Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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Outwardly, Governor Abdullahi A. Sule of Nasarawa state, a man of average muscular physique, looks like someone who would not hurt a fly, someone in whose mouth butter would not melt so to speak. But beyond that innocent looking exterior is a steely interior that brooks no nonsense and would not hesitate to wield the big stick, although he would have learnt that unlike in the private sector, his urge to bring erring public officials to book is often tempered with political calculations. However, at commissioning of the rejuvenated Press Centre at Government House on Shendam Road, Lafia, the Nasarawa state helmsman made a statement which though enmeshed in the euphoria of the well attended launch would have resonated in the ears of attentive journalists. The governor by that remark practically read out the riot act to media practitioners.
He warned that his government would “not condone undue sensationalization and falsehood”. Stressing that his administration was guided by the rule of law, Governor Sule cautioned that its development agenda and efforts should not be viewed from prism of religion or ethnicity. He told the assembled journalists, “You should not mix religion or ethnicity to our work”. He remarked that his administration “cherish objective and constructive criticism” as it helped to refine it, just as he equally acknowledged support of the press in showcasing its development activities to the people both within and outside Nasarawa state. Engr. Sule however, advised journalists to adhere to ethics of the profession in their reportage. He outlined the government’s own support to the media since he assumed office, among which is furnishing of the State’s Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) complex on Makurdi Road, Lafia, organization of the state’s first media award night last year. The occasion was attended by media executives in the state and journalists, including the director-general of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Malam Yakubu Ibn Mohammed. Also in attendance was the deputy governor, Dr. Emmanuel Akabe, Chairman of the Nasarawa State Council of Chiefs, retired Justice Sidi Bage who led other traditional rulers to the event, Commissioner of Information Culture and Tourism, Hon. Dogo Shammah, other government officials as well as leadership of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC).
Governor Sule’s rather strong words that his government will not “condone sensationalization and falsehood” is perhaps understandable given that he has been at receiving end of at least two news reports that he considered unpalatable. In the first instance the governor was reported to have said that he was not bothered by a second term. This was a politically incorrect thing to say in the Nigerian context. I can surmise that the governor unfamiliar with the murky waters of Nigerian politics spoke like an innocent child without guile, forgetting that in the Nigerian milieu, other meanings are read into a politician’s statement, not least that of a sitting governor. That ‘unbecoming’ and ‘uncalled’ for remark set the Nasarawa political landscape and its elites abuzz. I understand that the political fallout from it somehow “rattled’ the governor. Strenuous efforts were made to refute and deny it. From an objective point of view, the reason why such a statement is ill-advised at an early stage of a governor’s tenure is that it is capable of setting into motion, political shenanigans with political elites, stakeholders and other interested parties scheming, lobbying with accompanying intrigues, to position themselves in a vantage position to take over in the next election. And this greatly distracts a governor, his cabinet, aides and officials from the development agenda, a disservice to the people whom they are meant to serve.
It is the practice of our governments, past and present, to spend millions of naira in newspaper advertisements to refute a negative story on them. You could write tones and tones of ‘good’ reports about a government without as much as getting a commendation from them, seemingly unconcerned or noticing them; but just one ‘negative’ story and they will all notice it and fly off the handle. Another negative report on Governor Sule was more recently when an online medium alleged that he was among Muslim elites scheming to have former Nasarawa State deputy governor Silas Agara who was reportedly nominated as Chairman of the National Population Commission replaced with a Muslim. Either by an act of commission or omission, Alhaji Nurudeen Kwarra also from Nasarawa State was recently announced as chairman of that commission. The governor will tell you that he is not the type of person in whose mould that online newspaper cast him. He could point to the fact that he attended a roman catholic school in his native Gudi town; that he was accommodated by a catholic priest when he first landed in America for studies, awaiting his scholarship fund from the government; that he had mingled with and had good working relations with Christians throughout his working life; that he has a lot of respect for Christians as fellow human beings created equal as others of whatever creed by the Almighty.
One way to deal with false reports is to deny them promptly before they grow wings. There is another school of thought though which holds that such a report should be allowed to fade away with time. It is argued that by reacting to it, you draw more attention to it as those who were unaware of it or did not read it would be more curious to see it and fish it out. Nevertheless, in this digital era where reports/stories are more or less permanent as they can be culled up from the internet in ten, 20, 50 years hence, it is important to have a rebuttal for the record. Because if in future such reports are stumbled upon without a counter denial, they are likely to be believed. I asked Governor Sule’s chief press secretary, Malam Ibrahim Adra what disciplinary actions the governor would take against journalists that are guilty of falsehood or sensationalism in their reportage since he says he would not “condone” such. Adra said that I was jumping the gun, that we should wait until we get to the bridge. He intimated that the kernel of the governor’s message to journalists is that they should abide by Journalism’s code of ethics. Information, Culture and Tourism Commissioner Hon. Dogo Shammah could not be reached on phone as at time of writing this column. Ditto the state NUJ chairman.
Governors and others can take a cue from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who wrote to certain newspapers that carried offending reports on him, tendering evidence to show that they are false and threatening to sue them in court. All five affected newspapers retracted the story with apology to wit. Editors and other gate-keepers should of course, acquaint themselves with the law of libel to avoid litigations against their media while our judiciary should speed up trial of criminal cases as defamation of character, etc. They should not drag on literally for ages.