By Samuel Ogundipe
When Mr. Ayodele Fayose was inaugurated as the new Governor of Ekiti State following a resounding victory he secured at the polls in June, he didn’t shy away from seriously scolding the media in his inaugural speech. He accused the press of being biased and urged journalists to be more responsible in the course of carrying out their lawful duty.
His reprimand was not misplaced. In fact, his landslide victory was as much a shellacking for Fayemi as it was for the members of the press, who overwhelmingly backed the unpopular former governor.
But it seems some of us are either impervious to the truth or shamefully indifferent to reality.
In a paradoxically-titled opinion piece written by a former President Yar’Adua’s spokesman, ‘Segun Adeniyi, then governor-elect, Ayo Fayose, was unfairly pilloried –in a story titled: A Word for Ayo Fayose– as a man who’s suffering a mild form of bipolar disorder. This is unacceptable, especially when it’s coming from a man who, in 2008, goaded his principal to sue Leadership Newspapers because the media house reported the exacerbating illness of the former president.
As much as I remain an ardent proponent of free speech (as if I have a choice), and while I am not in any way a fan of Fayose –I called him a “pyromaniac in the field of political jingoists” in my May 26 column — I believe the time for Nigerian opinion writers to eschew the illusion that they can make or break any individual with their pens (or, more accurately, keyboards) has reached its acme.
Media’s criticism of politicians can be beneficial to the people if it’s constructive and devoid of conspicuous personal vituperation. Although most political players detest being called out by the press, still, they’re not stupid: Substantial majority of elected public office holders recognise –and often yield to– constructive criticism when they see one. Moreover, constructive criticism of politicians is congenial in a constitutional republic because it enables politicians make an informed judgement of a narrative which, in turn, benefits the citizenry.
Media houses always fight back on concrete and perceived accusation of bias, because they know the general public largely prefer an independent press. Hence the counter-intuitive irony: The most damaging criticism of politicians in the media often comes from the least responsible arm of the media, opinion pages. The unfettered autonomy that media houses grant their columnists has made it increasingly difficult for readers to distinguish a honest journalist who earns a living working for his employer from a political consultant. This would be superfluous if Nigerian politics is ideologically-oriented. But since all political parties have no discernible ideological differences, media practitioners often find it easy to target a politician’s personal character as against his or her belief system.
Also, while many politicians often claim, albeit with antic indifference to definition, to be either progressives (See: Liberalism) or conservatives, Nigerian journalists see no need to espouse their ideological tenets. (Perhaps they can be excused for avoiding a subject that could force them to lie about a topic that is contemporarily inconsequential to their career.)
In the better-advanced climes, if you pick up a newspaper –e.g: The Wall Street Journal; Conservative, The New York Times; Liberal– you know what you’ll see on its opinion pages. If you switch to a news channel –e.g: Fox News; Conservative, MSNBC; Liberal– you know what its opinion programs will look like. Some card-carrying members of political parties often have their own opinion airtime on news channels, as with MSNBC’s Krystal Ball who once ran as a Democratic Party’s candidate for Congress. But this is not the case in Nigeria, which is why many often find it difficult to fathom what paper supports which political party. In Nigeria, you’re just as likely to read a piece critical of Bola Tinubu in The Nation as you are to watch an impressive news report about President Jonathan on Television Continental. These show that the overarching influence of Nigerian media is largely about the individual writer as opposed to the institution he or she represents.
Now back to Mr. ‘Segun Adeniyi’s mundane assault on the person of now-Governor Ayo Fayose. Even though some people have said THISDAY Newspapers, which Mr. Adeniyi chairs its editorial board, has a soft-landing for the Peoples Democratic Party, there’s no established fact to this claim. The paper is just like every other Nigerian daily, and Mr. Adeniyi is just like every other Nigerian columnist.
Mr. Adeniyi started his piece with a self-praising paragraph about how he denied several invitation to meet Mr. Fayose when the latter was governor in 2004, a narcissistic claim that should strike even the most apolitical as petty.
