At J-School Temple University, we were taught that journalism takes different forms.
Straight news and feature articles in which reporters seek out and present different points of view so readers can weigh the evidence and decide for themselves how they feel. Opinion, in which editorial writers and columnists present arguments designed to persuade. A good editorial writer and a good columnist will address countervailing arguments and explain why those positions lack merit. People and organization that want to influence the public try to make their cases clearly and forcefully when being interviewed for a news or feature article or a roundtable discussion.
When journalists or publications become naive, cheap, lazy, or complicit, they deliberately misinterpret, distort, and fabricate a story to hurt or embarrass the individuals involved in the story. Journalism as a profession condemns that practice because it shortchanges and potentially misleads, misinforms, and miseducate the public on the subject matter. We need a free flow of balanced reporting and information about our government and about issues in order to maintain the health of our democracy. Without it, we are at the mercy of fabricators, liars, and quacks who would try to shape the thinking of our people.
Recently, Department of Jurisprudence and International Law of the University of Lagos held a roundtable on “Winning the War Against Corruption.” Femi Falana (SAN), human rights lawyer, was the key note speaker was represented by Wahab Shittu. Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Professor Itse Sagay, and Femi Aribisala were the other participants.
The war on corruption has taken its share of body blows lately. But the roundtable on “Winning the war Against Corruption” was an opportunity to redefine and dissect corruption in a clinical setting as it were. Recent revelations on the extent and magnitude of corruption in Nigeria show leveling decades of corruption against our nation has gathered scalding force without grandstanding.
I find two aspects of the roundtable on corruption worth commenting upon. The first part that fuels my rage as a journalist is how The Herald reports the contribution of Ezekwesili. The second part that got me scratching my head is how Aribisala conveniently tucked away the second part of Ezekwesili's definition of corruption and mauled her contextual reference to Hong Kong and Queensland Australia.
Ezekwesili the former World Bank Vice-president defined corruption as “the abuse of public space for private gains.” Ezekwesili expands the definition: “It also includes what happens when in the private sector, a person abuses their position of trust for other stakeholders and personally benefits at the expense of the rest.” Ezekwesili calls for three pivotal strategies to tackle systemic corruption: (1) “Morally top political leadership that is able to mobilize entire citizenry and all sectors to line up behind the #WarAgainstCorruption and embrace a new orientation to the cost and consequence of corruption. (2) Preventive measures that reduce the opportunities for corruption – structural economic changes in the areas of liberalization and deregulation of sectors like energy, petroleum, and telecommunication that led to the demise of NITEL after many years of corruption and gave birth mobile phone companies. (3) Commensurate punishment for corruption: “until people understand that predictably they will receive the appropriate penalty for bad behavior they will continue to behave badly since it is profitable to do so.” Without effective enforcement of laws, investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of corruption, there is no way we will ensure the culprits pay for their crimes, says Ezekwesili. She believes these comprehensive strategies had reversed the systemic corruption in Hong Kong and Queensland Australia.
The mischievous Aribisala apparently consumed by the twin plague of pride and prejudice, in a ten-minute rant of distortion, shot back on the global definition of corruption by Ezekwesili: “Corruption cannot be narrowly defined the way Dr. Ezekwesili defined it, only relating to public institutions... And we have not yet taken a decision, we have not yet gotten to a point where we are fed up.” “I mean, she (Mrs. Ezekwesili),” continues Aribisala, “had given example of Hong Kong where people became fed up and said enough is enough. We have not reached that situation yet. I don't know why not, but we certainly have not.” Ezekwesili's reference to Hong Kong and Queensland Austria is explicit enough even for an average illiterate to comprehend. Aribisala badly twisted Ezekwesili's reference to Hong Kong and Queensland Australia.
Responding to Femi Falana's key note address, Aribisala denied there is war on corruption: “There is no fight against corruption in Nigeria. And if there is no fight against corruption, you can't even talk about war on corruption...” Aribisala said Buhari's war against corruption is selective and one-sided and it targets only members of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). “In fact when the PDP was ostensibly dealing with corruption, it addressed people in its own party. We are not having that now,” says Aribisala. Fact is, the war against corruption is frustratingly slow and makes mockery of our criminal justice system. It is disingenuous of Aribisala to deny the arrest, detention, and prosecution of signature names in corruption docket like the Bukola Abiku Mesujamba Sarakis, the Orubebes, the Metuehs, and other prominent looters of our treasury. By the way, how many PDP's members were prosecuted for corruption?
