Journalism is a thrilling vocation for those who practise and adhere to its strict doctrines of high moral callings and, of course, its universal tenets of fair and accurate dictates. Those who practise journalism and ignore these signposts do so to their eternal and everlasting regrets.
In the recent past, it has become easy reading Nigerian newspapers and coming to solidly valid conclusions not so much about what is written, but about writers and commentators. It is a mixed grill of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Two examples will suffice as both have attempted unsuccessfully to inform and update readers on the same subject, but in different formats and platforms.
Writing in the Nation issue of Tuesday, January 3, 2012 , Okwy Iroegbu – Chikezie puts up what may yet qualify as the best example of how not to write a news story. “Motorist trapped on Lagos – Benin road at Yuletide” had so much venom, bitterness and anger against the person of the Minister of Works, Arch. Mike Onolomemen, so much so it became obvious that even the writer did not have to travel on the road to put up the write-up.
Nearly all right-thinking Nigerians who travelled on the Benin-Ore-Shagamu road during the holidays were thumbs up for the Federal Ministry of Works. On the average, it took a commercial bus six to seven hours to move from Lagos to Onitsha and about half the time to get to Benin City. The Ore gridlock had disappeared, and many travellers heading for the Mid West and the South East who have not travelled the road for a while because of its notoriously poor state would not stop wondering if this was the same road they had been reading about in the newspapers. No one is exactly saying that the dual carriage way is now in top shape, but give it to him, the Minister of Works had promised as early as July last year that the road would be rehabilitated to ease travels in the Ember weeks and he delivered.
In one breadth, Okwy was writing about bandits on the Ore-Benin road and in another, that the problem was made worse by policemen who mounted checkpoints “at almost 500 metres interval, asking for Christmas gifts from them (travellers)”. As a reader, nothing can be more confusing than when the writer is less informed than the reader, usually and commonly regarded as the “dilemma and the challenge of writing”.
A writer is on top of his game, if he develops the ability to describe details and experiences, events and occasions to the minute but very accurate details. On the same day, Dec. 23, 2011 that Okwy travelled or claimed to have travelled on the Shagamu – Ore – Benin road, a group of senior editors from Lagos travelled the same day to Benin City, the Edo State capital. Jokes were made in the vehicle about how a serving minister wept at some point on the road when serving as Minister of Works. “This minister knows what he is doing” was the involuntary comment of one of the editor travellers at the Ore junction. How any travellers could have spent three days, 72 hours, on the same road between Lagos and Benin can only add up to conjecture.
This kind of reports actually create more problems for the general society. Every 500 metres had a police checkpoint and yet bandits were operating perhaps along side policemen. Nothing does more violence to journalism than this kind of write- ups. Whatever the levels of personal prejudices, the journalist as a writer must satisfy the tenets of his profession, keeping away sentiments and biases from news writing and news features or stick to writing fiction. And what is more, because the story was cooked up, an old picture of the road was used as illustration to show the current state of the road as at December 25, 2011.
In the Viewpoint in the Vanguard newspaper of Thursday, December 29, 2011 on page 19, “Stealing by sign posts,” Joseph Omorotionmuwan had decided that in the case of the Comrade Governor, Adams Oshimohole, and Arc. Mike Onolomenmen and in the controversy regarding the Downson road – Oluku-Ore-Shagamu-Lagos road, that the Comrade Governor could do no wrong. It was clear the writer had deliberately decided to ignore the critical facts and elements of the story since the headline had been written in any case.
This road in question has been gazetted by the Federal Government as a federal road long before Comrade Oshiomhole became a governor and before Arch. Onolomememen became Minister of Works.
The Federal Government awarded a N24 billion contract for the reconstruction, expansion and rehabilitation of the road and gave the contract to RCC Nigeria Ltd, a reputable construction company.
The Edo Government, not wanting to be left out, decided to award to the same construction company, a contract for drainages and gutters, on the Dawnson road/Ugbowo/Oluku axis of the road. It is really not too clear what the contract was for and how much it cost. What it was doing was at best complementary.
Simply put, this was what caused the Comrade Governor to order the dismantling of the Federal Government’s signpost at the Dawnson road junction of a federal road. Aside of the flaks thrown at the Comrade Governor, which was more “untoward”, the governor’s behaviour or the minister’s show of maturity in explaining the facts, Omorotionmwan obviously knows more than he has conveyed in his piece . As a Benin man, he knows who the victims will be in a clash between the State Government and the Federal Government. He even builds his storyline along absurd levels by whispering to the EFCC that “we hear plans have been perfected to pull out billions of naira from the 2011 appropriations, presumably for the work they did not do”. Nigerian readers are now far too knowing and informed to be swayed by these kinds of “tombo” gist.
The truth really must be that the writer did not want to be analytical in his piece and so chose the lazy path of bandying half truths and speculations in the hope they will sound good enough to be true in the eyes of readers.
Constructive and indepth knowledge of subject matter remains the hallmark of exceptional and informed opinion. Those Nigerians from Edo State led by the revered Oba of Benin know that the state is enjoying its best political moments now for the last twelve years. No one has attempted to take away from the Comrade Governor the monumental and giant strides in concrete achievements and developments. To add that the Federal Government has come in through the Ministry of Works to complement the comrade’s efforts speaks volumes of the current development gains for Edo State.
Alexander Erahodu wrote from Lagos.