He then went on to write a poorly-constructed straw man:
If you spend just ten minutes with Fayose, he was likely to tell you almost ten times that he is the Governor of Ekiti State as if he needed to keep reminding himself. There are stories of him staying in front of the mirror and hailing himself as “Your Excellency!” aside going to address rallies at the University of Ado Ekiti campus, telling students he is ‘the boss’ of respected Professors like Akin Oyebode. Ordinarily, all these should not matter except that the serious personal complex (which the Yoruba people would call ‘oju o r’ola ri’) responsible for such dispositions is at the root of the crisis in Ekiti State and the tragedy of Fayose’s administration.
Coming from a self-proclaimed intellectual like Mr. Adeniyi, the apocryphal claim that Mr. Fayose always stands at the front of a mirror to yawp himself as the governor is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because it gives credence to the claim of the governor that the Nigerian media is a cesspool of corruption and immorality. No journalist that knows his onions will write such a cheap attack, much less a former presidential spokesman.
Indeed, when, on November 8, 2008, Leadership Newspapers ran a story about President Yar’Adua’s worsening health situation, ‘Segun Adeniyi came out the next day not just to vigorously refute the negative report about his principal but to threaten excruciating legal consequences for the newspaper thusly:
“In keeping with his commitment to upholding the rule of law at all times, Yar’Adua has directed his lawyers to take appropriate legal action against the Leadership newspaper…There is no truth in the entire report … the only reasonable conclusion is that the publishers … ran the report … to embarrass the President and destabilise his administration. [sic]
What conclusion can anyone draw after reading Mr. Adeniyi’s piece about Fayose other than the conclusion Mr. Adeniyi himself reached against Leadership some 6 years ago? Another common trend is Mr. Adeniyi’s penchant for making stuff up, which borders on pathological. Yet, he can be forgiven, after all he was only working to justify his salary –and other government boondoggles– back then.
As if he hadn’t already made enough mockery of himself, Mr. Adeniyi went further to assert that:
“….this second chance is an opportunity for Fayose to learn the ways of decent leadership. Converting the existential desperation of the people to electoral advantage may be politically expedient in the short run. But it does not invalidate the developmental strides made by his more enlightened and refined predecessor in office. Fayose should have the humility to learn from Fayemi’s legacy while seeking to improve on it. Turning Ekiti into a battle field state is not the best way to step into office on a second chance ticket. Similarly, storming court rooms to inflict corporal punishment on judges does not justify the confidence of the ordinary Ekiti man that their mandate should buy them peace, civility and some modicum of progress. Even as I hope he will learn from his first misadventure in power, I wish Fayose a successful tenure as Ekiti State Governor.”
By “existential desperation,” it won’t be out of place to assume that Mr. Adeniyi was alluding to the stomach infrastructure meme. Stomach infrastructure may be derisive political assault, but it’s not as damaging as those who coined the word anticipated: Fayose has since turned the insult into a popular campaign slogan, he made the appointment of a special adviser for Stomach Infrastructure his first official assignment as a governor. Also, Mr. Adeniyi seems to be lost on the irony that any elected individual that governs a state where lack of food has triggered an existential desperation for its inhabitants is undeserving of reelection.
Mr. Adeniyi should also tell us what is so “refined” about a leader that plunged his state into an abyss of unnecessary debt. Mr. Fayose left ₦10B in the state coffers when he was shown the way out in 2006. Fayemi did not only deplete the windfall, he also plunged the state into a ₦500M budget shortfall. The supposedly enlightened Fayemi also failed to advance the position of Ekiti State in the overall ranking by WAEC, choosing instead to let the “Fountain of Knowledge” motto of the state become a laughable irony.
And Mr. Adeniyi needs to tell us when appearing at the court in a suit that one is a party to became an attempt at inflicting “corporal punishment” on judges. Apparently, some individuals do not understand that, no matter their level or exposure or education, they cannot make the people see black if the object is white.
I owe readers an apology for not pointing them at the real culprit of Mr. Adeniyi’s yellow journalism on time: The Nigerian Union of Journalists. Yes, Nigerians would have been spared all these obnoxious ranting he’s masquerading as authoritative journalism had NUJ either censured or thoroughly banned him from practicing journalism after all the shameful antics he exhibited amidst President Yar’Adua’s health crisis. After all, Michael Aandoakaa, former Attorney-General of the Federation, with whom Adeniyi colluded to keep the nation in darkness, was permanently stripped off his SANship and his license to practice law temporarily withdrawn.
– Follow this writer on Twitter: @SamuelOgundipe