Columns

I blame journalists

with DANN JACOBS

Buhari and Osinbajo’s assets unveiled”. President has “less than” N30 million. Osinbajo has N90 million and USD 900,000 to his foreign currency account. Buhari has in addition shares in Berger Paints, Union Bank and Skye Bank (number/value not specified), Five homes, 2 mud houses, undeveloped plots in Kano, Port Harcourt (30 or 50?, worth how much?). Osinbajo, VP, has in addition 4 bed-room house in VGC, Lagos, 2 bed-room house in Ikoyi, 2 bed-room flat in Redeemed Camp, house in England, shares(no.?) in six companies, 3 cars.  I am quoting the journalists. Is this, the language of the declarations? Is it the language of the journalists? I’d like to know how the unedited version of the declarations read.
There are three steps at which the declarations must have been handled. There is the script of the declarants, as submitted. There is the version of the Code of Conduct Bureau that received the declarations. There is that of Mr. Garba Shehu, SSA, media and publicity to the President, who gave the matter out to reporters. When it hit the newsroom, was it published as it came? Unlikely.  Did any body at any of the stages add, subtract or amend the information for the sake of embellishment, professional quality control or clearance? In particular, where did the “less than” come from? Who left out the missing information which gave rise to the questions I raised earlier?
Well, if what was published was a clean copy of the declarations, then they are suspect. They are not completely honest. Even so, when the journalists saw them, why did they not smell the rat I ‘m smelling, and reflect that in their reports? Why not ask the questions I am asking, questions readers are likely to be asking too? Why should media reports in Nigeria leave more questions un-answered than answered? Why should we be yawing, asking for more, after reading and there’s no one to help out. Yet there is more to say about the report. They cannot give it out. Do you blame the GLO basket-mouth TV advert that asks for more and is smashing things, being aggressive or belligerent to get it? That’s the level of our frustration as consumers of news and media products.
They have just told us that Mr. President has “less than” N30 million in the balance of his just declared personal bank accounts. The impression the journalists give is that the amount is too small for him to have in his account. Am I right? That’s the impression I have. What is the necessity for the “less than” qualification of the amount? The question I’m asking is: why should they be worth all that when they have just come out of an expensive election campaign?
The President has been jobless for so many years. He left his previous jobs unceremoniously, suddenly and unprepared. From where did he get all that money? Did he have so much cash left-over from the election funding? And it is personal to him? Is he supposed to? He must say his source of so much money in his account. It is more than a healthy account for him. We also want to have the exact amount. Approximations are not good for such. Something sounds apologetic about “not less than N30million”, as if he is ashamed of it being so much. He has run so many elections. He didn’t run counsellorship, but Presidential elections, three in a row, in which enough money to bridge an ocean was used? I expected him frankly to be in the red. That would fit his sanctimonious posturing perfectly. But he impudently declared about N30 million, that a modest man would have hesitated to declare. Those who attest to his incorruptibility should take a closer look at that and tell me what they think.
Osinbajo’s case is perhaps more excusable. He was a serving professor and had just served as a commissioner in a former, recent corrupt Lagos state government. But does anything speak more loudly that he partook in the alleged sleaze associated with that Tinubu regime in which he served? His account in US dollars is even more outrageous. How did he make the huge amount in dollars ($900,000)? That alone makes him a suspect for serious EFCC probe. This is why I say I blame the journalists. Have they asked the questions they ought to have asked in this very case? Why treat the assets declaration of a corruption-hating President and his deputy, with such levity? This assets declaration should raise eyebrows. If not, there is no need to require aspiring Presidents and Vice Presidents in this country to declare their assets. It would have been a useless ritual.
There is no way to checkmate people like this, except through the principle of the rule of law, that only the outspokenness of journalists and a fearless, responsible press that follows matters to their logical conclusion can guarantee. They should ask the necessary questions and not only that, get all the answers. In a time of anti-corruption crusade, the journalist must be eagle-eyed and attentive. All the news organizations should have follow-up departments that are very active in their investigation and research. They can’t care whose ox is gored.
I am relieved that the Code of Conduct Bureau is said to be verifying the assets declarations and vetting them. It was made a thing of joy that the assets were eventually declared. But by the constitution that was done belatedly. They should still be held to task on that.
The presidential spokesman was so elated to say that the president “has no foreign account and no registered company, nor oil wells before his inauguration”. Perhaps he has now, 3 months into his 4-year term. This is a clue. All that still count against him. Unwittingly, he let the cat out of the bag. My conclusion is that the two men are rich beyond expectation and also beyond their capacity. We must require them to declare the source of their wealth first, before we can pass their declarations. The most ridiculous declaration is the 2 mud houses. What are we doing with that? Is it to show extraordinary sincerity? It didn’t work. That detail was unnecessary.
In developed countries journalists would go immediately in and expose things the ordinary eye cannot see in the declarations. They would ask the necessary questions and bring out the obvious, hidden truths. It is strange that a man who has no business and not been working is having a whopping N30 million sitting in his account, and other landed property and tangible assets amounting to more than that amount. It is unbelievable. No body will hoodwink people into taking in this fairy tale. It is not digestible.
The journalist raises an issue, just like this one. People shout. They sustain it up to a point. It dies down. They bring up another one. There is hue and cry about it. They die the matter also. We keep going. “No victor no vanquished”. This time someone must be victor. Someone must be vanquished, on moral questions, if not on military struggles. The assets declarations of Buhari and Osinbajo are questionable. And they must be questioned. Away with this claim and attitude of holier than thou!
There is plank in someone’s eyes who is trying to remove the speck in the eyes of other persons here in Nigeria. Remove the plank first. Journalists will do that; pull out the plank. That eye can go blind after that. Who cares? They should do their work in this matter, and not leave it to the CCB alone. They should be following up matters to their end. I am not convinced that the new leaders are not out to grab and add to what they already have. They made so much while out of power! What would they declare after having held power? They have started with a clear game plan which is to cover all the tracks and flanks through acts of nepotism in key federal appointments. Nobody can change anything when they have done that. Nobody can find fault with them, since they take all the decisions, to the exclusion of all others.
The north is now totally in charge in the leadership of the Judiciary, the Legislature, the Executive and all other key departments and agencies of government such as the media and the tertiary education sectors. The north heads NTA, Radio Nigeria, the Information Ministry and its parastatals – Voice of Nigerian, News Agency of Nigeria and National Orientation Agency. The rout is complete. This is the type of absolute power that corrupts absolutely. What will follow are arbitrariness, tyranny and dictatorship that nobody will be in a position to challenge, no matter how much you shout. Any dissenting voice will be barely audible since all outlets to it are blocked. Journalists must persistently point out these and correct them. It is a task that must be done if there will be a way forward.

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