Prior to the advent of democracy in 1999, the nation’s leaders through the General Abdulsalaam Abubakar’s military junta that held sway between 1998 and 1999, put modalities in place for the enthronement of true and durable democratic values in the country. One of the pillars on which these democratic ethos would rest, they reasoned, should be a new befitting National Assembly complex and an adjoining quarters for the would-be distinguished and ‘honourable’ members of the Assembly.
They quickly matched words with action and built the National Assembly Complex at ‘Three Arms Zone’ – that also houses the Presidential Villa a.k.a “Aso Rock”, the Supreme Court, and later the Court of Appeal Headquarters. They went a distance away, and sited the National Assembly Quarters at Apo District of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
In building the National Assembly quarters, they took into cognisance the fact that 109 members would be elected to the Senate and 360 members to the House of Representatives, giving a total of four hundred and sixty nine (469) members in the two hallowed chambers of the National Assembly. Thus, you have over 469 duplexes standing at what later came to be known as ‘Apo Legislative Quarters’. For the sake of easy access, convenience and perhaps, crowd control, the quarters are divided into five zones, splashed into eight fenced complexes.
The towering Zones ‘A’ and ‘B’ occupy the first complex as you drive down the Ahmadu Bello way from the Central Business district through Garki II, and the inscription “Apo Legislative Quarters – Zone A (and) zone B” welcomes visitors to the zone. Over 90 per cent of those who live at Zone ‘A’ are senators, with less than 10 per cent Representatives while over 90 per cent Representatives reside in Zone ‘B’, with fewer than 10 per cent senators – just a road that runs from the main entrance gate to the end of the fence separates both zones.
‘Zone C’ lies behind Zone ‘B’, with only the fence wall separating them; it is smaller in size. Zone ‘D’ is situated directly opposite Zone ‘C’ with a road that leads to the Gudu District of the FCT separating them. Zone ‘D’ has two complexes, with two main entrances. Zone ‘E’ is the termination point of the Quarters and takes off from where Zone ‘C’ ends. Like Zone ‘C’ it is also small in size, although bigger than Zone ‘C’. There is also another complex of the Quarters that lies almost opposite the Main Gate of Zone ‘A’ and Zone ‘B’.
Yes, the Quarters are built and designed in such a way that they accommodate all the 469 members of the National Assembly, with none of them having cause to squat, at the beginning!
Curiously, there is a sizeable number of non members of the National Assembly that find their way into the Quarters and become residents, occupying some of the duplexes. Most of the people in this group are top career civil servants and some ‘retired’ politicians. Although, this group is scattered across the five zones, they are pronounced in the Right Wing of Zone ‘E’ – just after the shopping complex and most of them are Northerners. This implies that the Quarters pride themselves as having ‘more than enough’ accommodation for National Assembly members.
Thus, when the first batch of Senators and Representatives were elected in the 109 Senatorial Districts and 360 Federal Constituencies in 1999, there were enough rooms to accommodate them at the official quarters, and till the end of their four-year tenure in 2003, nothing was heard about ‘accommodation problem’ for any of them. Infact, apart from accommodating themselves and their immediate families, some of them accommodated their aides! Same was the experience between 2003 and 2007, when the second batch of national legislators held sway.
Indeed, some of those who did not only have official roof over their heads and their families’ but extended same roof over the heads of their aides include, Zone A – the late Senator Ibiapuye Martins Yellowe, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma and Senator David Mark (now Senate President), whose duplex shares fence with Martins Yellow’s ; Zone B – Senator John Azuta Mbata, Hon. Ike Chinwo, Hon. Emma Deeyah, Hon Igo Aguma, Hon. Andrew Uchendu and Senator Dahaltu Tafida (now Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Britain).
In Zone ‘C’, you have Senator Wilson Asinobi Ake; Zone D – Hon. Christopher Berewari (who came in, in 2007) and Zone E – Senators Lee Maeba, Ndoma Egba, Marverick politician, Senator Arthur Nzeribe and late humane Gombe State-born politician, Senator Tumbi Wada, etc.