Aribisala is reminiscent of a beatnik who would talk on and on making no sense whatsoever. I'm not in the least surprised how weak-minded and immature Aribisala appears in his thinking. Though Aribisala has advanced in age, he has not matured in thinking. It is difficult to understand how seemingly well read and intelligent man like Aribisala manipulates, distorts, fabricates, and refuse to use historical facts or logic to form complex thought patterns. His paranoid rantings is often child-like based on sentiments and emotions. Aribisala's repeated diatribes on national issues are products of political confusion as well as impoverished political vocabulary. He has for long been a polarizing figure in national consciousness. He will remain so for the rest of his life.
Now to the errant journalist (s) on The Herald. “If it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes crass journalists to distort and deceive the people in their reporting. In bold type face, The Herald headline screams “Many UNILAG Students engage in exam malpractice – Ezekwesili” The Herald story written by Fola (no last name) begins with an intro: “There was drama at the University of Lagos yesterday after a former Education minister, Oby Ezekwesili accused many students of the ivory tower of exam malpractice.”
The Herald reporter quotes Ezekwesili as saying “There are many whose exam malpractice is the basis upon which they have come to school. So when you are talking about the need to wage a war against corruption, they are completely disconnected from it. There is a complete dissonance from it.” Contrary to what The Herald reporter said, Ezekwesili reminds the students that “the effect of Systemic Corruption is that it operates at every segment of society and causes people to become inured to the malignant consequences of the Cancer.” “So for instance,” continues Ezekwesili, “many who gained admission into school as a result of Exam Malpractice have engaged in corruption at their own level and will thus have a cognitive dissonance with any talk about #CorruptionWar.
Half knowledge is dangerous, especially if you're a journalist. Many Nigerian journalists are traitors to journalism. The mediocre reporting skill of many of our journalists is a great alarm to journalism, an instance of criminal intimidation against people like Ezekwesili who voice their opinion and stand by a progressive politics. This is another war against honesty, against intellectual freedom, and against truth. These half-baked journalists use every weapon – be it language, lies, slanting, and fabrication – to brand people in order to feed into the imaginations of fear and anger among their readers. The Herald deliberately left out the three comprehensive strategies of fighting corruption that Ezekwesili advocates.
It is disturbing to note that it is always people from minority communities, like prominent voices from women that are subject to this vitriol. Whereas people like Aribisala whose emblems are distortion, fabrication, and falsehood are protected from such vitriol. Not only is this form of journalism doing a disservice to our society in spreading lies and misinformation, it is taking on the role of fascist propaganda machines that single out individuals for intimidation, coercion, and at times elimination. The crass stupidity of such journalists is an open invitation to those wanting to abridge press freedom. The late British national newspaper editor Brian Hitchen had Nigerian poorly trained journalists in mind when he said many journalists “are the product of half-baked courses “ ...”haven't a clue what a good story is...”
Ezekwesili may not be wrong after all when she said “many who gained admission into school as a result of Exam Malpractice have engaged in corruption at their own level and will thus have a cognitive dissonance with any talk about #CorruptionWar.” It is an open secret that many students bought admission to our universities, many were admitted by parental connection. Many by cheating on Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam. Many by trading sex for admission. As undergraduates, the same corrupt practices continue. They trade sexual favors for grades. They obtain grades by harassing and intimidating their teachers. And they purchase grades. These are forms of corruption Ezekwesili was talking about.
Gone are the days of students' activism on our university campus. Led by revolutionary student leaders like late Segun Okeowo, Banji Adegboro, Omoyele Sowore (Publisher, SaharaReporters) to mention a few. The numbness and dumbness of today's undergraduates is another form of blindness that reflects on our nation's collective myopia regarding social and political issues like corruption, poverty, unemployment, etc.
As university students, we expect them to take active roles in democracy – roles beyond the ballot box. We expect them to help frame both issues and solutions in our communities, our nation, and the world. Nigerian students no longer participate the kind of vibrant civic life that is critical to the success of our democracy. Our students have failed to be active in developing and promoting civic space in education of democratic citizenship and engagement of our citizens by developing their political consciousness.
In a country of 170 million people, students' voices matter. In the '60s and '70s, there was a huge rise in the involvement of students in politics. Time and again, we have seen how they have stood together to raise their voices against social injustices, tyranny, oppression, and dictatorship and have made impact on policies affecting them and Nigeria as a whole. Today, our university students are as dumb as a dummy. Their role models are the Bukola Abiku Mesujambas, Melayes, Dasukis, Burujis, Kafaratis, Diezanis, Ooduas, Fayoses, Fanikayodes, Okupes, Abatis, Metuhs. The list goes on.
Corruption continues to divide and destroy our collective resolve to terminate the cancer from our body politic. With broken criminal system, media manipulation, uninformed and gullible citizenry, we have failed as a people to reach a moment of divine clarity on how best to prosecute the war against corruption .