Penultimate Monday, all hell broke loose following news of a ban on AIT from the coverage of the activities of the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB). Coming on the very day, which was this year’s World Press Freedom Day, the widespread consternation at the decision was understandable. Certainly it couldn’t have been more ill-timed – and wrong-headed – even if, as the president-elect’s spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said, it was a gross misrepresentation of the president-elect’s decision.
AIT, Shehu said, was never really banned. The station, he said, was only asked to “step aside” pending the resolution of some “security and ethical issues.” He did not spell out what those security and ethical issues were. He probably could not spell out the former, security not being under his purview, but he did not need to spell out the latter for anyone to know that there can be no love lost between the station and the president-elect, given the station’s media campaign against him, which is probably the most scurrilous in Nigeria’s history.
Still, it was wrong for anyone to have asked AIT to even “step aside,” never mind being banned. First, it was not AIT alone that maligned or was shamelessly one-sided against the president-elect. The Federal Government-owned NTA, which claims a larger audience than the AIT, was no better. In a sense it was worse; as a publicly funded broadcaster, it was not its prerogative to be partisan in any way. But as the Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Dr Bakili Muluzi, said in a statement on March 30, “the flagship nightly television news on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) channel was completely dominated by reports of the incumbent party’s campaign rallies.”
NTA apart, the News Agency of Nigeria, was also highly partisan. During the campaigns its managing director, Emma Niboro, issued instructions against running any positive stories about the general and his party, the All Progressives Congress. And when its editor-in-chief, Isaac Ighure, defied his boss and insisted on doing his job professionally, he was simply shunted sideways into the marketing department where he is still languishing. Not surprisingly he has since been replaced by Lawal Ado Daura. Clearly, Daura got the job not simply because he was qualified, which he was; he got it more because he comes from the same town as the president-elect. Talk of shameless toadying-up to the new powers that be!
The other two Federal Government-owned media, FRCN (Radio Nigeria) and the Voice of Nigeria, behaved much better than NTA and NAN. But this was no thanks to the Federal authorities who put a lot of pressure on their managements to be just as partisan and malicious. By law VON does not carry adverts, but the management of Radio Nigeria, which does, was able to reject the notorious hate documentary against the general carried by AIT and NTA and which came to define much of this year’s media election campaign.
The independent press may have fared better than the broadcast media, but the conduct of the newspapers too was far from ideal, especially when it came to carrying adverts that were potentially, and in some cases, actually, defamatory. Again, to quote the Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, “Many newspapers published ‘wrap advertisements’ which looked like normal front pages, but were in fact paid-for advertising masquerading as news.”
Given the generally poor showing of the media in the coverage of this year’s election, asking AIT alone to “step aside,” no matter how briefly and for whatever reason, was clearly selective. However, there is an even more important reason than this selectivity for why the decision was wrong. And this is the need to respect our Constitution and our laws.
As a veteran journalist, I have no doubt in my mind that AIT behaved in a most irresponsible and unprofessional manner in running its campaigns against General Buhari and I suspect most reasonable people will agree with my view. Certainly, the general is highly unlikely to disagree. But in a democracy such as we aspire to, only the courts have the power to punish such irresponsible and unprofessional conduct as AIT’s, to the extent that the courts agree that the misconduct is defamatory.
Not surprisingly, Raymond Dokpesi, the proprietor of the station has said he does not see anything wrong with how his station has behaved. “Daar Communications,” he said in reaction to the purported ban of his station, “is a commercial entity and therefore, reserves the right to run anything it considers worthy of being televised…What is obviously clear is the fact that AIT believes that the historical information about the President-elect that was run was factually correct. Nothing was done to defame him or impinge on his character or integrity.”
I believe most people who have watched AIT’s coverage of the elections, in particular its hate-filled documentary on the general which the station played again and again, would be shocked at the brazenness of Dokpesi’s defence of a documentary that was so riddled with half-truths and barefaced lies about the general’s person, his religious belief, his past, his late wife and daughter.