Suffice it to say at this point that for the first eight years of the nation’s nascent democracy (1999 – 2007), the canker-worm of homelessness’ or accommodation problem was too far in a distance to rear its head in the nation’s National Assembly’s official quarters.
Then, the unexpected happened! The federal government came up with a new policy – Monetisation Policy!
Yes, towards the end of the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo eight year tenure (1999 – 2007), the federal government introduced the now controversial monetisation policy a policy that places federal government structures and edifices on sale and that includes, of course, the Apo Legislative Quarters.
Although the serving NASS members that occupy the quarters, like all those (including civil servants) who live in government quarters see it as a good development for them as it affords them the privilege of owning the houses they occupy, many view it as a disservice a great disservice to the nation, they see it as a policy which debilitating effect would be felt by the nation sooner or later. They were apprehensive.
And true to their fears, true to their apprehension, the 2007 elected members of the NASS were rendered ‘homeless’ by the policy except, of course, those of them that have been there before the 2007 election. Put differently, following the implementation of Obasanjo government’s monetisation policy, the distinguished members of the senate and honourable members of the House of Representatives (2003 – 2007 set), most of whom beyond doubt, are ‘money bags,’ literally fell over themselves paying for the Apo Legislative Quarters’ accommodation! With the acquisition process duly completed, ownership was transferred from the federal government of Nigeria to these ‘elected’ representatives of the impecunious Nigerian masses!
Thus, it came to pass that when the winners of the 2007 National Assembly election (new members) arrived Abuja to begin work in their new status, they met a stone wall leading to the apartments of what was originally designed as their official residential quarters. The gates were locked against them. The unseen inscription on the gates, as it were, was “No Vacancy, please keep off’.
Anxiety, suspense, frustration, confusion and outright agony set in, with most of the new members barely, on their seats in the hallowed chambers of both Legislative Houses (and later at committee meetings). For the period that the 2007 accommodation problem lasted, the NASS members made hotels their abode, with yet some squatting with friends and relatives! Senator Nimi Barigha – Amange (PDP, Bayelsa) was one of those hit by this ‘accommodation menace: He lodged at L’Meridien Hotel (now Nicon Luxury Hotel) at Area II, Garki, until he bought himself a house. Same was the story of others in his shoes. Yes, they all bought houses one after the other before eventually settling down for legislative business. But, alas, the period lost, the period they spent trying to secure accommodation, could not be recovered, and the nation, of course, was the worse for it!.
From the above, It is lucidly clear that this problem willy-nilly created by the Obasanjo government goes beyond the 2007 – 2011 set of National Legislators. It is phantomed as a recurring problem, a recurring decimal, a problem that targets new members, after every election to the NASS. It is the same problem that this new crop of legislators (2011 – 2015) are facing. Oh Alas.
This problem is here with the nation, it has come to stay and will always rear its ugly head every four years! This is the naked fact-starring the nation in the face. Thus, come 2015, 2019, 2023, 2027, 2031, 2035, 2039 and beyond, it will re-surface, except, of cousre, the government at the centre chooses to jettision the moneitisation policy.
The way to jettison Obasanjo’s moneitisation policy that created the prevailing accommodation problem for NASS first-timers, many believe, is for the Dr Goodluck Jonathan government to come up with a counter-policy that will ensure the smooth, recovery of the Apo Legislative Quarters from the zealots that bought them (and this entails refunding the money spent on purchase and renovation or allocating them new houses or landed property elsewhere in the Federal Capital Territory. In the alternative they say, the government can embark on the construction of an entirely new legislative quarters-that will not be monetised either now or later!.
This they insist, is the way out of the woods, the way out of the current accommodation problem plaguing National Assembly members that are first timers- a problem if not nipped in the bud now could have its toll, even more, on the nation’s nascent democracy as the years go by.
Tackling Nigeria’s Refugee Crisis
Even as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention this year, there have been increasing attempts lately by some governments to disregard or circumvent the principles of the Convention.
The UN adopted the convention establishing the rights of people forced to flee their home countries following the creation of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the previous year shortly after World War II.
