Friday, December 26, 2008


Nigerians are a very interesting lot. Political punditry in Nigeria is definitely not a dying vocation in Nigeria. Following last week commentary, a reader asked: “How do you define a good political column from a bad one?” I am sorry to report that I do not know the answers. But that's OK: Neither does anyone else. In fact, any answers you hear will almost certainly speak less to motivations than to actual bias. What we do know is that some are better than others. Some are “419” who rent their column for a fee payable immediately and/or upon patronage. Some Nigerian columnists are just outright political hacks, without any pretense to objectivity whatsoever. They are not ashamed to sing the praises of their benefactors in power and or sing the “nunc dimitis” of those that have either not pay up or are on the verge of losing power.

A good help in understanding sound political columnist in Nigeria is history and predilections. Is this writer objective enough to lay aside his/her preconceived notions before pontificating about Nigeria? Is he or she a rabble rousing political hacks installed by a political party in the media to advance their campaign platform? You will very often find a consummate journalist turned columnist who takes his job and objectivity very seriously. The difference between objective political columnists can often be found in their predilections. We all know the difference between David Broder’s column in Washington Post and Michael Gerson in the same paper. The latter is an erstwhile Bush White House speech writer turned columnist whilst the former is the doyen of political news reporting in Washington DC. In the peculiar Nigerian settings, one can also compare Ebenezer Babatope’s political commentary columns in Nigerian Tribune newspapers to the informed commentary of Ebenezer Obadare a consummate journalist and a professor who also write for the same paper. Here is this week comment on commentaries:

Mohammed Haruna: This week Mohammed responded to a rejoinder to his column by his erstwhile colleague, Jonathan Ishaku. Here is a reason why many Nigerian journalists are afraid of taking on Mohammed. “Since Mohammed Haruna likes to quote past utterances as explanations to present events…,” Ishaku said, “one also needs to remind him of some of his own past utterances and actions which disqualifies him as a fair commentator of public affairs.” Ishaku went on to list the many sins of Mohammed, some of which are ad hominem. Mohammed Haruna not only eviscerates every points leveled by Ishaku against him, he also characteristically admitted an error that led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerian during the Kafachan riots. As editor of the then New Nigerian, Mohammed allowed a paid adverts that later inflamed the tensed religious riots in the North. The mistake Ishaku made is that he never knew the price paid by Mohammed for that fatal error:

“Not only was the New Nigerian not alone in carrying such adverts and
statements, Ishaku told a blatant lie when he said I got away with it and even
got the bonus of a hefty reward. Yes, I got rewarded alright, but it was not
with a ticket to go to Hajj. Rather it was with four days in detention at the
State Security Services (SSS) cell on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. I am not aware
that any newspaper chief executive has ever been detained for carrying paid
Mohammed then ends this week column with a reference to our last week column, which he wrongly attributes to one of our readers who forwarded the piece to him in an email. (Please note that in a private email exchange with Mohammed he acknowledged the confusion caused by our reader). Again we quote him:
“In a nation divided by faith and ethnicity,” he said, “we expect our political columnist to at least be a journalist, sworn to an oath unperturbed by any bias.”
I have no problem with bias because only God, the Omniscient, sees things from all angles. Like it or not we are all born into a tribe, religion or region and we are bound to see things through those prisms. However while I have no problem with bias as such I do have one with the kind which is so deep that those who cling on to it never want to hear any thing negative about their side in a dispute or any thing positive about the other side. And this, I am afraid, is the problem with much of Nigerian journalism”

Dele Momodu: This week “Pendulum” add a new fillip to his praise singing column, calling a lady not related by blood or lineage an aunty. (I know many here will say it is an African thing.) The lady in vogue this week is Dora Akunyili. Characteristic of the swinging pendulum of Dele’s pen, she deserves all accolades not because of her achievements at NAFDAC but because:
“Her daughter was getting married in Cote D’ivore and we had offered to cover it free of charge. It was our modest contribution to a woman who had worked tirelessly at protecting our lives. She never forgot the simple favour. I was so moved to tears when she turned up at my mum’s funeral last year, all the way in our little town of Gbongan in Osun State. She stood by us like an Iroko tree as if the dead was (sic) her mum.”

Herein lays the incestuous relationship between the mainstream media in Nigeria and Nigerian government official. “You rubbed my back and I rubbed yours.” The only person who suffers in this relationship is the Nigerian masses who ended up reading half truths in their trusted newspapers. You can bet that more “simple favor” will continue to flow in this relationship between Dele Momodu, his Ovation magazine and Dr. Dora Akunyili. We haste to point out that out of over 3000 words used by Mr. Momodu in this week, only one terse paragraph made reference to the mismatched of the portfolio assigned to Ms. Akunyili, a qualified pharmacist, now assigned to the ministry of “misinformation.” We all recall that other write up have condemned the assignment, and some even called Ms. Akunyili to gracefully resign. None of that came up in Mr. Momodu as he is busy looking forward to the day when the ministry of information will placed $10, 000 advertorial in Ovation celebrating Nigeria independence day whilst many dies in Nigeria’s Niger Delta!

