By Franklin Wosu
Since the Rivers crisis became a major issue on the nation’s political front burner, the worst victim has been the media. In this case, both the traditional and the online media. The main political gladiator, the embattled Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi, reaching into his very deep pockets has shattered the conscience of the media.
The societal watch-dog has been given sleeping pills and can no longer raise critical questions about happenings in the oil rich state. As a result, whatever press release is dished out by Governor Amaechi and his associates makes front-page of all leading national newspapers, while the online media use same releases time and again. The reading public is inundated with reports and features that are neither verified nor balanced.
It has become common practice for the media to sing Pro-Amaechi’s songs louder than the governor himself. If governor says a word, you can be sure that it will be amplified by the media. If his associates make a statement, it will be turned into an anthem and the reading public compelled to recite this anthem, even if it founded on falsehood.
More than anytime in the history of the nation, the Rivers political crisis has shaken the foundations of the credibility of the Nigerian media. Every single report about the crisis is now received with doubt. Nobody is really sure anymore. At the beginning of the crisis, people took the media seriously, but down the line with several reports confirmed false after they have been published, readers now wait for some days to ensure that what they read was the truth or otherwise.
Worse hit by this objectivity crisis are newspapers that are considered opposition newspapers. These newspapers have found the Rivers crisis a gold mine for false and concocted reports. One of them located in Ikeja spins all manner of falsehood about developments in the state to the detriment of the larger image of the media. A New York based online opposition medium has taken reportage of falsehood on Rivers crisis to a ridiculous level.
The operational philosophy of these opposition newspapers is the faulted maxim that if a lie is repeated so often, it metamorphoses to the truth or is considered to be the truth. Nothing could be further from reality. Working on this false baseline has eroded the trust the readers have on these media organisations, because they eventually discover the truth.
I will give two examples to illustrate my position before concluding this piece. First, was the incident at the Port Harcourt International Airport. Governor Chibuike Amaechi and the Minister of State for Education, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike received President Goodluck Jonathan who was on his way to Abuja from Bayelsa. On that day, the independent media were not there because it was a security movement. The Rivers Statte government was informed on the premise of protocol requirement, while the Minister of State for Education was part of the President’s advance team.
It was only natural that both parties brought their teams to gain political mileage. However, Amaechi’s propaganda team took it to the extreme. They sent out a press release claiming that the President had shunned the Minister of State for Education, Barr Wike and the state PDP executives. To buttress this falsehood, the released pictures of the President exchanging pleasantries with Amaechi. The very next day, all newspapers published the pictures and report on their front page. Sadly, most newspapers only added the byline of their reporters, without cross-checking the details. None of them called Barr. Wike’s office to hear his side. After all, he deep pocket has spoken.
Secondly, none of the papers cared to find out that Barr. Wike and the Rivers Deputy Governor, Tele Ikuru had harmoniously received President Jonathan on his way to Bayelsa from Abuja.
When the entire pictures of the airport incident were released, only one newspaper had the courage to published one of the pictures. A few others published the corrective news release from Wike’s camp. Interestingly, in the published picture, whilst the President shook hands with the Minister of State for Education, Amaechi looked away, sad. Other pictures of the event published online showed the President shaking hands with members of the State PDP and other stakeholders at the airport.
The second event was the fracas at the Rivers State House of Assembly. Both the pro and anti Amaechi lawmakers plotted their political graphs without informing media representatives to cover. On the day, after the fights, the majority leader, Chidi Lloyd, conspiring with Governor Amaechi checked himself into the Government House clinic. The Amaechi propagandists misled the media, who celebrated Lloyd as the victim of the assault. One prominent columnist in an Apapa based respected national newspaper defied all known logic to write a commentary on the issue the very next day when all facts had not been laid bare. Someone said he was thinking from his pocket.
However, the real video was released the following afternoon and the truth overtook the lies the media sold to Nigerians on the altar of their inordinate friendship with Amaechi. Chidi Lloyd was caught on video attempting to kill Hon. Michael Chinda. Most of the traditional and online media have pretended not to know that Amaechi personally supervised the attempted murder. They have pretended not to know the facts of the matter.
Amaechi’s personal security details participated actively in the fracas, instead, the media have chosen to dwell on Mbu Joseph Mbu, the commissioner of Police whose only offence is that Govenor Amaechi has declared him guilty. Since the “Mbu must go” mantra, nobody has pointed out his offence. The claim that the security situation in the state has deteriorated is not supported by any data. There has been no explosion of security conflict in the state, except for the fact the Mbu has rejected every attempt to get the people involved through sponsored street protests. If the conflict that took place in Warri had happened in Rivers State, Amaechi and his hired hands in the media would sang Mbu’s name to deafening pitch.
Aside the two clear factual cases pointed out, there is the clear case of correspondents domiciled in Rivers State, with active support of their editors have chosen to cover functions convened by opponents of their benefactor Governor Amaechi with an eye for the absurd. At such events, the reporters sit quietly and ignore all speeches made, seeking out an area that will generate conflicts in the polity. For Amaechi’s events, they await press releases and the follow up to those releases.
To me, the Rivers Political crisis engineered and fuelled by Governor Amaechi and his opposition friends will come to pass, same way that Amaechi’s tenure will end, latest May 29, 2015. But the media will remain. How will the people judge the media after months of falsehood sponsored by a desperate governor intent on foisting his political interests on his people. Beyond the goodies being enjoyed at present, major stakeholders of the media must rise up and address the damage that Amaechi has inflicted on the media.
The editors in Lagos and Abuja must take a second look at the falsehood being dished to them by resident reporters and the Government House, Port Harcourt Press Unit. Nigerians deserve better reportage and analyses of Rivers crisis other than what they are presently being served. The quantum of falsehood being dished out is insulting to the intelligence of the people and the injuries being inflicted on the people are deadly. They cannot afford to continue playing the Ostrich. To always cast Amaechi and his associates as men who can do no wrong is standing logic on its head. Rather funny editorials were written on the Rivers Assembly crisis, but none of them apportioned blame to Amaechi. Instead, they were busy pointing thir fingers in distant places. That’s why Amaechi is bold enough to set up a kangaroo judicial commission of inquiry to investigate a crisis he personally masterminded and supervised.
Credible media professionals must hasten to work towards checking the excesses of merchants assisting Amaechi to destroy the foundation upon which the media stand. To do otherwise would be to allow these paid merchants get away with their trading of news and analyses. In short, the media will end up being the worst victim of the Rivers political crisis. That is what Amaechi and his friends in the opposition and working hard at.
Franklin Wosu is the President of Rivers Progressive Committee.