later military governor of defunct Gongola State but now deceased) earlier in the day delivered a lecture very critical of the prevailing military leadership. After going through the report of the lecture, I inquired from the News Editor and reporter if Colonel Madaki spoke from a text or off the cuff. I then asked for the copy of the text to be sure. I kept the text and okayed the report for publication. Around 5pm, one Captain Adegbite came to my office to please withhold the publication of Madaki’s speech as it might cause rumble in the army. After long exchanges, I obliged him. The following day, not only did still sell the National Concord but also discovered all other newspapers also did not carry the report. Apart from that, we showed military authorities that journalists (Editors for that matter) are as responsible and concerned with peace in the country no less than military officers.
For crude opportunism, Britain, as usual, has picked on the Daily Trust incident as if the military should have looked on when their officers and men were exposed to danger by the media. Britain’s interference is a classic case of “holier than thou attitude.” During the days of Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, British authorities declared one of the criminals wanted. A BBC television reporter located him in his hideout and interviewed him. After the transmission, British authorities arrested the reporter, prosecuted him and jailed him for rightly upholding professional ethics of refusing to disclose his source of information. Any journalist who discloses
his source is a disgrace to the profession. If the convicted BBC reporter were a Nigerian, Britain would have hypocritically been grandstanding.
The point to note in the above case was that it (British government) was upset at the cover a BBC reporter gave to a terrorist and thereby endangered the lives of British soldiers in Northern Ireland, no more than Nigerian Army was upset at the media endangering lives of its officers and men.
In its reaction, Britain described a free press as the hallmark of a democratic and “civilised” society. Meaning what? That Nigeria is not civilised? Was Britain not civilised when it jailed a BBC reporter for refusing to disclose the hideout of a terrorist declared wanted by the government? Were such imprisonment to happen in Nigeria, British government would have denigrated Nigeria as clamping down on the press.
On its part, Nigerian Army must not feel justified in occupying the offices of Daily Trust. It was a question of discipline and the army lost the opportunity to exemplify. If you want to know how disciplined is a man, particularly an army officer, watch out for him when he is provoked or saddled with power. In our current situation, Boko Haram, rather than the media, are the enemies of Nigerian Army. A better result could have been attained by Nigerian Army if they directly involved media stakeholders – Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria or Nigeria Union of Journalists – to call Daily Trust to order. In view of the danger the newspaper’s publication might have posed to our forces at Boko Haram front.
In fact, with the consent of Nigerian Army, it is still not out of place for the media professional organisations to assist with guidelines for media houses throughout the military operations against Boko Haram. Thereby, possible areas of conflict between he army and media in the future would have been removed.
In view of the brutality Boko Haram insurgents inflict on their victims – Christians, Muslims, young, old, Southerners, Northerners – media cannot afford to be neutral, still less albeit inadvertently glorifying terrorists or undermining our gallant soldiers. When an officer of the rank of a Colonel is killed in action, casualty figure is better imagined.
Still, Nigerian Army should examine itself on how planned military operations against Boko Haram got leaked to a media house. Certainly, Daily Trust did not burgle army barracks to gather information. And no media house or journalist is obliged to disclose any source of information.
Accordingly, all parties involved must go softly, softly.
Postscript: I completely disagree with President Buhari in his reaction to the unsuccessful coup attempt in Gabon. Reason later.
Buhari on the defensive?
Poor Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is now the target of nihilists, all out to destabilise him against his chances in next month’s presidential election. Ammunition for that purpose has been rolling down like an avalanche. There was the allegation that Buhari’s family and associates stole public fund with which they (allegedly) bought shares in Keystone Bank and a mobile telecommunications company. Nigerians merely laughed it off.
Next was the speculation that Buhari was going to extend the tenure of Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, with the impression that such never happened before. By
the time it was revealed Buhari’s immediate three predecessors in fact set the precedent by extending tenure of service chiefs, the nihilists seemed to be less enthusiastic about their litigations in court on that issue.
Still undone, the nihilists then picked on an innocent permanent member of INEC, Mrs. Amina Zakari, and claimed that her appointment as collating officer for the presidential election would tilt the race in favour of Buhari. That was even when INEC denied that Mrs. Zakari was ever appointed collating officer for the presidential election nor is she a blood relation of President Buhari. Of course, Nigerians are still awaiting the threatened nationwide strike against her membership of INEC.
Another agitation of these nihilists which has died is their hell and brimstone that unless President Buhari signed the purportedly new electoral bill into law, there would be no elections next month, when the presidential exercise was due to take place. In effect, Nigerians are clearly not taking them seriously.
By their nature, nihilists are notorious as character assassins. Even at that, their latest mischief is a class on its own. What is this recording of discussion between President Buhari and Transport Minister/Director-General of Buhari’s Campaign Organisation, Chibuike Amaechi? Having failed to gain any ground against the prospects of Buhari in the presidential election, the plot is now to smash his campaign organisation, by alienating him from his campaign organisation’s Director-General. This is by maliciously discrediting the man.
What is clear is that Buhari is under siege by these nihilists and should he yield ground on any of the allegations, he will be pursued on more allegations, old or new because he (Buhari) would have rendered himself vulnerable and on the defensive like a boxing champion on the ropes with his guards dropped. The opponent will merely go in for the kill.
Noticeably, Buhari’s political enemies this time are returning to social media, of which in the past he had himself been a victim. Was Buhari not reported many times in the social media to have died? Was a casket said to be containing Buhari’s corpse not displayed on the social media? The ultimate was the manipulation of the social media to claim that Buhari had died and was merely cloned to be around in Nigeria?
Surely, there must be some influence which Transport Minister Amaechi wields with Buhari and which constitutes headache for their enemies. There, for example, was the voice said to be on the recording. Any enthusiast of social media will laugh at an exercise on display almost every month on the social media where Nigerian languages, especially Yoruba, are easily transposed on Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians or other Asians so proficiently to make them speak like Nigerians. It is incredible listening to or viewing these language transpositions, all on the social media. These are quite different from foreigners who specially come to Nigeria to study our languages. Otherwise, the transpositions are so perfect.
Even if Buhari and Amaechi discussed on Nigerian situation, especially tough times, that could not have been the only POSSIBLE source of the said recording. This is common in the country these days among any group –husbands and wives, market women and customers, transporters and commuters, salesmen and customers, householders and workmen, etc. Such topic could easily have been transposed into any other language.
The capacity of Nigerians for mischief? You need to fall victim to appreciate.
If, however, by chance (and only by chance), Amaechi discussed as reported to have sounded in the recording, he could only have done so with those closest to him. Moles around him secretly recording his conversations? He may consider appropriate answer.
Whichever, Buhari must not put himself on the defensive or make his political enemies happy.