When I penned A vote of no confidence in the NMMA a while ago, I didn’t think anybody’s ox was going to be gored. I didn’t expect too that the owners of the supposedly gored oxen would react the way they did. And honestly, the reactions have left me tipsy with mixed emotions.
I have tried as hard as I could to establish a link with these mixed emotions with the story but I have not succeeded. I have also tried to refresh the embarrassing scenario to ascertain why it is that the owners of the oxen reacted the way they did and sent my official and unofficial ratings to an all-time high. I have not had any luck too. That is why I think it would be worth our while to summarize the piece, perhaps it may clear my befuddled mind.
I said that the NMMA, compared to the CNN scored less than an average in terms of the respect they accorded this year’s nominees. I based my opinion piece on the actual experiences of a ‘beleaguered journalist’, my personal encounter and the written and published accounts of journalists and nominees who were present at the awards. In that piece, I said that I hoped NMMA organisers would read my piece and improve on their act.
As soon as the piece was published, all hell broke loose. Rather than the response I thought it would provoke, it elicited negative reactions, threats, verbal missiles and insults. The now famous ‘beleaguered journalist’ whose consent I sought before I sent my piece for publication has dumped me, waiting in the wings for the apology he has been conditioned to expect from BM Communications. Others too whom I took counsel in the course of penning my piece have also tongue-lashed me, and indeed one of the organisers, Lekan Bolaji, sent a scarecrow on YouTube making faces at me. Others said that I penned my piece because I was angry I didn’t win in the awards.
All of this has left me beleaguered too. Particularly the reference to Ayodeji Adeyemi, CNN 2009 winner in the sports category’s near sack before he won that award. Some important people said I betrayed official secrets. Several argue that I had a vendetta (?) with them and that’s why my piece was laced with ‘venom’. Those who called me said with a measure of pun that they couldn’t understand the nexus between the thrust of my story with a reference to the ‘beleaguered journalist’. They have shot back at me with expletives such as ‘naive’, ‘always wanting to be ignoble’ and ‘busybody’. Others threatened to drag me to court.
For now however, I will establish that nexus that they claim is missing. After that, anyone who expects me to hurl a few of my own missiles will be disappointed because I have important matters to attend to than get involved in an argumentum ad hominem. What I did with a reference to the ‘beleaguered journalist’, was what the American essayist, Walter Lippmann said in Public Opinion (1922). Lippmann said that there usually is a ‘triangular relationship between the scene of action, the human picture of that scene, and the human response to that picture working itself out upon the scene of action’. The story of the ‘beleaguered journalist’ was just a metaphor and my style of introducing my piece with live events, and using it as the fulcrum to establish how we could learn to treat local journalists with the way CNN handled their winners.
But having said this, I will make a few assurances. I want to say that I stand by my story because of the inexorableness of the truths it contained. It was not my intention, believe me, that anybody should get hurt but in penning it, a gang of brutal facts held me captive. I was also keenly aware what Chinua Achebe said in one of his books [maybe Morning Yet on Creation Day], that we could allow anybody to tell us what to wear, how to eat or how to talk. But under no circumstances must we allow anyone to decide how our mind should contract or relax.
I learnt some lessons from this beleaguered affair. One is that nobody is too holy to be criticised, not even journalists. As members of the Fourth Estate, we criticize governments and lampoon individuals. But we fall in a fit when a verisimilitude of criticism is directed at us. We become upset and cannot take a little heat even when the intention may not be to disparage.
Two, because nearly everyone seemed to have dodged the issue I raised, and chose to focus on the arrogance of A Vote of No-Confidence in the NMMA, I want to make a few suggestions. These award bodies would do well to apply to the United Nations or to the African Union, AU or even to the European Union, EU, for the funds that go into the organisation of these awards. They should do that rather than the cobwebs and quick sands that their romances with politicians offer as platforms. Other awards apart from the CNN, the Lorenzo Natali, and the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism do this.
Postscript: The newspaper that published the said piece and which offered me the opportunity to write a column for them on Tuesdays recently killed this article. My guess is that those who felt offended by the first article, A Vote of No-Confidence in the NMMA, have reached the paper. Will journalism ever grow in Nigeria beyond this point?