Not surprisingly, Mr Abati’s analysis of the interview continues to generate mixed reactions, alongside the original interview on internet forums and pepper soup joints, in one of such forums, a pundit went as far as alleging that Mr Abati has chosen to pitch his tent and loyalty where his ‘mouth’ is, and that since his other job is emceeing events for the rich and mighty, he wouldn’t want to tinker with such a secure and regular revenue stream, as against Sowore whose exposé writing will not in any way affect his day job working with catholic charity organisations in New York.
With all due respects to his past journalistic accomplishments but Levi Obijiofor’s comments regarding the said interview passes him off as a creature from the past and an enemy of progress. Hear him; ‘The opinions expressed in that interview were clumsy and in bad taste because never before has the nation experienced the son of a sitting president expressing, on the pages of the print media, personal opinions that were designed to pour scorn on the image of his father’s deputy, and other serving public officers in the country’. Maybe someone needs to remind Mr Obijiofor what generation we are in, this is the information age, the age of individual freedom, liberty and public welfare. Why look for precedents or lack of it to justify Gbenga’s actions?
According to Mr Obijiofor ‘Journalists who engage in unethical conduct are usually tried by a committee set up by the relevant press council. In this regard, Gbenga Obasanjo might consider lodging an official complaint with the Nigerian Press Council or the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).’ Mr Obijiofor is already assuming the position of both jury and judge.
His analysis is more pathetic than Mr Abati’s because he spoke from the two sides of the mouth, questioning both Gbenga’s character and motives, and at the same time attacking Mr Sowore with the same ethics argument. But in so doing, he fell flat on his face because the Sowore that he is recommending to the NUJ to be sanctioned is neither a journalist, nor a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), he is a citizen journalist, citizen journalists operate without borders just like the Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders). So how does he expect NUJ to sanction somebody that does not operate within its scope?
The Sowore/Gbenga Obasanjo interview is only an eye opener and an indication of the sign of things to come, because as the idea of citizen journalism catches on more in Nigeria, more and more Nigerians will begin to feel so empowered to pick up their pens and keyboards and write about the issues that affect them the most, there is no longer any fear about the mainline media refusing to publish such alternative views because the independent internet websites are there to give such views a right of place.
What really should concern these two veteran journalists – Mr Obijiofor and his colleague Mr Abati are the ways to improve the working conditions of the Nigerian journalist, so as to adequately empower them to be able to continue to live up to societal expectations in an increasingly changing and globalized world, if not, the activities of citizen journalists like Sowore may cause their honourable profession to become increasingly irrelevant in Nigeria. Casting an inward look on the state of the journalism profession in Nigeria is very much desirable now.
Gbenga Obasanjo in the said interview remarked thus; ‘One day, I was at Abeokuta with the Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniels; these press guys came in and started asking hard questions. The moment they were served with food, they left their scrap papers and rushed the food. Of course the next day, their reports were very shiny. That’s the way it goes over here. The press boys are a hungry bunch’. In their commentaries, Reuben Abati broached lightly on this serious indictment of the journalism profession while Levi Obijiofor did not even touch it at all. Mr Abati’s answer to Gbenga’s allegation seem to have been made from the corner of a ‘victim’-‘The sad thing about journalism is that all kinds of persons have ideas about it, since in any case it is a profession into which anyone can dabble and start claiming authority’. This remark has hardly addressed the crises facing the Nigerian journalist today raised by Gbenga’s comments.
While the debate about what is in the public interest continues, it must also be pointed out that people who declare themselves eligible to rule, are at the same time accepting the fact that a thin line will separate their private and public lives. Their various activities become news, rightly and wrongly, they know this from day one as it is the nature of the game. Goldfish has no hiding place, especially rotten goldfish. The appetite of the public and their expectations in this Big Brother age is limitless; such can only be satisfied by full citizens’ involvement in a vibrant media landscape and not a docile one.
In recognition of the UK public’s insatiable desire and appetite for information about their government, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government in addition to the usual information flow and exchanges with the Whitehall and 10 Downing street press corps recently experimented with a novel concept, they allowed Channel 4 black female presenter (June Sarpong) to follow the Prime Minister for 24 hours to capture a day in the life of a British Prime Minister. The documentary will be aired on the 30th of January 2006.
Would our leaders in Nigeria ever agree to such a programme, or do they still have things to hide?