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Wanted: War Correspondents By Sonala Olumhense

September 19, 2015

If you are merely a highly casual observer of events, you may not even have noticed the war.  


One explanation is probably that your news medium does not know, either.  That tells you how serious, but exciting, this war is going to be.  

Reporting a war is unlike reporting education, government or the National Assembly.  Compared to war reporting, those are like writing a blog: you can (almost) sit on your recliner—your television remote control in the other hand—and do it.  

To report a war, you need War Correspondents: citizens of courage who understand the dimensions of trying to share the dimensions of a conflict with the larger world.  They also know that the blood that is shed is not always that of the enemy.  

A war correspondent does not make you accept a war; he makes you understand its essence.  He understands that the war is too important to be left to the soldiers.  A war correspondent serves the war with the dinner, if there is one.

The war correspondent is the missing element of the coming war, and we must have him if we are to understand its sweet savagery enough to swear, on behalf of our children, “Never again!”

I am talking about Nigeria’s anti-corruption war, and never again the false peace which preceded it.  But a true war is dangerous if it lacks historians dedicated enough to interpret and document it.  

To be clear: sometimes, war correspondents do not come back.  I don’t mean physically, but psychologically.  A war needs men and women who have that special capacity that is beyond casualty-counting.  A war takes its toll, but the reason why some war correspondents appear to have been lost in the war relates as much to its dimensions and nuances as to the actual fighting.

Nigeria, corruption: these two words have occupied the same headlines and sentences for so long they seem to be Siamese twins.  

Now, for the first time, they get inserted between them, in practice, the smaller one, war.  

The word is small until you think about it, or remember that the war has been described as one for the soul of the nation.  This is a three-dimensional one that has no real boundaries.  No, it is not about the Goodluck Jonathan administration; no, it is not about people who have served in public office; and no, it is not about who is alive and who is dead.

Think: if you are a Nigerian, and you have held public office, you are in the fight, somewhere, even though it may not at first appear to involve you.  A war correspondent may call, or connect you. 

If you are a Nigerian and have held no public office but are related to someone who has, you are in it, somehow.  

If you are a Nigerian and have held no public office, but have worked in a public office or serviced such an office, you are in it, somehow.  

If you are not a Nigerian but have worked in official proximity to a Nigerian official or office, you are in it, somehow.  

If you have worked in a state or local government capacity but have retired or become incapacitated, a war correspondent may call you on account of documents received from a certain federal pensioner in your area.

Think about it: a pardoned convict, former Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (DSP), is currently on a campaign of self-vindication.  In press interviews, the man who reportedly fled the United Kingdom in a woman’s buba, gele and high-heels blames his impeachment and conviction not on his corruption, but on a conspiracy led by President Olusegun Obasanjo. 

DSP does say anything about his corruption issues with the Metropolitan Police in London, or how he imagines they were recruited into the conspiracy, or about his assets in the United States that were subsequently seized by that country. 

What if those UK and US issues seeped back into the war, and a war correspondent called Mr. Goodluck Jonathan—who as President not only refused to claim DSP’s assets offered to Nigeria but pardoned the man—and Jonathan called Mohammed Adoke, who was his Attorney General?  

Think about it: if they probed the Abacha loot saga, Olusegun Obasanjo is certain to testify; he has said he left $2bn, £100m and N10bn in cash and property of Abacha’s money when he left office in 2007.  That means they will call Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has said that government recovered only $500m; and her successor in the Ministry of Finance (2006), Nenadi Usman, who said five Ministries received the funds for 50 projects.  This means war correspondents can call a lot of people involved with a lot of offices and funds and projects.  

Projects:  If they probed the Second Niger Bridge, the East-West Highway, or the Transformation Agenda, Pandora’s Box? 

And if they probed Wale Babalakin and his Bi-Courtney Consortium over the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, would Jonathan’s Works Minister Mike Onolememen and his staff be called by war correspondents? If they probed the Sagamu-Benin Road, would recent Works Ministers from Tony Anenih through Adeseye Ogunlewe to Onolememen testify?

If they probed Patience Jonathan’s $13.5 million EFCC 2006 seizure, will a war correspondent call former boss Nuhu Ribadu, who announced her “clearance” years after he had left the commission?

Think: Senate President Bukola Saraki, who has enjoyed hide-and-seek games with law-enforcement since his governorship of Kwara State ended in 2011, has finally been charged by the Code of Conduct Bureau.  As soon as he heard the charges against him, Saraki—like DSP—declared them to be a witch-hunt. 

That is particularly interesting when you remember that the Senate, Saraki’s playpen, recently claimed to be probing EFCC chairman Ibrahim Lamorde for allegedly diverting a trailer load of recovered funds, over N1 trillion’s worth.

It is also significant that the CCB is after Saraki for crimes allegedly committed between 2003 and 2011.  The same agency has conveniently ignored as many as 14 former governors recommended to it by a 2006 federal Joint Task Force for prosecution.  The ICPC, which treats blindness with eye drops, is also now conveniently looking into the finances of (some) former governors.  

Think: what if they investigated military and security chiefs who supervised various Houdini and whodunit budgets; Ministers who financed beyond Ministries; and former governors who claimed to have no accounts overseas but who somehow managed to own property before and during their governorships? 

Yes, thunder is rumbling in the distance, but an anti-corruption offensive has not begun.  If that happens, the anti-corruption outfits, despite their activism, can expect to play as much defence as prosecution.  If there is a war, they can win legitimacy not simply from the authority of the law, but from their record. 

But the war, if it comes, will be the province of the “war correspondent.” 

That is what I call every citizen who acknowledges it as the chance of a lifetime.  It will be an intricate, intertwined and complicated process, but a contact sport in which, by participating robustly but fairly, the ordinary citizen can determine his future.   

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense