Vanguard, May 5, 2010
IT was as if someone poured cold water over me the other day when I read from a friend’s posting on Facebook that Tayo Lukula, a journalist, was murdered, somewhere in Ogun State.
I do not recall ever meeting Tayo face-to-face, but I remember him with pleasure as one of the most reliable reporters during my tenure as News Editor of The Guardian.
Tayo was then a correspondent based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Like all versatile reporters, he did his best to satisfy desk editors in the newspaper group, contributing general and specialist news and features, something that is still alien to most state correspondents.
It never occurred to me that he was not from that area because, in a typical newsroom, what matters to the professional editor is the fat, juicy, distinctive copy and not the ethnic background of the by-liner. In retrospect, we did record excellent results from some of the reporters operating outside their ethnic origins – Tayo Lukula in Port Harcourt, Ransome Emenari in Kano, Saxhone Akhaine in Kaduna, and Bayo Ohu in Katsina.
Now in quick succession, two of these very good reporters that I knew and was fond of – Bayo Ohu and Tayo Lukula– have been gunned down by yet-to-be-identified assassins. I mourn with families that have been deprived of their breadwinners in such a violent, brutal, and senseless manner.
I grieve over the fact that certain of our country’s young men and women (Bayo was allegedly shot dead by a woman), are now accepting that becoming hired guns is a possible answer to the question of growing unemployment in our country.
I marvel that our country’s young men and women would accept money, for whatever reason, to train their guns on those who struggle every day, through their pens and microphones, to right the oppressive system that created the unemployment situation in the first place.
Journalism in Nigeria is currently challenged by two realities – the desire to hire those with excellent writing skills, regardless of their professional preparation, and the desire to use willing, unprepared recruits to wage the war against impunity and arbitrariness ravaging our political system. The result is that efforts to tame the monster of arbitrariness and impunity have produced excellent results, and horrible unintended consequences for the profession.
The excellent results are the many occasions when fearless practitioners, some operating underground in guerrilla-like fashion, were able to bring down cabals and powerful individuals that intermittently rise to seize and hold Nigeria hostage, bringing her to the edge of the cliff at certain points in our history.
The horrible unintended consequences are the many assault, jailing, and murder that journalists have had to suffer in the course of challenging the monster.
It is largely through the efforts of journalists that the military’s 28 years of power stranglehold over our country was broken.
The media war waged by radical journalists from the early 1980s provided the impetus and support for civil society organisations to come into being and join in this fight. The haste with which Generals Obasanjo (1979), Babangida (1993), and Abdulsalam Abubakar (1999) either stepped aside or handed over power to civilians is partly credited to the dogged efforts of the radical media, aided by the civil society groups that they encouraged and empowered.
This may in turn explain why journalists, more than the civil society groups, bore the most brutal brunt of the counter-assault from the monster. Too many journalists were creatively or crudely murdered for daring to challenge the oppressive status-quo, beginning with the letter-bombing of Dele Giwa in October 1986.
In the year 2010, the monster appears to be returning to Nigeria. It is manifested in two realities. The first is the return of the “expelled” actors into powerful political reckoning. The second is the return of the murder of journalists as a pastime in political or business gamesmanship.
I do not imply that there is a link between the two, but I believe we could use our memories of the recent past to advise ourselves, as journalists, on how to approach or challenge the new, unwelcome order. If it requires us to return to the trenches, we should approach the matter like professional editors and go beyond ethnic bylines to objectively identify, challenge, frustrate, and contain the monster (or monsters) that harm our profession and retard our nation.
I say this because certain actors in our better-forgotten era of impunity and arbitrariness appear to have made full recovery and transformation, as they now control the political establishment in agbada. Whether in the leadership of the National Assembly, the Board of Trustees of the most powerful parties, the advisory committees of an acting presidency, or jockeying for prime spot on the 2011 presidential platform of both the ruling and “mega” parties, the actors appear to be back in “respectable” mode. Still a leopard never changes its spots: only in a few instances did their ascendency conform to democratic standards.
Nigerian journalism may need to transform and renew, once again, to keep pace with the new ways of power. I do not pretend to know how this can be done, but we could start from basic, time-tested tenets of our profession. How many of our current practitioners are prepared for this job?
To be prepared means undergoing a basic training in journalism and ethics that equip them with the professional skill to handle written or spoken words with care and caution, approach every story as an independent investigator not beholden to an interested party, hold the country’s interests (especially her national security and economic stability) as sacrosanct, challenge new attempts to mount the throne of arbitrariness and impunity, and for the sake of our profession, carry out the necessary spadework to find out why our colleagues are being killed, rather than leave the job to the police alone.
All too often, we are obsessed with the “who?” whenever a colleague is murdered, even though in journalism, the meat of the story is in the “why”. I have since found out that as it is in journalism, so it is in police investigation: Any investigation that fails to solve the “why?” (motive) never progresses to the point of revealing the “who?”.
In our environment, an investigative journalist is probably more equipped with the skills and goodwill to identify the “why” faster than the police. Therefore, part of the proposed transformation could be to use our investigative skills to assist and empower the police, especially when our colleagues become victims of political, business, or other interests.
This could be one way to unravel the identity of journalist killers and bring them to justice. At any rate, such findings would certainly educate us on what we need to do to clean house, should this be what is called for.