Under Reportage and Fake News in Nigeria: ‘Writing to Kill’

July 13, 2018 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS



Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



In my article titled, ’The Price of Being a Writer’, published in a number of dailies last month, I argued that writers have a heavy burden to bear; writers should be cool-minded, calm and persuasive enough. Concrete facts, not insults or abuse should be their trademarks in order not to fan the embers of enmity in the country. One’s writings can educate, inform, comfort the afflicted, and if necessary, raise alarm.


I have found the above-captioned article relevant today because of the negative role some media outlets play in Nigeria that have led to many attacks and reprisals in many states. One even wonders what journalists are after today.


Those who especially read the news and are familiar with the incessant crises in some parts of the country, namely Taraba, Benue, and recently, Plateau State, know how the media, even the mainstream, lies to distort the truth, clothe lies in the garb of the truth, or distort reality through the deliberate suppression of facts. The situation is getting out of hand.


This ranges from ‘fake news’ (misinformation or bias in reportage), which is seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy and peaceful coexistence, to under reportage (deliberate suppression of facts).


Information in the media can be misleading. For example, on April 24, Olankunle Abimbola argued in his article ‘Benue: Fulani herdsmen come of age’ and published by The Nation, the dare-devil ‘Fulani herdsmen’ of Nigeria’s southern media invention struck again in Benue State. This resulted in the death of two Catholic priests: Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, as well as seven others.


But, unfortunately for both the Benue State Government and those media outlets, the earlier arrest made by the security forces proved them wrong. The mastermind, Aminu Toshaku, is neither a Fulani, herder nor even a Muslim by birth. Reports have it that Aminu Toshaku has Boko Haram records, but those media outlets have no iota of courage to tell the world this glaring truth.


As Nigeria and Nigerians continue to witness bloodletting in different parts of the country, the attention of some social analysts started moving towards the angle from which news stories are told. Questions on whether the news stories are objective or value free started to emanate. Many of them have started thinking that social media are threatening journalism since everyone is a journalist today: the age of citizen journalism with its devastating consequences on fragile societies like ours.


It is true that everyone with easy access to the internet and in possession of a smartphone can spread lies and dictate how others think, since many people, even the so called literate, lack critical minds and do not know how to sieve fake from real news.


Despite all this, one still questions the intentions of some of the mainstream media. The self-styled ‘watchdogs’ of society are gradually shifting from the ‘fourth estate’ to market-driven concern with profit the sole motive. For this, one doubts their credibility and the independence of journalism from external forces (political parties, governments, business moguls, international organizations, etc). Are journalists on a mission to destabilize the country? Are they not aboard the same trudging boat as we are all in?


Recently, one popular online newspaper, Premium Times, reported that the attacks – allegedly carried out by Fulani herdsmen – in 11 villages of some local government areas of Plateau State were retaliations by herdsmen whose cattle numbering 300 were killed in the first place.


Premium Times falsely quoted Chiroma, the north central leader of the cattle breeders’ association as saying, “The attacks are retaliatory. As much as I don’t support the killing of human beings, the truth must be told that those who carried out the attacks must be on revenge mission.”


“Fulani had lost about 300 cows in the last few weeks – 94 cows were killed by Berom youths. In addition to that 174 cattle were rustled.”


How ugly is the lie! The figure in the quote is disjointed. The report was ill-intentioned and blinded by choking hatred which takes its employer to ransom. The newspaper had to sack its Jos-based reporter to save face and later apologized to the organization.


I said, ‘That is very kind of you, Premium Times’, over reading your unreserved apology. But the priority is to put journalistic ethics into work: reporting or writing without malice. This can save lives and property. How many lives has this firing squad called ‘fake news’ claimed? It sounds like ‘a medicine after death’.


Still one wonders whether editors know the secret and philosophy behind the famous adage coined by The Guardian’s CP Scott: ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred.’ A debate is going on whether ‘truth is relevant or not.’ Today it seems, neither the editors nor their trainees are in the know of this or they have intentionally unapologetically turned a blind eye to it.


After a wanton loss of about 800 priceless lives of Fulani at the hands of Taraba State militias, aimed at wiping out the Fulani race there, and which many media outlets titled ‘clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers’, one Kafes Dauda in an open letter to the Taraba State Governor, Darius Shaku, titled: ‘You Are The Problem and not The Army: An Open Letter’, accused the governor of ‘territorial suppression and conquest by seeking to violently undermine the existence of other ethnic groups.’


As later revealed, the governor and some so called statesmen in the state armed some youth as foot soldiers to perpetrate these atrocities. Tarabans are so antagonistic to the army deployed by President Buhari to quell the crises, which were also tailor-made by the governor and those influential people in the state as alleged by the letter.


All this is not enough. Later, a retired army general emboldened those youth with his inciting speeches, all in the name of self-defense. This was widely published by newspapers for no other reason than fact-twisting the real happenings in the state so that the public would be fed that sweet headline: ‘Fulani herdsmen on genocide mission in Taraba State.’


The point is, while these atrocities were going on, those media outlets took it with a pinch of salt. The crisis was not newsworthy. They would have reported it if it were the other way round on their front pages to the viewing eyes of the hungry readers. A newsworthy title should read ‘Fulani herdsmen have taken over 12 local government areas in Benue State’, ‘Herdsmen rename communities grabbed from indigenes’ or ‘Herdsmen with arms storm Taraba Assembly, threaten showdown if…’


It is true that journalists are twisting or cherry-picking facts to misinform the public for some reasons best known to them. ‘Subjectivity’ is gradually taking the place of ‘objectivity’, at the peril of journalistic ethics. This calls for the need for unmediated media that will allow the public to enjoy unmitigated ‘facts’, so that falsehood will give way to the truth.


Many a mind has been polluted and brainwashed through infamous ‘fake news’. The country has been divided along religious and ethnic divisions by these agents of fake news more than ever before. One does not know which medium to trust. Both the mainstream media and social media are taking their existence for granted.


Ultimately, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. The media should be objective, unbiased and value-free. They should maintain that stand of being the ‘watchdogs’. They should write to liberate, not to kill. With fake news and under reportage in the rise, I cannot help foreseeing more attacks and reprisals, all resulting from ‘writing to kill’.


As one veteran journalist wrote, ‘Those manufacturing fake news in order to destroy other tribes or religions should know that they are also destroying their tribes and religions. We are in midstream rowing in the same boat.’





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

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