All the reporters in the world working all the hours of the day could not witness all the happenings in the world... and none of them has the power to be in more than one place at a time. Reporters are not clairvoyant, they do not gaze into a crystal ball and see the world at will, they are not assisted by thought-transference. Yet the range of subjects these comparatively few men manage to cover would be a miracle indeed, if it were not a standardized routine
- Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, 1946.
It is amazing how things turn out sometimes. Two days ago, I wanted to do a piece concerning the impression created from the altercation between the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, and the Nigerian Bar Association president, NBA, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN. The NBA president was quoted to have said journalists were among the most corrupt people in Nigeria. As soon as those words allegedly popped out of his mouth, all hell broke. The NUJ fired back by asking the NBA president to retract, to clarify and to apologize for deigning to accuse the holy and lofty Fourth Estate of the realm of corruption. So intense was the clamor from the NUJ that the NBA president surrendered and offered an apology. 'I wish to deny categorically that at no time did I ever issue such a blanket statement taking an unjustifiable swipe at journalists and, by necessary deduction journalism', he said.
As I began to try to gather my thoughts on the topic, the news broke on the kidnapping of the Lagos NUJ chairman, Wahab Oba, and some of our colleagues. The kidnappers wanted a ransom of a whopping N250million! And as I write here today, the 14th day of July, the impasse has not been unravelled. My initial reaction therefore was to drop my intention to do a piece discussing pertinent issues of corruption staining the fabric of the media. However, the issues were so sensitive and so strong that I thought it would be criminal to sweep them under the carpet since journalism and journalists are now at the forefront of national discourse. So what I decided to do is look inward at the journalism profession from the point of view of an insider and proffer my candid solutions. I realize that in doing this, the ire of the profession, and an avalanche of vilification may pour from my colleagues. But what ire and what vile can withstand the truth? One of my former editor used to tell me that if you wrote something and reactions pour in, it shows that you did touch a nerve. I will stand for the truth, I will stand for avant-gardism and I will always be innovative.
Therefore, from the point where the NBA president offered his apology, I was disturbed. I did not understand why the learned gentleman was offering an apology for a statement he made when no one was pointing a gun at his head. Before he offered that apology, I thought that he would come out specifically to explain what it was that led him to have made that statement in the first place. Did some journalists try to con him? What medium are they from? For how long has this been going on? Is he sure that the people who tried to con him or otherwise were, are journalists?
Nevertheless, I realized that in trying to provide any clue to some of these questions, I would be begging the question. The real thing that bothered me was not that the NBA president apologised. What bothered me is the perception that will evolve from that apology, and eventually begin to mould about the business of journalism and the practitioners thereof. Now, what I want to know is that does it really mean that some Nigerian journalists are not indeed corrupt as the NBA president said before he retracted? Is that apology not already creating the impression that the Nigerian journalist and the journalism profession cannot be criticized [even as we are the greatest and staunchest critics of men and governments?] Are we saying that all members of the Nigerian Fourth Estate are really above board?
As far as I am concerned, anybody can be corrupt whether you are a journalist or not. Everybody, even the Pope or Obama, has a price. Whether you are a lawyer, doctor, teacher, American, Pakistani or Brazilian, everyone has this innate tendency to be corrupt. All that is needed is the right or wrong circumstances and definitions for corruption to come full circle. With us journalists, watchdogs and hounds, I am sure we will not be sincere if we indeed say that we are all above board altogether. If we do say that, we risk being seen as a supercilious and a holier-than-thou set of people.
And since the NBA president did not give us any instance where corruption pervades the journalism profession, let us examine one instance. I have a colleague who works in what is known as 'mainstream media'. Even though he has not been paid his salary of N45, 000.00 from January till date, he religiously goes to his beat. While there, he rubs shoulders and minds with the high and mighty [like Akeredolu]. Now do the arithmetic - January to July is seven months! - seven months of very hard physical and mental labour at meeting stiff deadlines, covering a beat that involves traversing the labyrinths and thoroughfares of the Lagos metropolis and making calls to contacts. That is just a tip of the iceberg. This person is married with three kids. He lives modestly in a two-bedroom rented flat in Magodo.
His children attend a private school nearby and they look OK. In these seven months without salary, this chap [as most journalists that are not being paid regularly] still copes nicely in meeting his needs and responsibilities both at home and in his office. Where then does he get the money? How has he been fuelling his car, servicing his generator, paying his rent, clothing and feeding his family and carrying on? Perhaps he has a brother-in-law called Sanusi Lamido. That may not be likely. Well then, maybe he won a jackpot in a lottery and is quietly spending his millions? Likely but I must confess that most winners of 'jackpots' in this country do not get more than a million [equivalent to just $6,000.00], and winnership of lotteries is not the exclusive preserve of journalists. Maybe most of our parents were tycoons and they left us a large inheritance perhaps? If the journalist is not getting money from these sources, how is he surviving these biting times of global and local economic recession? I know that we do not receive grants from the United Nations, or UNICEF, the EU or the AU. Where does the Nigeria journalist get money when he has not been paid for as long as seven months?