Just recently, Olakunle Taiwo of Nigerian Tribune made the following confession on how a disastrous interview with ‘Professor Itse Sagay’ made him lose his job. He said, on getting to know how silly he has been, “speaking with the wrong person, instead of Professor Itse Sagay…I almost collapsed at the lobby of the hotel which was hosting my honeymoon. What have I done to myself, my career, my bosses, my employers, my company that feeds my family, God!? I felt like asking the ground to open up and swallow me. My wife of two days was in the room oblivious of the damage that had been done to our honeymoon. With me, the honeymoon was over in just two days!”
He continued, “I joined journalism with an ambition to go far. I never knew there were deadly potholes on my way to realising my career dream. I hope and pray that this cup shall pass… While accepting responsibility for the error, I state with all sense of responsibility that it was not intentional, not deliberate. In my almost two years in journalism, I have worked hard to build a future in the profession and serve my country, through my employers, truthfully and diligently.” (Premium Times, December 23, 2015). This could have been me; I said to myself, had I studied Mass Communications and decide to become a journalist. But can things get simpler?
This will not be the first time we will have such goofing in the media. No less a person than Dr. Reuben Abati (whose phones stopped ringing when he lost his job as presidential spokesman) to nearly bring a newspaper, The Guardian, to disrepute for his unguarded statement in one of his write-ups, “For the Attention of General Buhari”.
Let us quote the exact words of the editors in their apology to the General on the June 11, 2013: “On April 22, 2011, The Guardian newspaper published an article on page 51 titled “For the attention of General Buhari” wherein certain allegations were made against General Muhammadu Buhari’s alleged role in the violence emanating from the elections. The publication was based on information which we believed to be reliable at that time. Since the publication, however, we now have reason to believe that certain parts of the story were not verified to be correct before the publication. We assure General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) GCFR of our highest esteem and regret any distress or embarrassment which the said publication may have caused him.”
There is really nothing wrong in goofing, after all we are all humans. We all are given to making mistakes, even really embarrassing ones. But when we do, the decent thing for us to do is to apologise appropriately, as The Guardian did in Abati’s unfortunate case.
Let us assume that Dr. Abati may just be trying hard to be seen working hard defending his clueless boss. Like I have argued elsewhere, his job was a very delicate one. As Abati himself admitted in his “The Phones Are No longer Ringing”, he was to act as an attack dog against perceived opponents of his boss, and in some cases falsify facts just so as his boss would not look so clueless. He assumed his job descriptions perfectly well, little wonder insults, ridicule and in some cases outright verbal abuses on his boss’ “enemies” were prominent features of his tenure as presidential spokesperson. Can we say the same for a hustling young man, Mr. Taiwo, whose career in journalism is at stake?
In the case of Taiwo, I could only pity this lad whose fledging career in journalism might have ended abruptly. Immediately his reported “interview” was published, anti-Buhari elements on social media, even without bothering to check for facts, posted and quoted “Professor Sagay” with much approval. “Buhari is selective in his anti-corruption war”; “Buhari is witch-hunting his political opponents”; “The whole world can now see that Buhari is not sincere with the anti-corruption fight” and the likes became the favourite nursery rhymes on social media for the anti-Buhari clowns. Not until the well-known investigative platform, Sahara Reporters broke the story that the Professor never granted any interview with any reporter from Nigerian Tribune. Can we agree less with President Buhari who challenged our lazy press men on the need to do more investigative reporting?
The obviously embarrassed Nigerian Tribune have since offered a watery apology on the matter. Heads “rolled”, but not the “Head”. The poor reporter reportedly lost his job, a day after his wedding. The line editor also was placed on “indefinite suspension” by the newspaper management. This was how far they could go, at least, there should be scapegoats in this kind of situation. You just have to look a little responsible, even when you are obviously stupid. One wonders why the Tribune management are yet to release the transcript of the “interview” with the man from the “other end”, if truly they are sincere and want us to believe they are “innocent” and professional in their internal control. All these are just by the way.
Let me now return to those who bothered themselves, or were in a rush to “nail” Buhari and his anti-corruption war. It is said that the deaf only knows the last song he heard before he became deaf. This appears to be the situation these unfortunate elements find themselves in today. None of them even bothered to “apologise” like their sources, Tribune and Guardian did. It matters not to them, since that was all they wanted to hear.
Though, I am on record to have lent my voice to the opposition to the Social Media Bill before the Senate, the overbearing influence of online media must be checked before things get out of hand. This is the age where investigative journalism is, in all intent and purposes, dying or dead. We live in a period in which too much information is at our finger tips, yet we are mentally lazy to utilise these. If Olisa Metuh, the loquacious People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman, can unconsciously refer to a statement credited to Abati which The Guardian has renounced; if we still have people who hold the opinion that Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is the “sponsor” of Boko Haram because of the report of one Reno Omokri (Wendell Simlin); if some people can report that the Chapel in Aso Rock has been closed down; it only convinces me that the “watchers” have been and are still goofing!
It is on this note that I will appeal to the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ); Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE); Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN); Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN); Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and others to place much emphasis on professional excellence and ruthlessly root out quacks within their ranks to save the watchers or the fourth estate of the realm from becoming totally unethical.
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