I cut my professional teeth in Journalism about 35 years ago in Nigeria. Those were days when true professionals took reins and stayed in charge of duty, proudly holding high the beautiful banner for the lofty profession. Those were also days when hunger and poverty even among reporters were not as pervasive as they are today in Nigeria. They were times when conscience pricked the heart of a man before he swindled up a story and proclaimed falsity as truth. Of course, Nigeria journalism wasn’t perfect at that time either; but it was not as dingy and depraved as it is today when literally every Nigerian with a rickety or high-end phone has become a “journalist”; and publishers of news outlets bottled up in technological devices now freely used to launch and launder treacheries. Times have changed; and we are all changing with them.
The changing times in Nigeria and in politics are quickly churning out pigs in the labour room of the nonsensical. And present-day pigs, coming from all woodworks, are ferociously fixated on Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; a man of God and a man of the Law. Inch by inch, they are dragging the pastor into the gutters with them; and this is scary and appalling. Last week, I profusely expressed through this medium that there are now surreal signs and grotesque indications that these aren’t good times for Osinbajo to expect a Jacuzzi gyration in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. If he didn’t believe me that much then, he must begin to believe me now. He must also believe me that as we draw close to 2023 presidential election, the waters will get murkier.
The online version of an established Nigerian newspaper fingered the VP in a so-called N90bn swindle of money that belonged to a government agency. I refuse to go into the details of the concocted story; for the more it comes to my memory as a journalist, the more sickening and nauseating I get about anything that has to do with Nigerian politics and government. Peddlers of the story stood their grounds in braggadocio for a few days claiming the story was as clean as a whistle. Then, lawyers for the VP issued out a threat to seek clarification and adjudication in court. The news outlet, fidgeting on its feet, issued an apology for its errors. I am not sure how the VP will respond to the apologia. I hope he understands that as we get closer to 2023, he inches closer to the gutters with pigs.
We have entered into the season of hearsay journalism, a combination of yellow, brown envelope, roadside, and deliberately lazy journalism where a journalist sits down on their couch like a 400-pound Chinese or Russian hacker and conjures stories that never happened. And it doesn’t really matter to these liars that their concoctions impugn the character of a person or may affect their life and living. Conscience is gone; and fact-finding defenestrated in journalism! Men careless about truth but cumshaw that comes in different currencies. Lies are fancifully scribbled under by-lines. There is now competition for who tells the most lie and swivels the sweetest fabrication. And that’s journalism? It is, today in Nigeria in the age of cyberstalking! Unfounded and untrue stories sell like hotcakes. And if care is not taken, somebody will ingrain them in our history books as truth for our children and our children’s children to read. My friends; lies sell; but when will we make them unmarketable? Alhaji Lateef Jakande taught me in Ethics of Journalism in 1985, I am curious to know how he feels about Nigerian Journalism today. It stinks; and it is bad; and the pigs keep apologizing.
Journalism is a tough job anywhere in the world. It is even tougher in a society where human rights violation is normal; and the hammering and haranguing of it are both abnormal and iniquitous. There is a mad rush for scoops. But mustn’t a good journalist be fair and balanced always? No one is sure why the news outlet pushed falsehood as truth and stood audaciously behind it for days. Is good journalism about the envelope, (brown or white); or about pushing the envelope and going beyond the call of duty to be fair and balance and above board? Good journalists see the warts in the world; and perfections and imperfections in people and places; and that is why we are called the Fourth Estate of the Realm.
If one pig apologises, there are others now brainstorming how they will outdo other pigs in dastardly efforts to dirty up people. Unfortunately, if you are not ready to wrestle with some pigs, you are not ready to do exploits in life; so you must be wrestle-ready. I know that Nigerian breed of pigs are very peculiar. When they come fighting, they employ all manner of tactics and dirty tricks. They visit demonic shrines and go to all kinds of prayer mountains. Nigerian pigs are more challenging to fight, but if you are well-trained and tutored, you will wrestle them easy and put them to rest. Mr. Vice President, I don’t know what your political plans are. But if you want to be Nigerian President, wrestling with the pig is a prerequisite. It will be dirty; so, don’t put on some Hugo Boss suit or dry lace; and don’t go to the wrestling ring in guinea brocade or Phat Pham three-piece suit. Put on some wrestling apparel and the pig will know that you mean business. In the game of politics, you can’t escape pigs. If you are not ready to wrestle, you are not prepared to settle.
On the newspaper’s apology to the VP; his adherents want him not to forgive. They want the VP to bring the culprits before the judge. I understand those voices. I felt the same way too initially, and I expressed my feelings to a few friends who are fiends with the VP. But a story I read about Nelson Mandela helped me through how I felt. I hope the VP will digest this and make his decision.
“After I became President, I asked one day some members of my close protection to stroll with me in the city, have lunch at one of its restaurants. We sat in one of the downtown restaurants and all of us asked for some sort of food. After a while, the waiter brought us our requests. I noticed that there is someone sitting in front of my table waiting for food. I told one of the soldiers: ‘Go and ask that person to join us with his food and eat with us’. The soldier went and asked the man so. The man brought up his food and sat by my side as I asked and began to eat. His hands were trembling constantly until everyone had finished their food and the man went. The soldier said to me: ‘The man was apparently quite sick. His hands trembled as he ate.’
‘No, not at all,’ said Mandela. ‘This man was the guard of the prison where I was jailed. Often, after the torture I was subjected to, I used to scream and ask for a little water. The very same man used to come every time and urinate on my head instead. So, I found him scared, trembling, expecting me to reciprocate now, at least in the same way, either by torturing him or imprisoning him as I am now the president of the State of South Africa…but this is not my character nor part of my ethics! The mentality of retaliation destroys states, the mentality of tolerance builds nations. The weak can never forgive…forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”.