However, there has been rising need for the international community to uphold the key principles of refugee protection as laid out in the Convention, including the right of someone fleeing persecution not to be sent back into the path of harm or danger, especially now that the world refugee crisis caused by conflict, poverty, war, violence, mis-governance and climate change has continued to drive more people out of their homes.
This is as some governments attempt disregarding or circumventing the Convention’s principles, through expulsions and pushbacks of refugees and asylum seekers at land and sea borders, to the proposals to forcibly transfer them to third states for processing without proper protection safeguards.
According to Article 1 of the Convention, a refugee is a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.
The Convention not only ensures that refugees get another chance at living through the recognition of their human rights, but also stresses the importance of international cooperation in tackling the problem.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the treaty is a crucial component of international human rights law and remains as relevant now as it was when it was drafted and agreed.
“The language of the Convention is clear as to the rights of refugees and remains applicable in the context of contemporary and unprecedented challenges and emergencies – such as the Covid-19 pandemic,” Grandi said.
Globally, over 82.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes and among them are about 26.4 million refugees, half of whom are under the age of 18.
According to the UNHCR flagship report for 2020, Turkey continues to host the largest number of refugees with about 4 million people, 92 percent of whom are Syrian refugees.
Mr John Mckissick, UNHCR Deputy Country Representative in Nigeria, said that one out of 95 people on Earth today had been forced to flee his or her home to either become internally displaced or crossed the border to become a refugee.
According to him, Nigerians have become refugees abroad as a result of insurgents actions, non-state armed groups and organised criminal gangs.
Violent conflicts in some regions continue to increase the occurrences of displacements, leaving citizens with no option but to become refugees or settle in Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) camps.
Over the last decade, violent attacks of bandits and the Islamist group Boko Haram as well as communal clashes have continued to escalate in Nigeria’s North-East, North-Central and North-West regions, according to UNHCR.
To help, UNHCR says it is providing ‘protection-by-presence, in the field through strategic protection monitoring, vulnerability screening, provision of material assistance and subsequent individual protection referrals to service providers.
The Agency is also advocating for increased access to social and basic services for displaced persons, respect for the Civilian and Humanitarian character of IDPs camps and a better protection environment overall.
Dr Wole Kuniji, an international law expert, said that to combat the refugee crisis in Nigeria, there should be a focus on the “root cause approach.”
Kunuji, a lecturer in the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, University of Lagos, emphasised that the root cause approach addresses the foundational causes of the increase in refugees.
“The refugee crisis currently all over the world is caused by conflict, poverty, war, violence, mis-governance, climate change, among others.
“Let us figure out solutions to these causes and implement them before the situation escalates,” he said.
Suffice to say that all hands must be on deck to tackle and eliminate these root causes if Nigeria will be free from the menace”, Kunuji said.
According to him, the provision of Article 33 of the Refugee Convention on the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ was the most significant and constitutes the cornerstone of the international refugee protection.
The provision refers to the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.
It asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom and is now considered a rule of customary international law.
Kunuji said that the principle of non-refoulement was also the anchor of the Nigerian Refugees Act, adding that it must be appropriately followed.
Speaking on consequences for the violation of the provisions, Kunuji added that there should be an accountability and monitoring mechanism in the act.
This, he said, would mandate the National Refugees Commission to report to a relevant committee on what has been done regarding the provision.
“It’s one thing to have provisions in place and it’s another thing to have the political will.
“One way to ensure that there is a process of accountability is for the refugees commission to present a report every year on how they’ve helped or enhanced the implementation of rights of refugees.
“The UNHCR has a duty to continue to supervise and monitor the implementation of the provision under the Convention and the Nigerian act,” he said.
On the other hand, Mrs Toyin Saraki, Founder, Wellbeing Foundation, said that research and development approach needed to be employed to tackle the refugee crisis.
Saraki, an advocate for refugees, said this could be driven by the philanthropic community in Nigeria.
According to Saraki, the philanthropic sector in Nigeria is ready and would happily partner the government in a more meaningful way, to make the lives of refugees better.
