Citizens As Journalists

by Uche Nworah

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.

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mike January 16, 2006 - 12:25 pm

Eniola, Rubbish! I am not the admin of this site and thank God. Talking of intolerant you are more intolerant than anyone. Below is posted your comment a couple of weeks ago, where another sensible Nigerian knocked you for your careless intolerance, now you want to preach to me. Pot Calling kettle black!


Sanya: Here comes the problem with the average braindead Nigerian. Nothing in this interview has anything to do with your deductions, except if you are the person who wrote that stupid article about a little while ago. You may be looking for justifications because of the whupping you received.

However, it is important that you get this interview clearly. It speaks more to the rot in Nigeria than what elendureports did or did not do. Elendureports has done well, I believe they will continue to do well. Sowore's departure should be a wake up call. It wasn't flattering to see an informercial on "Donald Duke for President" on such a highly respected website a week ago. This stupid assumption in which people are castigated for speaking about the ills in Nigeria because there are ills in other places makes you look childish and of a vegetative mindset. So, because New York City Armed Robbers are worse than Nigerian armed robbers, no one should ever have to speak if they were mugged in Nigeria. Great sense of patrotism, I would say…

Learn, listen and look very well. In the meantime you can keep your broken record.

Uche Nworah, great interview and kudos for this!

(Written by Eniola)

Jaiye Eniola January 15, 2006 - 11:23 pm


You position is based upon your bitterness towards these 'citizen' journalists. I hope you are not the sole manager of this website. You are turning this website to an intolerant website for dissent and intellectual discourse. I am afraid your site will become atrophied for this reason and pretty soon too!

mike January 15, 2006 - 3:52 pm

I do not agree with your analysis of Abati;s article- in fact everyone that saw that piece saw it as a piece of work worthy of commendation. First, his assertion of journalistic ethos to sowore interview was not based on the professional credentials of Mr. Sowore but the reputation of The News the medium trhough which Sowore piece was being disseminated as a reliable source of news and good works of journalism. If sowore wants to become a citizen jorunalist, let him carry his gutter tactics to the jungle of the internet where he previously reigned- print media and other forms of regulated journalism pipelines should be left to people who can do their homework, honor the ethics of the profession and not take away from the inedependence of the press. However, the lack of ethics in the way that interview was taken does not take away from its substance which is the inability of Obsanjo to rule his own home and the need to sweep the government at all levels clean of so called 'smartsmen'

Anonymous January 15, 2006 - 12:25 pm

From Abati´s write-ups he is part and parcel of the system that entrenches corruption in Nigeria.It is very unfortunate that such a man would be the Chairman of the Editorial Board of a respected newspaper like the Guardian.His pen has been properly oiled with stolen crude oil money.However,

with people like Sowore being around we do know their

time of irelivance is drawing near.

Anonymous January 15, 2006 - 2:37 am

Sorry, Nworah. I think you go this one wrong, in spite of a long history of very adroit analyses. For one thing, the very journalists you mention as being "establishment" are very rarely pro-OBJ on anything. So their respective responses to this one stand out as uniqu. In my view, they make a just and responsible call for a re-examination of the principles that stand behind journalistic integrity. After all, knowledge of drug dispensing does not a physician make. But the more important case in point is this: we cannot throw out decency, integrity, and the rule of professionalism in the bid to usher in "a New and Brave world". Even as citizens, we hold a solemn responsibility to abide by rules – man-made rules which may seem arbitrary, but cement our societies together in some modicum of sanity. You should know this precisely because you are a Nigerian resident abroad. The laissez-faire attitude that we have taken to much in Nigeria, and which is tearing our country apart, you well know by now, is not tolerable in the part of the world where you and I reside. So your advocacy for principles that are diametrically opposed to a peaceful and rule-bound co-existence of the different individuals who make up society is worse than ill-advised. It is ominous in its suggestions of what we diasporans in Nigeria might be able to contribute to nation-building after all, even if we were given the chance, in spite of the hullabaloo that is made of our expatriation to foreign lands.


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