From Daily Trust to Onnoghen, By Martins Oloja

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Martins Oloja
Martins Oloja

From Daily Trust to Onnoghen, By Martins Oloja

NEWS DIGEST – Lest we forget the dramatic story of the military style of inviting the ‘Daily Trust’ editors the other day, I need to ask you: did you read the stories that led to the disruptive invitation of the editors or you read only the story of the travails of the newspaper? Do you know where the newspaper is located? Do you know the publishers and operators of the newspaper? Do you know the thrust of the Trust newspapers?

I think the answers to these harmless questions should not blow in the wind. Just hold your breath!

I am beginning to see the significance of what my sister, Abimbola Adelakun , a columnist, was saying the other day too that Buhari is not the only problem with Nigeria at this moment.

Indeed, there is a need for some of us to be afraid of what has become of the mainstream media at such a time like this.

On the travails of ‘Daily Trust’, I am afraid most of our elders in the media are beginning to speak in tongues about issues that are so straightforward. I have read a host of them and I don’t know why some of these elders have had some suspected ‘dialectical somersault’.

Whenever there is state of anomie, the elders should show the light for us the younger ones to find our way. It is disappointing that some of the elders we used to look up to are fast becoming part of the crisis of character that has pervaded the polity. We may not have any option than to look down on them.

Anyway, as it is not in our character to look down on elders we look up to, the prevailing condition in the country may compel us to be ‘uncultured’ and so look some of our elders in the face and ask them to lead us well or get out of the system or cross over to public relations practice properly.

They know enough to know that journalism is not synonymous with public relations.

For instance, the views of many of our veterans on Amina Zakari and her new assignment (at INEC) and the barbaric invasion of ‘Daily Trust’ have made me to be reflecting on the future of democracy here without robust journalism.

I hope we will not wake up one day to behold the anger of the vulnerable ones with placards decrying the collapse of ‘good journalism’, which the International Press Institute (IPI) reiterated to us here, ‘still matters’.

I am persuaded that most of our commentators on the ‘Daily Trust’ saga did not read the contextual reports that the military authorities claimed led to the brutality visited upon the media firm in the nation’s capital, Abuja, Kaduna, Maiduguri and Lagos.

I would like to hazard a guess that most of our elders only read the press statement, which stated the position of the military that resorted to self-help, in this connection. The law frowns on self-help. The main thrust of most of our elders’ arguments is that, ‘in times of war – and the nation is at war, according to the best authorities – you cannot publish information on the location of movement of troops of the national Army. They argue on end that doing so can put the lives of soldiers at risk and their mission in danger. Only a few of the elders rebuked the brutality of the soldiers who arbitrarily invaded the offices of the newspaper, stopped press operations and carted away equipment and consumables in the last paragraphs of their columns and commentaries. This is curious at this time that strong men in global context are enthusiastically subverting democracy, waging war on truth and desperately desecrating even the sanctity of rule of law, especially in Africa.

Yes, the world’s most populous African country practises a strange presidential system of democracy that has not been delivering concrete dividends to the people.

Since 1999, we have been having different strokes for different folks in a democracy nurtured by a budget, which serves only people in government at all levels. More than 75 per cent of appropriation (budget) goes for servicing the needs of the public officers of less than 5% of the populace of about 200 million people. The executive arm of government has been insufferably lethargic and mediocre – since 1999. The legislature has been lacklustre and their remuneration package remains a mystery of some sort.

In a good democracy, for instance, what happened to ‘Daily Trust’ last week could have triggered an emergency hearing at a session in thelegislature.

The invasion of a newspaper house by armed soldiers is a rape on democracy that some of our elders have not read well. It is like Asa’s classic in which she says, ‘there is fire on the mountain; And nobody seems to be on the run’; Oh, there is fire on the mountain top; And no one is running!’

This comment is not about ‘Daily Trust’ and what it stands for. It is about freedom and democracy. It is about democracy in an age of strongmen. It is about survival of democracy. And so I would like to appeal to our elders who may not have read the stories of ‘Daily Trust’ last Sunday to note that the press has been aware of the expediency of being conflict sensitive. I read all the stories of the newspaper last Sunday: there was no aspect of the story that didn’t pass the litmus test of conflict sensitivity.

The origin: In a commando style, the military arrested the Northern Regional Editor of ‘Daily Trust’, Uthman Abubakar and a reporter, Ibrahim Sawab, and they shut the Abuja, Maiduguri and Lagos offices of the news organisation. They also reportedly requested to see the Political Editor, Hamza Idris, whose name had appeared in bylines of major reports.