“This will allow the philanthropic sector help the government not just with funds but also at the frontline with key knowledge that can drive impact.”
She added that her foundation believed in the need to make optimum health and social care outcomes a reality for the refugee population.
“We know that every refuge deserves the right to health guaranteed in any host location, powered by health enhanced certifiable identities.
“Every refugee should have a health record and. We need the government to be able to plan to look after the health, education and care of refugees in our national budget.
“We cannot close our eyes to the infringement of the rights of refugees because any of us can be in such position tomorrow.”
“I believe that the community approach is where we need investment to be increased so that we can lift the host community and prepare for the refugee community that keeps increasing.”
“It is quite clear that every sector in Nigeria is going to have to come together to prepare for this emergency,” she said.
By: Busayo Onijala
Onijala writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.
Odilism As Leadership Philosophy In Nigeria
A pithy Nigerian aphorism declares that when we praise the woman that prepares the red beans porridge (akidi), she will cook another. This piece is an attempt at acknowledging a deserving and worthy akidi cooking son of Rivers State, whose trailblazing leadership philosophy and style brought mirth and joie de vivre to many in Rivers State, Nigeria and the world. This Rivers son is His Excellency, Sir (Dr) Peter Otunuya Odili, former Governor of Rivers State. This piece explores and conceptualises his leadership style, philosophy and achievements as a way of celebrating his 73rd birthday.
By Odilism, we mean a governing philosophy that empathically brought about qualitative, robust and wholesome development to the people via the summation of innovative insights and ideas gleaned from the public sphere. In this governing philosophy, factual and evidence-based discussions are crucial. Odilism understands that the danger in throwing the baby with the bathwater is that it clouds one’s ability to robustly discuss a given policy idea with the seriousness that it deserves as even one’s detractors can proffer innovative solutions. Thus, oppositional viewpoints were respected and courted. Odilism knew that contesting a viewpoint cum policy is the bedrock of deliberative democracy. This leadership philosophy recognised that such policy debates are the genuine means of producing superior public policy.
Inherent in this governing philosophy is the belief that elected leaders need to engage with one another. Odilism does not believe that contestation of ideas always connotes disputatious behaviour. Rather, it understands that such deliberations help sharpen leaders thoughts, aid resolve their issues and produce superior public policy. Odilism knows that these levels of engagement are needed for significant development in the state or country. Here, engagement is encouraged and not frowned at. This is because public policy debate is the refining point of the policy. When the refining is done properly, it produces delicious policies that obviates societal problems while an unrefined and under-debated public policy decapitates the economy and exacerbates poverty in the place.
Odilism smartly communicates its promises to the people. It enters into a social contract with the voters during electioneering campaigns and systematically completes the policies it promised. The vision, mission and governing ideals are explicitly stated in Odilism. For example, in May of 1998, Odili clearly delineated his vision for Rivers State and computed how his vision would be achieved in his manifesto written and distributed to notable Rivers sons and daughters. In the letter-like manifesto, Dr Odili envisioned a state “where communication, transportation, healthcare, accommodation, drinkable water and electricity will cease to be desires and will become available to all our people no matter where they are in the state”. He further noted that he foresees a state, “where every man who qualified for a job gets one without tears”. These lofty ideals and promises were aggressively pursued by the Odili, government.
One of the key ingredients in Odilism is the enthronement of God into the affairs of state. Like Dr Odili would say, “when the righteous rule, the people rejoice”. This faith-based leadership helped Dr Odili, a man of faith, to lead with empathy and love that is unrivalled in the annals of Rivers politics. It also helped him develop the largeness of heart that is peerless in the Nigerian body polity. He was so generous and free-spirited in giving that he was dubbed, “Donatus”. He was a giver and the people’s Governor.
Odilism is bold, innovative thinking and flawlessly creative. It produced innumerable positive projects and insights in Rivers State. It went to places and initiated projects others were too myopic to venture. Among the projects and policies of the Odili-led government were the construction and rehabilitation of schools in Rivers State, including the rehabilitation of my alma mater, Community Secondary School, Egberu-Ndoki, in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State. I was in Junior Secondary School Two (JSS 2) in May of 1999 when the Odili government was inaugurated in Port Harcourt. Other projects include: building of roads, flyovers, skill acquisition training, water supply and numerous gifts to Rivers women.