Dokpesi is entitled to believe what he wants. But he should know that Daar, being a commercial entity, does not entitle him to defame anyone. And the only lawful way to teach him that lesson is not to bar him from doing his business anywhere but to take him to court.
Happily, the president-elect has shown that he has put his old dictatorial ways well behind him; he said he was not aware of the ban and once he got to know about it, he instructed that AIT’s accreditation be restored immediately.
The president has clearly passed his first test as a born-again democrat. It is now up to him to decide whether or not to go to court to teach AIT the lesson that a democracy is no licence for defaming anyone.
Re: Jega’s forbearance and Awo’s curse
In as much I enjoyed the summary of Nigeria’s electoral history by you (April 22), you were not factual by claiming that people regarded the March 28 and April 11 elections as the most credible in Nigeria, what with massive riggings in Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta and written results! People just allowed ‘the sleeping dogs to lie.’ While we keep improving, the 1993 elections remain the most fair, free and CREDIBLE before the CABAL struck. Lanre Oseni, +2347064181043.
The 2015 presidential elections were truly not free and fair. The votes turned out in South-South and Southeast were all bloated in favour of PDP. Without this electoral heist, APC’s margin of victory could have been about 10 million. Barr. Ngozi Ogbomor, +2348033397362.
Your article on Jega’s forbearance and Awo’s curse refers. Please be informed that Awo did not place a curse on Nigeria. He only said that if Nigerians should continue to pervert democracy this generation might not know true democracy. That is a conditional statement not a curse. While I wish Nigeria well in her effort to consolidate democracy, it is no yet Eureka, for democracy is a journey not a destination. Dr Ade Adebisi, Akure. +2348034703653.
Re: Tamuno: the passing of a great historian
Someone should say well done to you for your piece on Tamuno last week. For reasons I can’t quite understand, I haven’t enjoyed an article like this one in a very long time. Hector Collins Decker, +2348037172869.
Professor Abdullahi Smith’s initial name was Henry Frederick Charles Smith not Robert as stated in your piece. +2348035067192.
Your Wednesday’s column refers. It was not Joseph Smith who became Abdullahi Smith but H. F. C. Smith. +2348093468672.
That was a wonderful piece on an extraordinary man. But late Professor Tamuno was from Okrika not Ijaw. +2348129146188.
I thought Tamuno was a Kalabari name and not Ijaw. Please confirm.+2348035007010.
You are right. He was Kalabari, not Ijaw. However, the two, along with Okrika, are kith and kin. -MH.
Your piece, “Tamuno: the passing of a great historian,” was not only a tribute to the demised historian, but a concise account on development of historiography and the roles of selected historians in the evolution of African historiography. Factually Tamuno deserves all the praises you showered on him for his service to humanity.
However, my reservation was on the mix-up on the roles of the duo of Dike and Biobaku in the evolution of African historiography. As a matter of fact, I think there is a ploy to downplay the role of Biobaku. You refereed to Biobaku as one of the foot soldiers of Dike in Ibadan. This is far from the truth. Dike and Biobaku were contemporaries. Like Dike he studied abroad and not at the University College, Ibadan, as you stated. Biobaku studied at University of Exeter, England (1944-45), Trinity College, University of Cambridge (1945-47), and Institute of Historical Research, London (1951-52). As a matter of fact, Dike’s pioneering work on African historiography, Trade and Politics in Niger Delta, was published a year ahead of Biobaku’s Egba and their Neighbours published in 1957. All others you mentioned built on the foundation laid by both Dike and Biobaku. I think Biobaku was a member of the Ibadan school not because he studied or lectured at UI, but because he aligned with the tradition of the school in his works. I think the only time he worked in UI was as a director of the Institute of African Studies. He was vice chancellor at O. A. U. and Unilag at different times. Adewuyi Adegbite, +2347013065440.
Culled from http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/daily/index.php/columns/wednesday-columns/54019-gmb-s-ban-on-ait