Journalism is not just a profession; it is a sweet experience. Yes, it is undoubtedly so. The average journalist takes pride in knowing that he rubs shoulders with the high and mighty in the society. Even though we may not be as wealthy as we should be because of what we do, the so-called big men cannot do without us.
This feeling of importance brings us a level of pride and raised ego, we understand that we can either make or mar a person, a society, anything. Painfully, however, this noble profession has not just taken the position of an ‘all-comers affair’, some of its practitioners now see it as a means of extorting people, a tool of attack and a cash-and-carry mechanism for anybody with the assumption of some grievances to create victims of, sometimes, innocent people.
Put straight, the media and the profession which are supposed to be the purveyors of facts, balanced and fair reports, are constantly being dented by quacks who see journalism as nothing more than a bid to make ends meet or willing tools to fight perceived enemies thus betraying its tenets in the face of unrelenting clamour against fake news. A case in point is Sahara Reporters.
For those who have been following the trends of the online medium, they will understand that it falls short of true journalism practices. What happens to the simple principles of balance, fairness and objectivity? For those who may not understand the practice, these three principles guide journalism and they instruct that every angle to a story must be explored; if you are accused, you must be given the opportunity to defend yourself.
Let us look at some cases: Days ago, towards the end of July, Sahara Reporters came up with what it considers a ‘banger’ without any consideration for the same principles I emphasized earlier. ‘EXCLUSIVE: No Record Of Lagos Assembly Speaker, Obasa, As A Lawyer In Our Registry, Supreme Court Reveals’. That was the headline. The report started with ‘more trouble may be brewing for the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa…’ The report gave the impression that whereas Obasa calls himself a lawyer, its checks show that he is not, especially as the Supreme Court says his name is not in the Rolls of Legal Practitioners kept with it.
Rather than rush into publishing, a responsible medium would dig further by asking further questions. Yes, his name was not in the roll, does that pooh-pooh his assertion of attending Law School? A medium worth its name would reach out to Obasa, being the subject of the write-up to prove his claim. No, Sahara Reporters suddenly began to orgasm. It was an opportunity to celebrate and churn out materials below half-truths. The statement from the Supreme Court NEVER said Obasa is not a lawyer. Here is a part of the statement: ‘MUDASHIRU AJAYI OBASA is at liberty to come to the honourable court with his call to bar and qualifying certificates for enrollment.’
For a proof, different photographs of the Speaker’s Call To Bar emerged after the story by Sahara Reporters. Instead of the medium to humble itself, swallow its pride and tell Nigerians it was misguided in its celebrated but maladroit exclusive story, it rushed into another fake it called a ‘Face-Check’ where it claimed Obasa never graduated from Law School but that the Speaker bought a gown to pretend being a lawyer. Unfortunately, because Sahara Reporters know that some of its followers make up the gullible whose hatred for politicians would make them believe anything and everything negative about them, it presented this second concoction.
I decided to call out Sahara Reporters now because I have done my personal finding. Against the half-baked, poorly planned and hare-brained investigation it says it carried out, my finding shows that Obasa was actually called to bar and possesses a certificate with number 050879. In fact, Obasa was number 403 on the roll of those called to bar by the Body of Benchers chaired by Chief George N. Uwechue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). The evidence are here added to this piece. He has been certified by the body of benchers.
I am not just the only one putting a lie to the recent claim by Sahara Reporters. Benjamin Waive, a Nigerian lawyer, recently faulted the report by Sahara Reporters as he confirmed that he and Obasa were close course mates during the one year Bar Part II Course at the Lagos Campus of the Nigeria Law School.
Hear him: “The recent claim that the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Mudashiru A. Obasa, is a fake lawyer almost got on my nerves because here was an outright falsehood gaining momentum before my very eyes. The gentleman Obasa attended the Lagos Campus of the Nigerian Law School with me, wrote the bar finals with me and was called together with me.”
Does this ring a bell against Sahara Reporters’ poor outing and denigration of our noble profession? Barrister Waive is not the only one who was called to bar with the Speaker. Barristers Oyinlola Adeleke, Tunde Coker, Bisola Agbaje are a few in the long list.
For the avoidance of doubt, section 2 (1) of the Legal Practitioners Council Act stipulates the modalities for practice as a lawyer: “Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shall be entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll.” Now, the question should be: Did Sahara Reporters expect the Speaker to be making appearances in court for clients to prove his qualification when he serves his state as a lawmaker? Is the Speaker the only law graduate who does not make such appearances in courts? Does Sahara Reporters even understand the stipulations of the Legal Practitioners Council Act?
The Nigerian government and the various media bodies have been shouting against unprofessionalism and fake news, but who will help clean this Augean stable, especially based on the fact that this is not a one-off?
Sahara Reporters had earlier agreed to become a tool in the hands of Obasa’s traducers. It came out with a series of reports, and in most cases, faking documents. The reports were all discredited with the House of Assembly displaying original documents and actual explanations. It claimed the Speaker took N17 million for the maintenance of his guest house and office, but a later finding showed that the money is spent on many other things other than Sahara Reporter’s claim and that it was even reduced from N27 million that it was before the emergence of Obasa as Speaker.
The medium also claimed that Obasa approved N258 million for the printing of invitation cards for the inauguration of the ninth Assembly when the actual document showed that the invitation was printed with N1.13 million and that the full event had a total expenditure of N61.3 million. It was discovered that Sahara Reporters covered the truth and displayed the amount left in the account as the money approved for the printing of the invitation cards. Till date, the medium never apologised for misinforming its readers, it continues to cover its lies with more lies.
