Between The Nation, Justice Uwais and Prof Maurice Iwu
By Ipole Amajama
Adlai Stevenson, American politician and Ambassador to the United Nations from 1961-1965, observed that ‘ a ccuracy to a newspaper is what virtue is to a lady; but a newspaper can always print a retraction.’ It is common knowledge to most, I say most because the import of virtue is incomprehensible to some persons and institutions, of us what happens when a lady loses virtue. She becomes a castaway, except in her kind of society where irresponsibility, depravity and lawlessness are the norms. Stevenson’s analogy between a newspaper and a lady losing her virtue is therefore apt.
In the best traditions of Africa, it is a serious issue, a near taboo when a lady loses face, perhaps due to waywardness and licentious living. The family of the lady without becomes the community’s laughing stock; they find it hard to go to the market and participate in communal activities. Even in these times when modernity assails our common heritage of decency and restraint, society frowns at the lady without scruples. More is expected of a newspaper that should be the signpost of all that is ennobling. In a highly competitive media industry as Nigeria boasts of, there is the temptation to be the ‘first.’ And in so doing, a newspaper stands the risk of standing fact and truth on the head. That is exactly what The Nation did in its editions of September 29 and 30, 2008 when it two highly fictitious and imaginary back-to-back stories on Professor Maurice Iwu’s “desperate attempt to keep his job and save his integrity.”
For the records, I have always read The Nation in its seeming quest for objectivity and to “get the other view,” in a media industry that is serving one interests or the other. So I was not particularly miffed when I read the “exclusive’ of the newspaper on the “desperate attempt” of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Iwu “to keep his job and save his integrity,” it was not hard to tell that the principals of the newspaper are yet to come to terms with the outcome of the historic transition of the 2007 elections that saw one president handing over to the next-the first in the annals of the country.
To say the least, the stories are not just fictional, but absolute falsehoods and intended for mischief if not, the writers of the story beginning with Lawal Ogienagbon, Deputy Editor, News, would have been thorough in their findings and in faith with the principle of professionalism hear the other side. But no, in their delusional euphoria of a “major scoop,” they ended up exposing their underbelly.
It is common knowledge to most Nigerians, perhaps not those at The Nation, that it is normal procedure for routine redeployment of staff in the civil service, more so for organizational efficiency or as the prevailing circumstances dictate. If indeed the INEC redeployed its staff to some other departments within the same commission and in the same locale, one wonders where “the cover up” of events of the 2007 poll comes from except in the over-running imagination of those at The Nation.
Another question that should be asked the writers and editors of the newspaper is that even if the “disloyal” staff were redeployed from the department to another, does it preclude the fact that they are still privy to the “untoward” happenings of the 2007 elections as The Nation imputed in its write-ups? The obvious answer is No! In its apparent melodramatic conjecture, the paper in its edition of the 30 th on the front page, paragraph four wrote: “It was gathered that Iwu resorted to “witch-hunting” some workers when he learnt that his days at INEC were numbered.” It is trite to ask: so Prof Iwu had been in the know of some disloyal staff and did nothing about them until he learnt of his “numbered days? How interesting!
The Nation failed in the preceding paragraph to tell its readers where the officials of the Legal and Personnel Departments were transferred to from Abuja since it is well grounded with the facts. However, the most telling aspect of this sad fiction by the 'The Nation' newspaper is its claim to have the draft report of the Justice Uwais’ Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), which has recommended not just the disbandment of the INEC but also the sack of Prof Iwu.
Acting on the source who seems more at variance with his statements, the paper in one breath reported that the ERC has recommended the disbandment of INEC and in another suggests that “INEC is overburdened,” and needs to shirk itself of some responsibilities. It is gratifying to note that The Nation reported that the committee’s report would be submitted to President Umaru Yar’Adua sometime in December, and if this is so, it can easily be deduced that the “source” which the paper kept referring to is trying to fly a kite hoping that the presidency and other members of the ERC would buy.
Sadly enough, Nigerians especially those whose responsibilities are to give policy directions are not given to such cheap antics. Let the truth be told, the 2007 elections like most elections in other parts of the world had some flaws, mostly brought by institutional inadequacies and insincerity of the political actors. Therefore for some persons and organizations to suggest, like The Nation tried to do that Maurice Iwu is to blame is tantamount scorching the surface of our electoral malaise. It would rather be heartening if all stakeholders - political class, media, NGOs, CSOs, youth groups and the general populace take a more dispassionate look at why elections in Nigeria have always had some flaws than singling out an individual for the cross.
As stated above, The Nation though akin to a lady of lost virtue, however has the opportunity to redeem the authenticity of its stories and integrity. A front page retraction is called for and urgently too, especially since the Federal government has also condemned the 'The Nations’ report in an official statement.
Ipole Amajama writes from Abuja and is a media affairs analyst