It was interesting reading Reuben Abati and Levi Obijiofor (two of Nigerian Guardian’s Grade A columnists) on Friday, the 13th of January 2006. Their various takes on the Gbenga Obasanjo/Omoyele Sowore interview would make good case studies in any journalism class.
While the sparks from the said interview continue to fly around Nigerian communities worldwide, the comments of these two veteran journalists deserve further analysis, especially in the context of global journalism practice and politics, and also today’s Nigeria – the need to balance her socio-political interests, the interests of public officials with the public interest.
From their commentaries, both writers assumed wrongly that the interviewer (Omoyele Sowore) is a journalist, and have therefore attempted to apply journalistic ethos and principles in their analysis, judgement and condemnation of both The News magazine and Mr Sowore. However, their various positions and assumptions hardly took into consideration the pedigree and motive of the interviewer, an avowed activist who in a recent interview said he was not a journalist, choosing rather to describe himself as an enemy of corruption.
Mr Abati in his own analysis wonders what constitutes a media interview, and asks – ‘Is the word “interview” so elastic in journalism practice that it accommodates eavesdropping, invasion of privacy and abuse of privilege?, as if on cue, Femi Falana Chambers, the firm of lawyers retained by The News and Mr Sowore in their reply to an earlier letter by Gbenga Obasanjo’s lawyers have had to dig deep inside the dictionary to come up with the meaning of the word – interview, and have used the same as part of their defence to deny any wrong doing on the part of their clients.
It is easy to discern the true motives of Mr Abati and those of other ‘establishment’ paddy-paddy writers and journalists who have been questioning the mode with which the interview was obtained, one may be right to assume that some of these people benefit somehow from the system and may therefore prefer not to rock the boat, choosing instead to maintain the status quo, this assumption may not be entirely wrong if we fully read between the lines of Mr Abati’s additional analysis – ‘the danger of the reporter behaving like a local gossip is that journalists will no longer be trusted. We will lose the confidence of friends. Once a journalist shows up, everyone will be under pressure, not knowing what they will say and it will be reported’. These views of Mr Abati hardly does the image of the Nigerian journalist any good, and gives the impression of a sell – out, it could be misinterpreted to mean that Nigerian journalists have abandoned their watchdog and fourth estate of the realm responsibilities. If these so – called ‘friends’ of the Nigerian journalist, whose confidence Mr Abati would not like to lose are public officials and have not soiled their hands in any manner in treasury looting, then there is no need to be afraid of the journalist.
We constantly clamour for change in our society but refuse to accept the fact that age-old dogmas, beliefs and practices may have to give way to new paradigms. Change has only come to societies where the citizens will it. It may be as a result of too much of such closeness of journalists to the executive arm of government, coupled with other factors that this new practice of citizen journalism is flourishing in Nigeria. The advent of the internet and independent/alternative media have ensured that Nigerian citizens can now practice their own journalism from where ever they are, Mr Sowore who conducted the said interview is one of the many Nigerian citizen journalists, who are trying their best to fill the void, and make a difference, something that ‘establishment’ journalists have failed to do. Desperate times indeed demand desperate measures, and if one of such measures is to ‘trick’ Gbenga Obasanjo into spilling the beans on the president’s men, then so be it.
President Richard Nixon of America wouldn’t have resigned if the likes of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Watergate fame were only concerned with maintaining the ‘trust and confidence’ of their friends in government.
There are also other cases we may look at here, for the sake of argument. Ryan Parry, a Daily Mirror reporter in the UK working undercover used false pretences in 2003 to secure employment as a footman in Buckingham Palace; he did this successfully for 2 months and exposed the flaws in the security system at the palace. His efforts was commended and led to the improvement of security protocols at the palace, there was no condemnation of the methods he employed to break the story, because it was in the public interest. Also Mark Daly, a BBC undercover reporter joined the Manchester police force with the sole aim of exposing racism in the police force, and for eight months filmed his colleagues secretly. The final report (The Secret Policeman) caused a big scandal in the UK and led to the resignation of at least 6 police officers who were caught in the act, Mr Daly went on to receive a human rights award. The only people that questioned Mr Daly’s methods were the politicians and those in the establishment who had a lot at stake, like they say, the guilty are afraid.
It was also disappointing reading Reuben Abati, a seasoned journalist and Chairman of the editorial board of the Guardian Newspaper baiting The News magazine and Mr Sowore (a gra
duate of geography) to investigate further, hear him in his own words; ‘I now challenge them to go a step further and investigate the allegations made in that famous interview, and check whether Gbenga Obasanjo is also covered by the defence of truth. The public will like to know more for example about the Pentascope deal.’ Meanwhile, Mr Sowore lives in far away New York, The Rutam House offices of the Guardian Newspaper is in Oshodi – Lagos, you may now begin to wonder what Mr Abati and his cub – reporters discuss during their morning editorial meetings, or is it a case of lack of resources or lack of will? Why can’t he send some of his many reporters to conduct the remaining investigations, and then scoop it, as that will also bring glory to the news organisation, which once claimed to be the flagship of journalism practice in Nigeria, or maybe they still prefer the armchair journalism style that one of my journalism lecturers, Dr Callix Udofia used to describe as he said, she said, choosing instead to feed off the many contributions and efforts of citizen journalists on Nigerian internet sites which the ‘establishment’ journalists subtly deride.