Though the military authorities explained later why they invaded the offices of the newspaper, commentators could have done some due diligence, which would have revealed that the ‘Daily Trust’ on Sunday published a strong editorial and news reports on security challenges in Northern Nigeria. Some of the cover stories include: ‘Military Prepares Massive Operation to Retake Baga, Others,’ ‘Zamfara Bandits May Have Link with Boko Haram -Defence Minister,’ ‘Shettima Funds 20,000 Civilian JTF for six Years,’ and ‘Troops Repel Boko Haram Attack in Damasak… Kill Many in Yobe’.

Its Editorial, titled, ‘FG is Running Out of Excuses,’ highlights some of the humanitarian challenges in the North-East and the efforts of the military in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency. The Editorial points out that the Borno community leaders at an emergency meeting of security agencies summoned by Governor Kashim Shettima expressed fears that insurgents could push on from Baga, overrun Monguno and move on to Maiduguri.

The comment also acknowledges the successes of the military in repelling three attacks on Monguno with Air Force raids that halted the insurgents in their tracks and killed many terrorists. It also commends the effort of the military in launching a major offensive to retake the lost towns and bases.

The Editorial, however, asks some hard questions and offers suggestions. It states thus: ‘From all indications there is no multinational force in the Lake Chad region, and we must ask why it is that Chadians, Nigeriens and Cameroonians do not seem to be around anymore? ‘We, however, commend the Niger Republic forces that last week killed 200 Boko Haram terrorists in their south eastern Diffa Region. Despite fortunes reportedly spent on armaments, it is clear also that our military lacks enough force and firepower to eliminate Boko Haram once and for all. ‘This is very unfortunate. The country is at war and has been so for nearly 10 years now. Even though many successes were recorded, we expect the Federal Government to drop everything else and go for the best weapons, equipment and munitions wherever it can find them,’ the editorial reads in part.

The CEO and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Daily Trust’, Malam Mannir Dan Ali said ‘the military are not happy with our reporting of the Baga attacks by Boko Haram and are just using today’s story as an excuse to clamp down on the newspaper’.

The first conclusion about the ‘Daily Trust’ saga is that the newspaper, whose Board of Directors is chaired by a thorough professional, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, who hails from Katsina State, has been one of the most organised in the industry. The Board of Management is also headed by Malam Mannir Dan Ali

another resourceful professional who also hails from Katsina State. I hope that makes sense to us, in the circumstances.

They have been ‘walking, what the iconic Babatunde Jose of the old ‘Daily Times’ called, ‘a tight rope’, in this regard. They have been producing a successful newspaper birthed in a region I condemned for their serial failure in newspaper business in a seminal article titled, ‘The Trouble With The Northern Press’ published in ‘The Guardian’ on Sunday August 14, 1994. Alas, I mean any attempt to discourage them through this kind of military repression should be resisted by all. We should take note of that background too, lest we glorify arbitrariness in a democracy!

So, if they don’t trust Daily Trust in Abuja, they won’t trust you in Lagos.

‘HAVE THEY COME FOR JUSTICE ONNOGHEN?’

This is Nigeria, a country of anything is possible. As I was writing yesterday, there was a story lead on alleged moves to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Walter Kanu Onnoghen ahead of elections – and election petitions hearing. The CJN hails from Cross River State and should be in office till 2020. It appeared first as if it were a fake news item. But at press time, the news lead had gone viral, which reminded most people of the traumatic experience of the same CJN who was nominated by the Acting President then, Professor Yemi Osinbajo on the last (expiry) day of nomination in 2017.

There have been trials of members of the Bench during his tenure, which began on March 7, 2017. But last night, I stumbled on some judicial precedent that can shape this developing story.

It is on record that by virtue of the judgment of the Court of Appeal in respect of the case of Justice of Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and in fact, any serving judicial officer, cannot be tried by the Code of Conduct Tribunal or even in any court, until the National Judicial Council, NJC would have dealt with the matter.

Though, the matter is still on appeal at the Supreme Court, the judgment still stands.

As a matter of fact, based on that judgment, the Code of Conduct Tribunal had to discontinue the trial of Supreme Court Justice, Sylvester Ngwuta who was facing trial on alleged false declaration of assets.

Similarly, a Federal High Court had struck out money laundering charges against another Supreme Court Justice based on this judgment. It was the same thing in respect of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia. However, after the NJC had taken disciplinary measures against Justice Ajumogobia, the trial is set to go on.

Martins Oloja is a columnist with the Guardian Newspapers

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