One of the core modules essential for the award of a Masters degree in International Journalism by the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, is Information Gathering and Analysis (IGA). Taught across two semesters (Autumn and Spring), IGA 1& 11, designed both to be a professional and practical help to working journalists aims to introduce students to the basic tools of academic research and journalistic techniques of information gathering, retrieval and analysis.
A three-strand module, I am particularly fascinated by the Critical Thinking strand.
Taught by Dr. Howard Barrell, a white South African who worked full-time as both a writing and production journalist for 24 years, the module is designed to help journalists develop their ability to think critically by engaging critically with text.
This, it does by equipping them with the skills to identify surface and underlying arguments, and the elements of which they are composed; to assess and respond to these arguments appropriately; and to detect fallacious and deceptive argumentative techniques.
Howard is a natural for the module. First, he is an accomplished journalist who edited both the Mail and Guardian newspapers of South Africa and worked for the Financial Times and The Guardian in the UK.
Second, he was neck-deep in the South African liberation struggle in the days of apartheid. A staunch member of the African National Congress (ANC) and a student of rhetoric and propaganda, he observed closely the fallacious arguments used by the Boers to prop the weak pillars of apartheid. Howard would admonish every journalist to beware of politicians and their arguments.
In the past month, we have been taught ten fallacious forms of argument. On March 6, he introduced us to the “the slippery slope” fallacy in which the premises of an argument present a chain of predictions, each of which may appear very strong, but the chain as a whole is weak and conclusion is not sufficiently supported.
That was exactly what Chief Bayo Ojo, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation did on March 5, when he insinuated that Nigeria risks imminent crisis if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) goes ahead to conduct elections in April.
Ojo, who spoke on behalf of his employer (President Olusegun Obasanjo) after the National Council of State meeting said the time frame for the election was short because of the difficulty INEC may experience in printing and distributing ballot papers.
As reported by the Punch newspaper, Ojo said: “INEC said it would come up with the list on the 12th of March. And Between the 12th of March and 1st of April, 100 million ballot papers would be printed. That time frame is a bit short.
“The logistics of doing that and distributing to different parts of the country under tight security gives room for concern.”
Short of calling for an outright postponement, Ojo concluded: “There are more than 50 political parties and the logistics of controlling the security situation at the polling booths is great.
“Mr. President appraised the council on the general security situation, especially the Niger Delta, and the preparation of INEC for the elections as well as the fact that we have 50 political parties.
“It means that at each polling station, we are going to have 50 agents which will be a lot of crowd with its attendant security implications.”
My reaction is: And so what?
It is significant that Obasanjo tried to mitigate the government’s faux pas through Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai, Minister of Federal Capital Territory, who was quickly dispatched to the US to assure the international community that the elections will hold on schedule.
Even Ojo, realising that he had ridiculed himself has since proclaimed that he was misrepresented by the media. Yet, he could not say what exactly he said that led to the so-called misrepresentation.
But Ojo was not misrepresented. He knew exactly what he said. He was only flying a kite on behalf of the “founder of modern Nigeria and saviour of our time” and he used the fallacious argument of slippery slope to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians.
Deconstructed, Ojo’s fallacy goes like this: Since the Federal Government cannot cope with the security implications of the general election which have been exacerbated by the large number of political parties, therefore, the election should be postponed until such a time that security will be guaranteed. But if Nigerians insist on going ahead will the polls, then, they must be prepared for the consequences security-wise.
This mumbo-jumbo is as puerile as it is hypocritical. First, the police have for the umpteenth time inundated Nigerians with their state of preparedness for the polls. In fact, many a time, the Inspector-General of Police has created the impression that even if the elections were to be conducted today, his men are ready to provide the necessary security. Other security agencies have likewise pledged. So where did the president get his security report from?
Second, how could Ojo insinuate that there are too many political parties in Nigeria and therefore, the election timetable ought to be tinkered with? None of these political parties was registered today and they were all registered by INEC. So, when did INEC realise that it had registered too many political parties?
In any case, was INEC forced to register the political parties? Even if we agree for the sake of argument that there was pressure on INEC to open the political space by registering more political parties, the electoral umpire still reserved the right to register only the number of political parties it can cope with. And there is every reason to believe that it did just that.
Beside, INEC has no other business than ensuring that elections are conducted as and when due. It had four years to plan for this general election. After the April polls, it will have another four years to plan and conduct the 2011 polls.
Giving spurious excuses at this late hour, on why the election should be postponed, is an affront on the sensibilities of Nigerians. And any attempt to postpone the elections, for whatever reason, is tantamount to taking this joke too far (apologies to Obasanjo).
That brings me to the issue of last week’s Umaru Yar’Adua’s death scare. President Obasanjo has every reason to stomp PDP campaign grounds and gyrate to the lyrics of his self-delusion. But he is making a fundamental mistake if he thinks that Nigerians, actually wished Yar’Adua dead.
Why would any presidential aspirant pray for Yar’Adua’s death at this period? I may be naïve, not being a politician, but I refuse to buy the argument that Yar’Adua is the man to beat in this election. The apprehension that enveloped the country was borne out of the obvious implication of his death vis-à-vis the April polls, which no politician would wish for.
If Yar’Adua had died, then Bayo Ojo and his employer who want the elections postponed indefinitely would have had a fait-accompli on their hands. If Yar’Adua had died, INEC would certainly have capitalised on Section 37 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2006, which says that the death, at the time for the delivery of nomination papers and before the commencement of the poll, of a nominated candidate could warrant a postponement of the polls, to defer the election.
The issue in the Katsina State governor’s health crisis, which Nigerians should reflect upon particularly as they prepare to go to the polls, is the fact that he had to be flown to Europe to seek medical attention for “severe dose of catarrh” as he told the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
On March 7, while campaigning for him as he was recuperating in a German hospital, Obasanjo told his bewildered audience how he personally ordered that Yar’Adua should be flown abroad to be treated for catarrh an
d cold. Cursing his political opponents and wishing them the hottest part of hell, the president and founder of modern Nigeria said: “I spoke with him (Yar’Adua) last night. I told him to travel abroad. He told me he won’t. But I insisted because we don’t want to take chances. And so he went.”
Perhaps, Obasanjo expects Nigerians to clap for him for persuading Yar’Adua to seek medical treatment abroad for the commonest of ailments.
But that disclosure has put a lie to all the propaganda of his government. If after eight years, Obasanjo’s reforms have only created hospitals where Nigerians take chances with their lives, then what are we talking about?
Even Yar’Adua should be ashamed that after eight years in office as governor, he could not establish a hospital where his severe dose of catarrh could be treated without being dramatically flown abroad and causing the nation unnecessary anxiety.
Even if for nothing else, enlightened self interest demands that a man with a fragile health such as his, should know that Julius Berger’s air ambulance may not be available every time and that in an emergency situation, the six hours or more it will take to fly to Germany is indeed an eternity, and therefore build and equip a hospital back home where he could easily go for “routine check-up.”
If these men have shame, they should clothe themselves in sackcloth and pour ashes on their head, while apologising to Nigerians.