Our attention has been drawn to a report by one Hassan Ibrahim, a reporter of Daily Trust titled “Churches hold services as COVID-19 cases rise to 6 in Bauchi” which was published on the medium’s online platform on April 5, 2020, at 6:46 Pm. This story which defies the journalistic ethics of objectivity and thorough investigation came to us as a surprise given the pedigree of Daily Trust newspaper in journalism practice in Nigeria. To opine that it is malicious, unpatriotic and unprofessional is, to say the least. That this narrative is coming at a time when we are faced with a common enemy, COVID-19, in the state, our country Nigeria and the world at large is all the more disturbing.
The story seems to suggest that three new positive cases of COVID-19 in Bauchi State which were recorded on Saturday (April 4, 2020) by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) emerged as a result of “worshippers including men, women and children [who] were seen in their different churches within the town early Sunday morning.” What is even more worrisome is the fact that the writer joined issues with our cathedral. The journalist alleged that: “At the St John Evangelical (sic) Cathedral behind the Bauchi Stadium, hundreds of worshippers were seen coming out of the church after the Sunday mass despite state government’s directive on gatherings of not more than 50 persons.” Well, while it is true that our cathedral is behind the stadium, it is not “St John Evangelical Cathedral” but St. John the Evangelist’s Cathedral, Bauchi.
Besides, the photo used in that story is not the picture of St. John’s Cathedral. Good journalism practice demands that if you use a picture that is not connected to the story, you are supposed to indicate that the picture is employed for illustrative purposes. This is done as a mark of respect for your readers so that they are not misled. In this case, that was not done – which gives the impression that either the reporter or editor used the “picture” on purpose or it was done out of mischief.
Again, in one breath the reporter implied that the rise in the number of COVID-19 victims in the state was due to church attendance and in another, he surprisingly maintained that: “Although the State Government did not ban religious gathering, it had urged faithfuls to observe social distance and maintain personal hygiene.” Did the reporter actually visit the cathedral to ascertain the number of worshippers? Did he interview any of the parishioners, Cathedral Administrator or Bishop? It defies journalistic sense that a reporter would profile the Catholic Diocese of Bauchi in a manner he did and then go ahead to interview one “Comfort,” a worshipper at Christ Apostolic Church near Abubakar Tafawa Teaching Hospital Bauchi, who has no surname. Why did he not care to report the numerous number of Mosques that held Juma’at prayers on Friday, April 3, 2020?
As against the principle of fairness and balance, even the other account “Friday prayers hold in Bauchi despite COVID 19 spread” by the same journalist (Hassan Ibrahim) published on the same April 4, 2020, at 0:22 am does not pass for credible and incisive news. While the deceptive news item failed to mention any Mosque visited and the number of faithful in attendance (in which case ours was in hundreds), in the second paragraph, it was quick to note that “Our correspondent who went round the metropolis observed huge attendance in mosques amid the new trend of keeping sanitizers, water and detergents at the entrance for washing of hands.” The “professionalism” and “proficiency” with which Daily Trust journalist(s) report news is really amazing!
Apparently, this report is indicative that the Bauchi State Government is in the eye of the needle. You would recall that the Bauchi State Government had imposed a total lockdown on Tuesday 30th March 2020 for a period of 14 days to curtail the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. However, barely few hours to the deadline for the lockdown in the state, the state government reviewed the restriction order placed on movement in the state with effect from 2nd April Thursday, 6 pm noting that the lockdown will only affect entry points into the state. The State Deputy Governor, Senator Baba Tella, who also doubles as Chairman, State Task Force on COVID-19 disclosed that: “We are putting emphasizes on borders so that unsuspected carriers of the virus do not infiltrate and spread the virus” while briefing newsmen in Bauchi.
Well, for the avoidance of doubt, as a concerned partner in progress and responsible institution, the Catholic Diocese of Bauchi had taken measures to close schools across the diocese (which includes Gombe State) and emphasize social distancing with strict observances of hygienic practices like washing of hand with soap and water as well as using alcohol-based sanitizers at all entry points of its institutions. To further strengthen the message, the Catholic Bishop of Bauchi Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Hilary Nanman Dachelem, CMF has been providing the right leadership since the pandemic became a thing of national-concern. For instance, he has written two pastoral letters to the faithful of Bauchi on the Coronavirus epidemic. In an 8 minutes’ video message which recently went viral on various social media platforms, Bishop Dachelem maintained: “We must protect ourselves and help prevent spreading COVID-19 to others. While it is true that the Bauchi State Government has relaxed restriction on the lockdown in the State, I feel constrained and must continually remind our people about the real existence of Coronavirus and tell the people not to relent in their guard against this deadly virus.”
The prelate added: “The Diocese cautions all us to be very careful and stay clear of public gatherings particularly the markets and other for social functions for now. We need to discipline ourselves now in the face of this global monster that is ravaging our world; We need to be prudent and cautious of the unfiltered and unverifiable sources of information available out there in the social media; We need to be attentive to the directives given by the World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health both at Federal and State levels.”
While we were taken aback by this misinformation and biased style of reportage, we came across a similar story “Worshippers troop to churches, mosques despite ban” written by one Terkula Igidi et al on March 23, 2020, by the same newspaper which apparently profiled Christian churches. A cursory look at the story reveals an in-depth coverage of churches and how they purportedly flouted the over 50 persons’ social distancing rule. In part, the story reads: “There was an influx of people to churches in Kogi, Ogun, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Plateau, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Niger, Abia and Nasarawa among others.” When it came to the situation in Mosques, only sketchy facts were provided such as: “However, the National Mosque, which is located at the Central Business District of the FCT remains accessible to worshippers.” Does this medium take its readers for granted as uncritical and insensible?
In another related story titled, “Why we observed Jumma’at prayers despite govt directive – Sheik Jingir” written by Ado Abubakar Musa and published on March 28, 2020, Daily Trust reported that “The spiritual leader of Jamma’atu Izalatil Bid’a Waikamatis Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheik Sani Yahaya Jingir, said himself and other members of the group attended yesterday’s Jumma’at prayers because Governor Simon Lalong didn’t ask them to stop observing the prayer.” If Sheik Jingir was interviewed before the news was published, why did Daily Trust not deem it fit to interview the Cathedral Administrator or Bishop in line with international best practices of the press to hear his side of the story? So what is good for the goose is not good for the gander? It would seem that Daily Trust has a penchant for painting stories with the same brush.
This rejoinder seeks to set the facts straight. It also aspires to draw the attention of the public to the real issues. Most importantly, as a legal entity which enjoys good name and has ensured smooth relations between the Church and the State, we demand an unreserved apology (which should be published in any of the national dailies within a week) from Daily Trust for this one-sided story that is malicious, unprofessional and misleading – our legal team is ready for any eventuality should this newspaper fail in this reward. We would like to use this medium to advise journalists to desist from kangaroo journalism that is divisive and parochial. We call on Christians and indeed, all people of goodwill within and outside the state, to comply with the social distancing order while observing strict hygiene.
Meanwhile, as we approach the Easter festivities, we wish the victims of COVID-19 speedy recovery. We commit the souls of those who have died to the Lord of mercies and commiserate with their families at this trying time. We salute the heroic efforts of the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Health, NCDC and the Lagos State Government. We are grateful to the medical experts and philanthropists who have sacrificed so much to help victims and also set our country free from this deadly disease. May God heal our land and bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Fr. Justine John Dyikuk
Communication’s Director, Bauchi Diocese