The most novel and innovative projects and programs of the Odili government were in power, education and health. The government, through the governing philosophy of Odilism, conceived and implemented state-changing and poverty alleviating programs in these three sectors. For power, the Odili-led government was the first and only state government that had a bite at independent power generation in Nigeria. His government conceived and built gas turbines for power generation in Rivers State. This novel and iconic program still produces hundreds of megawatts of electricity into the national grid and is a source of income to the Government of Rivers State.
Even more noteworthy were the cumulative programs targeting education in Rivers State under Sir Odili. His government paid for Senior Secondary School Three (SSS 3) students’ examination registration fees. In 2003, I benefitted from this policy as both my National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) registration fees were paid by the Rivers State Government. This policy was a life changing one for those at the lower demographic spectrum like myself, as it gave our parents the needed break in fees payment. Furthermore, the Odili led government introduced a “Free School” bus system that was unheard of and one that has not been replicated anywhere in Nigeria. During his tenure, Dr Odili introduced a free school bus that dutifully conveyed students to school and transported them back from school. During this period, all a student need is to wear a school uniform, and such a student will be safely taken to school and back. The drivers were employed by the State Government with thorough background check conducted. The drivers and the conductors were polite, and gracious – a huge customer service experience in a government-funded program in Nigeria. The free school bus provided a safe commuting hub for students all over Rivers State while also providing the students with the collegiality to learn more, debate and solve academic problems. It was a hugely successful program.
The government also subsidized university school fees. As at September of 2004 when I gained admission into the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) and now Rivers State University (RSU), our annual school fee was capped at N8,800 (Eight Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira). That was significantly lower than that of the University of Port Harcourt, a Federal University. When we pay Dr Odili’s government will pay us through bursary, N9,800 (Nine Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira). Practically, we went to the university for free. There were scholarships and other education grants that the government embarked on. These empathy-filled, people-oriented educational policies enabled those who were socio-economically and politically disadvantaged to attend, not just secondary school, but also to bag university degrees. These policies were life-altering for many.
Dr Odili’s government also introduced one of the best health care policies of our time. The free healthcare policy for the elderly saved lives. For example, my wife’s maternal grandfather, late Chief Amadi Wosu of Oduoha in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, was a beneficiary of this fantastic policy. In early 2000, he had a surgery at the then Braithwaite Memorial Hospital (BMH) Port Harcourt for free. Like many aged people, he was discharged without paying a dime. This is an example of how Dr Odili and his government touched lives in Rivers State during his time at the helm.
Sir (Dr) Peter Odili was born on August 15, 1948, in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) of Rivers State to late Chief Philip Celestine and Princess Janet Okwei Odili. He epitomises hard work and doggedness that is rare today. His hard work paid off both in his academic and political lives when he not only became a renowned medical doctor and an entrepreneur but also the Governor of Rivers State. His hard work and resolute spirit are infectious. He was so successful as a governor that lofty responsibilities and higher offices awaited him in 2007 but for the “great gang up”.
Dr Odili is one of the most remarkable and curious sons of Rivers State. A man of profound humility, and always willing to engage with others irrespective of their placement in the demographic continuum. He is blessed with an elevated analytical acuity and robustly sagacious. As Governor of Rivers State, he closed the window of aristocratic behaviour and divorced Rivers State of political oligarchs. He returned the ship of state to its rightful owners, the people of River State. Dr Odili delicately demolished the moneyed hoity-toity political class in Rivers State. During his tenure, the quality of his thoughts and governing philosophy was outstandingly sophisticated and people-centred that he was asked to continue almost unchallenged in 2003.
