This article attempts to respond to the editorial piece of Dr Reuben Abati, its examines the role of the Nigerian media and explores the haste in which General Obasanjo is being impugned. It compares the investigative role of the American press and wonders why the Nigerian press has not risen to such heights. 

In the past few months I have observed in the media developing mass hysteria of the salivating kind. These appear to be bordering on self indulgent claims and ounter claims of the tabloid variety on the scale of corruption and abuse of process during General Obasanjo’s administration. It would be very comfortable and cause much more ease for me to join the bandwagon, subjecting the General to some more abuse for his alleged sins. Yet it may be considered presumptions for one residing in the safety and comfort of the ‘abroad’ to venture comments on a topic such as this. Another presenting angle is that those of the military persuasion might even suggest that one is definitely off his rocker for

daring to suggest such a title to the article. For they might argue that the defence of a General of the Nigerian Army who has served thrice as Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces is one beyond my competence, legal or otherwise. The casual but informed observer may query whatever nuance or angle to the issue of his defence can one hope to marshal.

I must confess that my near suicidal quest for defence of the purportedly indefensible is prompted by Dr Reuben Abati’s recent piece titled of 21 st March 2008, ‘The trial of Obasanjo.’ Dr Abati, whom I respect as a foremost journalist with the ability to bring life to even the mundane of issues. He remains in many respects, a star of his generation. He may yet win the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize; however, in this instance I fear he may be guilty of indecent haste.

For those of us that speak and give life to it through writing owe a duty of care to our audience. This duty may be broken down into the following:

· to speak the truth always;

· to listen to others and;

· to debate difficult issues honestly and openly. [1]

We retain our credit when we speak not simply because we have the space and the tools to do so but when we use our privilege to speak truth to power.

Returning to the Dr Abati’s editorial which appears to be based upon the ongoing investigation into the power sector during part of the Obasanjo years. In a style reminiscent of the supposed £2.8 million NNPC scandal championed by the late esteemed Prof Awojobi, Dr Abati would seem to have arrived at a number of conclusions. One fact I remember was that £2.8 million was an elaborate hoax. But before the hoax was revealed by a commission of inquiry the reputations of Obasanjo and Buhari has already been impugned.

One of the conclusions drawn by my learned Dr Abati is that the General is guilty of misadventures among other things. The lesser minds without any benefit of legal training might recall that the ongoing legislative investigation has neither reached a definitive conclusion nor been subjected to proper scrutiny. None of the principal ‘accuseds’ have had an opportunity to rebut or put their case before the House. The learned doctor, therefore, I dare suggest may by his editorial be playing a more sinister game, pre-empting the results of an enquiry before its conclusion. This I would consider a serious sin for a fine legal mind. It is similar to the ongoing ‘Princess of Wales inquest’ in United Kingdom, To equate the various conspiracy theories mentioned in proceedings, supposedly based on facts and then supplant them as definitive conclusions.

The learned Dr Abati seems concerned that when Obasanjo was in power he treated the press with disdain, he states:

“President Obasanjo not only called journalists names in official speeches, he even once declared that he does not read Nigerian newspapers!”

Some may ask is the Nigerian press that unworthy? I would dare to explore this question by asking that in the midst of the many corrupt practices in Nigeria over the past 48 years what role has the press played in revealing any? While one recalls the role the American Press during Watergate sandal, you may note that it was not the legislature that discovered the scandal, it was the press.


For in American t he connection between the break-in and the President’s re-election campaign fund-raising committee was highlighted by its media coverage. In particular, investigative coverage by Time Magazine , The New York Times , and especially The Washington Post , fueled focus on the event. The coverage dramatically increased the profile of the crime and consequent political repercussions. Relying heavily upon anonymous sources, Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered information suggesting that knowledge of the break-in, and attempts to cover it up, led deep into the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA , and even the White House.

Chief among the Post’s anonymous sources was an individual they had nicknamed Deep Throat , who was later revealed in 2005 to be former Deputy Director of the FBI William Mark Felt, Sr. Rather than ending with the trial and conviction of the burglars, the investigations grew broader; a Senate committee chaired by Senator Sam Ervin was set up to examine Watergate. (Wikepedia)

In contrast it would appear that our press has made few great investigative breakthroughs to show for its desire for respect. It is not unfair to suggest that it sometimes relies on inaccuracies and innuendoes to feel many a page. It is alleged that some of the press even scout around the internet searching and culling articles, sometimes without the courtesy being extended to the authors.

One recent instance of the performance of Nigerian press comes to mind. On several occasions the press has referred to Gbenga Obasanjo has the 1 st son of the General even after corrections. Simple and basic routine investigation would have revealed to them that Gbenga is simply not the 1 st son of the General. So if the General treats the press with disdain can we blame him? Another instance revealed in the article of one Hakeem Babalola. The story of how he alleged one of the newspapers dealt with him, I quote him directly:

“I am angry and I am hungry and I am in Hungary. I am mad at…….. Newspaper’s editor. I am seeking a piece of advice on how I could sue ……… newspaper for trampling with impunity on what I value most in life – by line. You may wink and say, “Ordinary by-line”. But it is highly important to me. It is what I live for, especially when I am hungry here in Hungary. And this is neither a metaphor nor satire. Money have I none but my by-line I violently demand.”

Dr Abati, maybe this is why the General treats the Nigerian press with some disdain?

On the substance of the allegations made against the administration of General Obasanjo, I would state before I proceed any further, that I am not an apologist, lover or admirer of Obasanjo. Yes I declare that in his heydays as a farmer I had a brief contact with him while accompanying my uncle on a trip for curiosity value.

The facts are that this General has not been summoned nor have specific charges been put before him, it is therefore premature to suggest that the ongoing investigations amount to a trial of the General, yes the time may come, but until then we must separate fact from fiction and speak truth to power.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

The writer is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and previously affiliated to the Law Society of England and Wales.

Footnote:

[1] Mandela, Nelson, (2003)., Nelson Mandela’s speeches ‘Mandela, Nelson In His Own Words From Freedom To The Future’. Albie Sachs., ‘Freedom in Our Lifetime’ London: Abacus 2004, p. 54. He went on to develop the argument by stating that:

“if a free person in power have the right and duty to speak truth to power, so does the free person in power have the right and duty to communicate candidly with those affected by his or her decisions.”


* Source: New Nigerian Politics

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