by Segun Odeleye
One of the lowest moments of the last presidential campaign was the shocking advert by the governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose, which was published by two national newspapers, The Sun and The Punch.
In the advert, Fayose used texts and images to suggest that the then APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, will die in office if elected president.
It was widely condemned at the time, but none of the two newspapers bothered to explain their decision to accept the advert which had the potential of escalating into physical violence at a time when the nation was already on the edge.
At last, Femi Adesina, The Sun’s Editor-in-Chief and president of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, has explained the thinking behind their decision to accept the advert during a speech he presented at a World Press Freedom Day event in Lagos.
He said that it had to do with the influence of media owners in Nigeria. Sun newspaper is owned by Orji Uzor Kalu, a PDP chieftain.
“The Sun and The Punch that ran the infamous Ayo Fayose hate advert, what motivated the newspapers? Was it just mere pecuniary gains? I cannot speak for The Punch, but I know why The Sun ran it. Money was secondary consideration. It was a decision I took consciously as Managing Director and Editor in Chief,” he said.
According to Premium times:
The advert, which had the pictures of Murtala Muhammed, Sani Abacha, and Umaru Yar’Adua – past Nigerian presidents who died in office – was accompanied by excerpts from the Bible book of Deuteronomy 30 verse 19.
“Nigerians be warned! Nigeria…I have set before thee Life and death. Therefore, choose life that both thee and thy seed may live,” it said, suggesting that Mr. Buhari represents death while his rival, President Goodluck Jonathan represents life.
The advert went ahead to put a huge question mark over the picture of Mr. Buhari, which was placed beside the pictures of the late leaders.
The advert asked its readers: “Will you allow history to repeat itself? Enough of State burials.”
It then attempted to spur ethnic controversy by saying, “Northern presidency should wait till 2019.”
At the time, Mr. Fayose had defended his decision to place the advert, saying it was all about politics.
“The governor is a Nigerian,” his spokesperson, Lere Olyainka, told PREMIUM TIMES. “He has expressed his opinion. Other people are also free to express theirs
“It is politics. You market your own product and you also try to pull the opposing product down. That is how it is done. It is politics. Let everybody play his own game. What I don’t support in politics is violence.”
Mr. Fayose’s excuse did little to assuage public anger, with political analysts describing the advert as one of the lowest moments in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
Mr. Adesina defended his organisation, stating that what the public saw on the newspapers’ covers on January 19 was a “heavily watered down” version of the advert.
“That hate advert, two newspapers published it, The Sun and The Punch,” Mr. Adesina began, speaking on the topic ‘Influence of Media Owners on Fair and Balanced Reporting and Commentaries in 2015 Election.’
“Now you can ask me: why did we publish? That advert came on a Sunday, January 18th, and we published it on January 19th. The advert that was eventually published had been watered down considerably. I came back from church, I opened my system and when I saw it I screamed.
“It had been sent to me from the office to clear for publication. When I saw it I screamed. I then called Bolaji Tunji, our Executive Director, Special Services, ‘Can we publish this and Nigeria will not burn?’ Then we began to discuss and we began to tone it down. We removed so many things from that advert. And what eventually appeared on January 19th was the toned-down version.
“So if we had published the original…. So it was the toned-down version that I approved that they eventually sent to The Punch that appeared the next day.”
Mr. Adesina said that he is widely regarded as an “APC man” although he does not belong to the party, and that rejecting the advert would have meant trouble from Orji Uzor Kalu, the newspaper’s proprietor and a founding member of the PDP.
“Now but if you ask me, why did I approve that advert?” he said. “I knew that the toned-down version was still bad enough. But don’t forget the ownership of my newspaper. A PDP chieftain owns the newspaper.
“If I had rejected that advert, they would have told my publisher that this APC man has denied your paper revenue. He has rejected this advert because he doesn’t like Jonathan.
“So, after we watered it down, we decided to take it. Punch also took it. But we know the uproar that still came after it. But I tell you, if you see the original of that advert, you would still then have to commend the media.
“So ownership will always matter where press freedom is concerned. There is no freedom without boundaries and the owners will always constitute the boundary.”