The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. [For] to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves-and the better the teacher, the better the student body
- Warren Buffet

During the Occupy Nigeria period, Nigerians the world over were overwhelmed by a feeling of oneness and camaraderie never before seen in recent time nor replicated afterwards (until the Nation's triumph at the last Cup of Nations). Nigerians looked out for each other, defended each other, supported themselves and most pertinent to this piece, educated each other. New twitter handles were launched, old handles shot into top gear and online news portals experienced an unprecedented wave of visitor traffic. People like Omojuwa, WilDeji, Elrufai and GED (to name a few) became household names or more popular for two things- the direction of the nation's masses in the struggle for an affordable life and the education of the world as to the ramifications and implications of the struggle

These were the unorganised media. The organised media were not left out. While outfits like Radio Nigeria and NTA showed the sad effect of state ownership on the quality of reportage and journalism, private sector-run news agencies were aglow with blow by blow articles, editorials and many a op ed about the dangerous tilt of the government's policies. The non-print pressmen also joined the fray. Some nascent news websites got popular while some websites that merely achieved more than gossip in the past now had a sense of direction and could broaden their reach. But when verified, dependable information was sought, it was websites likesaharareporters.com that the majority visited. Since then, Sahara Reporters has been the yardstick for accuracy and unbiased-yet-tough analysis and reportage to many and it didn't matter that Occupy Nigeria was over or that there were no tangible reasons to take to the streets in protest. When you needed to unearth scandal and governmental irresponsibility or just seek out news in general, you visited saharareporters.com despite their diaspora situation

Just as the spell of rebellion lost its power on the prodigal son in scripture, the spell of deceit and false positives cast on us by the seemingly effective press has lost its power. The scales are off our eyes and all our illusions as to their proficiency are dissolved

On Wednesday, the 6th of March 2013, our attention was drawn to a poorly written, badly investigated and presumptuous article by one Soni Akoji on the Sahara reporters website (see article here- http://bit.ly/YcO8X8). An easy way to tell a false story is to insert enough truth in it to make it believable and to make the falsehoods in it negligible. But to every reasonable man under the sun, no falsehood is negligible for we owe it as a duty to be unbiased, objective and unendingly committed to truth

Soni Akoji starts his narrative by the finger-pointing and name-calling characteristic of an article with little substance and a lot of sentiment. The reference to Franc Utoo (which Soni Akoji ignorantly spells as Frank Urthur) as "a close confidant of Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue state" is a prime example of such shallow and abysmal finger-pointing and partial reportage. For the avoidance of doubt, Franc is a career politician whose repertoire includes the Student Union Leadership of the Benue State University, the Student wing leadership of Benue State under Governor George Akume, the leadership of the Transparency International Club in the Newcastle University and most recently, the Chair of the Students' Representative Council at the Headquarters of the Nigerian Law School. As such, he is known to many political leaders of our time in varying degrees and the reference to Governor Suswam as his confidant is an unnecessary diversion meant to drag the name of the good Governor into the mud of a crisis that he knew nothing about nor had anything to do with. More so as Franc Utoo is not a card-carrying member of any Nigerian political party. We are not surprised however that Sunny Akoji would stoop so low as to fight dirty. We expect such tactics from the fledgling Politician-Pharmacis t from Benue State who has always been intimidated by the political prowess and achievements of Franc Utoo who he deems a rival to his present and future ambitions. We expect such tactics from the amateur writer who cannot accurately analyse without whipping up sentiment. We expect such tactics from a man who, having not been taught the pillars of Natural Justice would not understand the need to hear the other side before ranting in judgement. And may we add that during the Occupy Nigeria protests, the said Franc Utoo led the largest demonstration in Benue state over the course of three days against his "confidant"

Indeed, Franc Utoo announced the sum of N500,000 TO BE SHARED. He never announced that as the TOTAL SUM. Before the First Lady doled out the said sum, Mr. Franc had already approached her and intimated her of plans to celebrate the Law School's Golden Jubilee Anniversary in grand style to which the First Lady graciously pledged to support. When she eventually gave out the money, she delivered it with two intents- to fulfil her pledge and to generously gift the cheering students at the Hostel. As President with the discretion to allot and appropriate, Mr. Franc Utoo separated N500,000 for the Golden Jubilee and the balance for sharing to the students. It is worthy of note that at least, six (6) other Student Parliamentarians (including the Secretary-General, the Director of Socials, the Public Relations Officer1 and the Provost Marshall) were present at the scene that day but the Chairman in an unprecedented show of transparency appointed four unknown students from the crowd of students present to count the money and share to the students. No leader attempting to embezzle would have done this

It was Aristotle who said that "To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." Indeed, no leader however efficient, can avoid dissent whether in the form of criticism or rancorous uproar. Indeed, students in the heat of passion demanded the impeachment of the Chairman and threatened their representatives with recall if such a resolution wasn't met. In a bid to satisfy the demands of said students while remaining committed to fairness, the Students' Representative Council passed a vote of no confidence on the Chairman that night and asked the Chairman to step aside- a decision that was announced to a rowdy session of students the next morning. However, a vote of confidence was eventually passed by the same house at approximately 6:30pm on Wednesday, the 6th of March 2013

We will like to state that our house is very much in order and the controversial sum is intact and in the custody of the school. We are a family of learned gentlemen headed by a gallant, efficient and indefatigable leader. Our track record with finances is impeccable (with so many members running their offices with personal funds) as we have been a rallying point for the raising, collation and distribution of funds for our colleagues in need- today, a deaf colleague of ours has access to an interpreter she doesn't pay for because of our efforts and another colleague who lost his dad was set-off to the tune of almost a hundred thousand naira without controversy

If there are Nigerian youths who, as Soni Akoji pontificated are simply "waiting for their turn to continue with business as usual when the mantle of leadership eventually falls into their hands", they are not in the Students' Representative Council of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus. We bemoan the death of analytical and verified journalism in Nigeria, the decline of professionalism and highest ethical standards in endeavour and the manipulation of the ship of free press into the chaotic shipwreck of misinformation and misguided, malicious reportage. One can only imagine that all other articles hosted by the Sahara Reporters are the product of lopsided feeders, presumptuous storytelling and deep-seated ill will by their disgruntled authors. One can only imagine

One can only imagine that the biting remarks of A. J. Liebling that "the function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money" might just be true when news websites and media proprietors will publish spurious stories and unverified, vilifying tales to maintain readership and visitor traffic

We remain committed to providing the Students at the Abuja Campus of the Nigerian Law School with the efficient leadership that we've hitherto exhibited while remaining accessible to suggestions and objective criticisms but deaf, blind and defiant to all those who manipulate their pens in a bid to engender strife, malign us, attack our authority as a body and stir up a storm in a tea cup

Ope OWOTUMI
Public Relations Officer2
Students' Representative Council,
Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus

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