Dr Odili is composed, poised, respectable, blessed with the gift of the gab and has style. His carriage and gait are presidential. He is classy and resourceful but not highfalutin. He never went on a namby-pamby weirdo grimy rant like some. He understood that not all places are for fatuous, flippant would be humorous inanities. Unlike those that are clownishly egotistical and who display humility laced with arrogance, Dr Odili served with gusto and loved the people of Rivers State. All these were done with finesse and simplicity that gladdens the mind.
His reign was so fruitful with rural and urban expansion that it is unmatched in the history of the state. Due to the quality of his leadership, he was asked to “Carry-Go” during his second term bid, thereby, giving birth to Carry-Goism as a political concept. While germane and nice with a right. Candidate, the concept has been abused in a farce of self-interest, masturbatory self-indulgence, fame seeking and leaders with run-of-the-mill qualities. Unlike Dr Odili, each of them is manifestly unfit to hold any type of public responsibility. He led Rivers State with dignity, empathy and competence. This is why the heartbreaking underhand and incestuous wickedness meted to him in 2007 is almost unforgivable. Its stupidity, venality and malice occurred at a moment of maximum danger in Nigeria. The ‘cabal’ reigned supreme but failed Nigeria and her people. However, the people of Rivers State will forever appreciate Peter Odili and his government for their priceless service and competent leadership.
Dr Uwalaka is a research associate at the University of Canberra in Australian.
By: Temple Uwalaka
How Fake News Hurts Newsroom Relationship
It used to be so easy. A reporter brings a story and the excited editor goes through it and simply publishes it, confident that the claims are correct.
Very often, impressed editors offered some morale boosting rewards – a bottle of wine, lunch, dinner or cash. And even more. Trust was mutual.
Not anymore. With the prevalence of fake news, most editors, also known as gatekeepers, no longer trust the frontline soldiers and would use every available binocular to search for the truth.
Analysts have said that it is difficult to blame the editors for being more careful, considering the many cases of gaffes, brazen lies, fake news and wrong information the conventional media embarrass themselves with, on daily basis.
Few weeks ago, an influential media house published a story quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO) as saying that 146 million Africans die of tobacco-related diseases every year. The editor so trusted the reporter and did not ask how many Africans would have been left after just two or three years of such harvest. The reporter had, on her own, added three zeroes to her copy.
Not long ago, a media house published a story quoting a state governor as pouring encomiums on his estranged predecessor at a birthday ceremony. Very harmless story. Easy pick for every editor. But trouble started immediately the story went out. It was fake. No such ceremony took place. The reporter just imagined it.
Last year, a report announced the opening of airports after the COVID-19 lockdown. Eager prospective passengers rushed to book tickets only to be turned back. What they read was false. Fake. The reporter just deceived everyone.
The craze for fake news has indeed taken over today’s media space, with both the social and traditional media struggling to outdo each other in the spread of hoaxes.
The instances are just everywhere. Aside from the fake news, photos or videos are purposefully created and spread to confuse and misinform. Photos or videos are also manipulated to deceive, while old pictures are often shared as new.
In some cases, photos from other shores are shared in the Nigerian space, ostensibly to create the impression that they are local scenes.
Umaru Pate, a professor of Mass Communication and Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, says the trend is “dangerous, unethical, provocative and subversive to peace and societal serenity’’.
“Fake news misinforms and misdirects society with severe consequences on individual and national systems. It heightens tension, builds fear and mistrust among people.’’
Information Minister Lai Mohammed, has equally deplored the trend, declaring recently that fake news could “threaten and destroy’’ the country. He has also launched a campaign against it.
The minister recently observed that every news manager was faced with the challenge of managing fake news, and expressed the fear that the purveyors could push the country into crises.
Dr Sylvester Usman, a university teacher, has echoed similar worry.
“Fake news will make media practice lose its appeal; it will challenge the credibility which is the base of journalism practice,” he said.
He challenged editors to rise up against the bastardisation of journalism by the new media, and emphasised the resuscitation of investigative journalism to tackle national challenges and help government plan better.
But as the scourge rages on, analysts have continued to wonder why the tendency to lie appears more common in the information age.
Mr Emeka Madunagu, publisher and editor-in-chief of Metrostar, an online publication, says fake news prevail because journalists pursue traffic, rather than accuracy.