Reno Omokri, an aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, recently revealed how Sahara Reporters blackmailed him just few days to the 2015 election by publishing a fake story claiming he robbed a house and stole money to use in the election. He said he wrote to Omoyele Sowore, sent him logs of his activities on the said day, and the man ignored his mails. Even the man cited by the medium denied it and this was reported by responsible media, but Sowore refused to admit the professional failure of his medium or take the story down. It was only when Omokri’s lawyer discovered that Ford Foundation is Sowore’s sponsor and he sent a letter detailing the true situation of things that Sowore rushed to pull down the story. “He did not do this because he wanted to. He did it, only because he did not want his money threatened,” Omokri said. Is such a man credible enough to make people believe him?
In 2017, a UK-based journalist and Public Relations (PR) practitioner, Lekan Fatodu, who even sponsored Sowore’s honeymoon as a bossom friend, told how the self-acclaimed activist blackmailed him demanding N100 million from him for a contract his company got with the government of Jonathan.
According to Fatodu, who even presented an audio conversation between him and Sowore, the latter claimed he was aware that his friend got N1.7 billion from the government and that the EFCC was coming for him. He told Fatodu he could help out if his own demand was met. But Fatodu told him he was ready for the EFCC. Then, Sowore rushed a report out claiming his supposed friend laundered money for the government. “He told me that if I don’t give him N100M from the famous Dasuki loot, he’ll run the story,” Fatodu said. The contract was even N38 million and the company was paid N12 million, not N1.7 billion as claimed by Sowore.
Fatodu was investigated after Sowore’s report and cleared. And Sowore started threatening to deal with him. “While driving around Ikeja alongside a friend, a car hurriedly jumped the red light and almost caused an accident for myself and other motorists that had the right of way. I just asked my friend; ‘is that not Sowore?’ Because we are all friends. I’ve driven in Sowore’s car and I’ve also offered him a ride in my car. So I told my friend that the driver deliberately jumped the red light because of his previous threat to me.
“We moved close to the car and it was Sowore at the passenger’s seat. As soon as he saw me, he started saying that he was going to deal with me in this country. I noticed they were about four guys in Sowore’s car.
I ran to the police at the junction of Nitel bus stop by GRA who helped to reach their colleagues who came to pick Sowore up. How can a so called investigative reporter, who prides himself as one of Nigeria’s best, be involved in such rascality and blackmail? Imagine how many other persons whose careers Sowore has killed with his blackmail brand of journalism. I wasn’t going to take it lying low. Apart from me, Sowore has ruined the careers of other mutual friends. What kind of man is this?
With a friend like Sowore, who needs enemies?” Fatodu had asked. He also led a protest in which he called Sahara Reporters “the headquarters of fake news in Nigeria which is run by the most notorious blackmailer in the history of Nigeria, Sowore Omoyele.”
Only recently, in its usual manner of diehard irresponsibility, Sahara Reporters caused panic in the country by announcing that Ghali Umar Na’Abba had died.
A call to Na’Abba, who was rocking his life in London, was all that Sahara Reporters should have made to confirm. No, like a drink who would not think before talking, the medium broke all journalism tenets to publish a story against the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. I remember how Dele Momodu, in an Instagram Live session, mocked the report by asking Na’Abba: “How is heaven?” And the former Speaker replied: “I have not been there…”
In a follow-up video, Na’Abba said he was saddened by the rumour of his death which he said was carried in an evil manner. Sahara Reporters later carried a corregendum, but does that correct the harm the fake news had done to family members and close associates of the former Speaker?
As if that was not enough, it reported that Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, purchased three houses for his wives whereas this was blatant falsehood.
Theman had been living in one of the houses far before becoming minister. He rented the other. The man said two of the images presented by Sahara Reporters are not even known to him. The sin of the medium, like a drop of oil, now stains all of us judging by this admonition from the Minister: “We plead with the Nigerian media to deploy the strategies of investigative journalism and avoid false sensationalism in order to uphold the tenets of the noble pen profession.” What more damage should we wait for?
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, was also a recent victim of Sahara Reporters’ falsehood when it claimed that the politician was already rallying ahead of the 2023 presidential election. But Lawan describes the report as puerile with the medium having “its source in beer parlour gossips and should be treated with the contempt which it and those who concocted it deserve.”
The most recent was a story accusing the Inspector-General of Police, M. A. Adamu, of being involved in a multi-billion naira fraud scheme. Among his claims were that Adamu illegally raised huge sums of money for the construction of a police training school in Endehu, which falsely claimed was the IGP’s hometown in Nasarawa State. Adamu is even from Lafia, the state capital and not Endehu.
But the police, through its spokesperson, Frank Mba, described the report as a usual tradition of blackmail engaged in by Sahara Reporters. Again, it was discovered that all those who contributed never donated cash but materials required for the school. So where did Saraha Reporters get the information about the multiples of billion it claimed?
With these antecedent, is such a notorious blackmailer, in the words of Fatodu, who knows him so well, be described as a name in the noble profession of journalism? Is it not high time his financial sponsors, Ford Foundation and The MacArthur Foundation understood the adage: ‘A thief is not as ashamed as his family members.’ Will Ford Foundation and The MacArthur Foundation allow their names to be rubbished and described as sponsors of fake news?
Adegboyega is a freelance journalist and advocate against fake news. He is based in Surulere, Lagos.