Weakness of the watchdog

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Although the story is still developing, it is unflattering  that two major media players are facing  weighty corruption-related allegations: Raymond Dokpesi, founder of DAAR Communications Plc, owners of African Independent Television (AIT) and Ray Power; and Thisday publisher Nduka Obaigbena.

Corruption is no respecter of persons or institutions. It only respects self-respect, which may act as armour against corrupting influences. The two politically exposed media owners enmeshed in the outrageous corruption narrative that has demystified the office of National Security Adviser (NSA) have only demonstrated the weakness of the watchdog.  The troubles of the prominent media proprietors named in the unfolding corruption scandal involving the former NSA in the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, Sambo Dasuki, teach useful lessons about the media’s vulnerabilities.

The media’s watchdog role does not mean it is invulnerable to corruption. Ironically, the media’s responsibility means it is open to corruption. For instance, it goes without saying that the media’s customary investigation of official corruption comes with possibilities, including the corruption of the investigator. The likelihood of media corruption is even greater when media owners are more power-friendly than people-friendly.

What was deployed in defence of Dokpesi Snr had an opposite effect. A statement by Raymond Dokpesi Jnr said his father’s accusers were mistaken. According to him, the media chief received N2.1 billion from Dasuki, but it was payment for media services “to promote and project the achievements and highlight the challenges of the Jonathan administration whilst demystifying false information gleefully circulated by the propaganda machinery of the then opposition party.” He added curiously: “We must further emphasise that the proposal had absolutely nothing to do with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), nor the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC).”  It was an absurd effort to separate Jonathan and his reelection campaign from his party.

The family’s statement may well be correct in claiming that the Jonathan administration structurally allowed the office of the NSA to accommodate “multiple budgetary sub-heads including for communication and information”.  In other words, the payment to Dopkesi from the NSA’s coffers may not necessarily be described as a fraudulent diversion of funds meant to fight terrorism.

However, beyond the question of its appropriateness, the structure that facilitated such suspicious payment to Dokpesi leaves several questions unanswered.  A report quoted a source at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC): “Our investigators have isolated these areas of probe: Were the funds budgeted for? If not, what informed extra-budgetary expenses? How much was actually voted for arms procurement? How were the funds sourced? Who or which agency awarded all the contracts? Who were the contractors? Was there any evidence of delivery of equipment?”

The evidence of a fluid context where alleged media services are difficult to separate from anti-terror activities is the reason Dokpesi has questions to answer. It is also the reason Obaigbena issued a defensive statement from the US, saying: “We have never received any suspicious funds from the Office of the National Security Adviser. All funds received from the Office of the National Security Adviser were payments for compensation…”

Obaigbena said he got N550 million as compensation for the Boko Haram bombings of his newspaper’s offices in Abuja and Kaduna in April 2012. He added that as President of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), he got N120 million as compensation for 12 newspaper companies whose copies were seized by soldiers in June 2014. It is curious that investigators said these payments were made to General Hydrocarbons Limited controlled by Obaigbena for “energy consulting”. Even stranger are denials by some of the affected newspapers whose officials claimed they never received any payment for compensation.

It is ironic that media players have found themselves at the centre of a multi-billion arms scam. It was an open secret in the Jonathan presidential era that people in power ironically fuelled the Boko Haram insurgency by fraudulent acts. The anti-terror war became a pro-terror effort because of the weakening of state-capacity by government officials expected to win the war.

Under the Jonathan administration, of all the arguments to redeem the image of the Nigerian military as it battled unimpressively and unconvincingly against terrorism, the most mystifying was the illogic that blamed media treatment of the anti-terror war for the continuing demystification of the country’s armed forces. The signs of a possible prolongation of the already protracted defiance of state capacity by the Islamist militia Boko Haram were observable, despite oft-repeated assurances from official quarters that the insurrectionists were doomed.

It is unclear to what extent the extension of the anti-terror war was due to fraud-related factors. With the allegations against Dokpesi and Obaigbena, it would appear that media players helped to create an enabling environment for terrorists, wittingly or unwittingly. This is because, in the last analysis, fraud-related activities that made nonsense of the anti-terror campaign cannot be a plus for the media.

It is noteworthy that the print and electronic media are represented in this drama, showing that corruption has no boundaries. The media’s watchdog role should position it on the side of the people. When the media betrays its essence by taking sides with unprogressive structures of power, it defeats the purpose of having a watchdog in the society.

The media must demonstrate an understanding of its responsibility and appreciate its burden of truth. At bottom, the allegations against Dokpesi and Obaigbena show not only the corrupting influence of power but also the powerful influence of corruption.

Culled from: http://thenationonlineng.net/weakness-of-the-watchdog/

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