Madunagu, former editor, Saturday Punch, advised media managers to equip newsrooms with gadgets and technologies that could detect and remove fake news and images.
Prof. Pate believes that fake news is partly caused by the absence, or late arrival, of official information, which creates a vacuum filled by rumours and imaginations.
According to him, desperate politicians, ethnic jingoists, foreign interests and mischief makers have also taken advantage of the explosion in social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Nairaline and WhatsApp – to spew fake news and hate messages which inflict confusion into the society.
While urging media houses to focus more on investigative reporting, he cautioned against selective reporting and the promotion of prejudicial stereotypes about groups and individuals based on incomplete facts, mischief and ignorance.
Analysts have also called for more training to boost research capacities among media professionals so as to minimise shallow reporting and episodic attitudes in news coverage and programme production.
They have also cautioned the media against promoting statements of politicians, ethnic champions, religious zealots and other interested parties without critical inquiry about specific social conflicts.
“Such groups are usually prone to spreading fake news against perceived rivals,” Alhaji Aminu Mohammed, one such analyst, says.
While urging media gatekeepers and news content managers to be more critical, the analysts have pointed out that publishing fake news could confer legitimacy, credibility and massive reach to such fakery and confuse the audience about truth and falsehood.
Worried by the effects of such misinformation, many Nigerians have always wondered if it is possible to quickly spot fake news to avoid being misled.
Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of Premiums Times, believes that the best way out is to establish a fact-check unit in every Newsroom.
Olorunyomi, whose outfit has established a channel “Dubawa”, through which it trains media practitioners on fact-checking, emphasises the need to build wide contacts and use the internet to carry out a fact-check on every story to determine its integrity before publishing or airing same.
He also suggests the need for readers, listeners or viewers to check multiple sources, and try to establish trusted brands over time.
Madunagu has a more proactive approach to the menace.
“When a reporter comes with a sensitive story, I will calm him down and ask him to relax.
“When he relaxes, I will debrief him. In the course of doing that, I will try to see whether he brought himself into the story. There are times I did that and the reporter told me to kill the story. It means he was not so sure of the exciting claims he penned down,” he said.
He said that the situation is serious and warned editors against rushing to publish any “beautiful scoop” filed by reporters who are out there on the field.
“Editors should not totally trust reporters. These days, I don’t.
“Editors must have phone numbers of other Editors. These days, hunger is pervasive; for little money, people can tell lies. They can write anything. So, one must be very careful. When editors are handling sensitive stories, they must be very careful,” he said.
Most editors agree with Madunagu and believe that Nigeria will be the better for it if editors in traditional mediums, who determine information the public is served, strive for reliable information which is crucial to her growth.
But even as the editors strive for accurate information, some have noted the challenges of ownership influence, social malpractices and corruption, media professionals acting as judges or advocates for hidden interests, and cases of senior editorial staff acting as consultants to politicians and religious groups.
The existence of cartels among reporters covering specific beats has also been noted as another factor responsible for the adulteration of what is reported. Very often, the cartels form “gangs’’ that decide what information to publish with pecuniary interests threading through the discussions.
Analysts say that such “unholy fraternity’’ has often led to the “burial’’ of some hard truths that would have been useful in the nation’s search for greatness.
Another challenge is the “copy-me’’ syndrome, a practice where reporters receive reports of events they did not cover, from colleagues, and publish same, not minding if what they had been “copied’’ is fake news.
Not a few reporters have lost their jobs to this scary practice, yet it still persists.
Unfortunately for editors in most media houses, the heat is usually extended to them with no one concerned about their pleas or claims to innocence.
Such sweeping sanctions, analysts say, have forced editors to suspect every story with some “dodging” sensitive reports they believe have the potential to create trouble.
Madunagu captured it more succinctly.
“These days, I use every binocular to check the veracity of every story. I won’t want to take medicine for what should not be my headache.”
Unfortunately for the reporters, most editors today have similar fears over their copies. Such fears rule most newsrooms today.
By: Ephraims Sheyin
Sheyin writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
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