Okey Ndibe: By far some of the best columnists in Nigeria and the ones I usually look forward to reading are Okey Ndibe, Sonala Olumhense and Mohammed Haruna. I intend to excerpts Okey’s column without any comments just to amplify his well reasoned argument to those not accustomed to reading him:
“Nigerians who are plain tired of the Yar’Adua regime’s claims to living out the rule of law found reason last Thursday to be nauseated. A Federal High Court in Enugu convicted former Governor Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State on a one-count charge of corruption. His punishment? To pay a fine of N3.6 million. That’s not even a slap on the wrist; it’s a pat on the back – or even a lover’s hum in the ear!.. This isn’t rule of law; it’s ruse of law. It broadcasts that there are two Nigerias and two sets of rules, one set for commoners, the other for the lucky few who call themselves “stake holders.” The whole shocking episode, make no mistake, was orchestrated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The shenanigan began when the anti-corruption substituted its initial 191-count charge of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement against Igbinedion and his colluding companies with a 24-count charge. .. Justice Kafarati’s sentence is the kind of sanction likely to fertilize corruption, not stem it. Here’s what it proposes to the collection of crooks who misrule Nigeria: steal, as much as you want, you’ll live to enjoy the fruits of your treachery! Steal millions of dollars; pay a few thousand in fine – and absolutely no jail time.”

Sonala Olumhense: As I stated above, I love reading any piece from Sonala and his columns are always a treasure in my days at Great Ife. This week he wrote about the attack on the alternative media in Nigeria, particular the attack by Yar’adua and Aondoanka on Nigeria bloggers. I will quote him seriatim:

“I am a student of good journalism. Good journalism empowers. Good journalism
builds. Good journalism is the only foundation on which the democratic state can
flourish. But good journalism is difficult journalism. Good journalism must hunt
down the facts, as inconvenient as they might be. The more important the facts,
the more difficult they are to hunt down. Still, the difficulty of obtaining
information or ensuring the accuracy information does not diminish the burden of
responsibility on the journalist. That, of course, is the ideal. The dwindling
quality of Nigerian journalism in recent times is stark proof of how difficult
this standard is to meet. Our journalism thrives—sadly— on commentary, not
reporting. Nigeria has 130 million columnists; our only limitation is editorial
space. In recent times, the Internet has permitted the arrival of Citizen
Journalism as an important genre in this trade. One of the most important
organizations in the Nigerian environment is Sahara Reporters (SR), about which
I wrote here on 10 August 2008.

Let me give a brief background to the issue, a few weeks ago, some Nigerian politicians found to be politically aligned with the Federal Attorney General, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, took out a newspapers adverts accusing the publishers of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, of owning “landed properties” in New York. The farcical nature of the allegations is that they went on to list as properties owned by Mr. Sowore, a building that belongs to Colombia University dormitory in New York!
As SR comes under this life-or-death assault, I say to those who feel that it is making an important contribution: shout it out, don’t whisper it. Similarly, if you feel that SR is wrong, shout it out, don’t whisper it. However, you are a hypocrite if you say you support the tenacious sacrifices being made by nationals for you and me, yet stand by while they are ripped apart.As one who believes that Sahara Reporters and Mr. Sowore are fighting for me, I say: Speak up! Speak up; those who loot and abuse should not prevail over those who merely report their crimes against the people! Speak up; go to the SR site and put your support where your mouth is! Speak up for your children and your country!

Onochie Anibeze: Lastly, we consider another “column for hire” writer. Anyone familiar with the many musings of Onochie will know that he always write a flowing tribute on every newly appointed Sports minister, praising them to high heavens. Well, you will not be disappointed. This week he turned logic on its head. Many will recall that when Abdulrahman Hassan Gimba was appointed sports minister, he sang his praise to high heavens. Now that he has been removed Mr. Anibeze wants you readers to know that Gimba was a round peg in a square hole. Perhaps he forgot that he told us then that “someone without sports background could excel as sports minister if he took time to learn and adopt some managerial expertise,” which is usually his code words for consultancy fees. Well, it is either Gimba did not pay well or that his money had run out. Now, Mr. Anibeze wants you to know some of the stories of maladministration committed by Gimba which he could not report on whilst he was on assignment at the Olympics. He now tells us that Mr. Gimba simply stayed put at his hotel in China, refusing to motivate the athletes. He (Onochie) in turn was attending all the games and reporting on all of them and yet omitted then to inform us that our minister, with thousands of dollars on “estacodes” did nothing but watch games in his room.
The question is why is he doing this now? The answer is simple; there is a new sheriff in town that needed to be courted and patronized. The old is gone, the new is here. Hear him: “It is on this note that I welcome Sanni Ndanusa as the new sports minister. Ndanusa’s appointment could be likened to those of Tony Ikazoboh and Emeka Omeruah who once headed the Nigeria Football Association before becoming ministers. They were on familiar terrain and performed well.” We would be here to tell you what Anibeze had to say, once Sanni refused to play ball and he get attacked for not clapping for the national team when the team is down 4 goals to nil!
Sometimes I wonder how a journalist like Mr. Anibeze lives with themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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