Daily Times Online

POLITICS

Between Tell and Fayose

BY DEJI OLAYINKA

REUBEN Abati, one of Nigeria’s best writers and The Guardian’s best hands, did the above titled article in The Guardian of Friday August 22. As a good writer, Abati succeeded for a while in concealing his own attitude on the subject.

He was able to mislead the reader into thinking that he was only interpreting Tell’s two negative publications on the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose. He submits that Tell, by its publications, is drawing a parallel between the present Fayose’s educational matters with other previous cases. He mentioned some names that had in the past been enmeshed in similar controversies as Salisu Ibrahim, former Speaker of the House of Representatives; Evans Enwerem, former Senate President and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Governor of Lagos State.

By his repeated association of Fayose with images of corruption and the use of satiric technique, Abati presents himself as one who sees the Ekiti governor guilty as charged. This is unfair.

It is impossible for the Nigerian public to have suddenly forgotten recent incidents of certificate controversy evoked by the Abati article. After all, “Toronto” and “Chicago” are two slogans that have become a part of our vocabulary as a result of this past. Nonetheless, it will be unfair for any writer to impinge upon the integrity of the Governor of Ekiti State on the premise of rumour. Is rumour not referred to as an unsubstantiated report, which has to be verified before it is published? Columnists, as different from reporters, may run comments which are, indeed, free but respectable columnists are expected to exercise some restraints in their comments on matters that may affect others adversely, especially, when the allegations that form the basis of their attacks are yet unproved.

We cannot compare the Fayose episode with that of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Ibrahim, who was impeached on two counts: falsification of age and forging of a certificate. On the allegation of certificate forgery, the onus of proof lay with the authorities of the educational institution he claimed to have attended in Toronto, Canada. The evidence provided by that school formed the crux of the process that later led to the former Speaker’s removal.

In the case of Fayose, Tell-the magazine that wants to assume the role of an avant-garde of Nigeria’s investigative journalism has embarked on a sole crusade to change the official verdict of the institution concerned. Nigerians remember that not all past accusations of certificate forgery were proved. After much hue and cry over his certificate claims in 1999, the Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was cleared by his alma mater in Chicago, United States. The evidence provided by that school laid the matter to rest till tomorrow.

It was expected that Fayose’s case, involving an institution in Nigeria, would be simpler for the Nigerian public to resolve and this has indeed been done and attested to by various bodies and individuals in the country, including the Ibadan Polytechnics, which the governor attended. Before the institution’s confirmation of Fayose’s studentship through its Rector, Professor Alabi, there had been other interventions, starting with the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Fayose’s political party, led by its National Vice-Chairman for the South West, Olabode George. That initiative was followed by another by the country’s highest investigate body. These two levels of investigation were capped by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s testimony before a mammoth crowd in Ado-Ekiti few days before the governorship election of April 19. It was explicit in the President’s public statement that Fayose was allowed to contest that gubernatorial election only after exhaustive investigations had been carried out on his educational claims. One wonders what other testimony could be higher than that of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

In Abati’s language, Tell’s “accusatory title (the face of a fraud) is meant to ridicule Fayose and belittle him in the estimation of right thinking persons. This, definitely, was the goal of Tell, which could not succeed because the right-thinking men and women of the Nigerian society who have followed the controversy on Fayose can see the attempts by Tell to make a mountain out of a molehill. Tell’s destructive objective has failed because the public has been set free by its exposure to the truth that Tell’s fabrication originated from Fayose’s political arch-rivals who have been frustrated at every turn by the governor’s overwhelming political gains. A confirmed conspiratorial relationship between the governor’s unrepentant enemies and some management members of Tell has further deepened the gulf between the magazine’s publication and credibility. The situation where the Tell story has failed to generate any political upheaval (as sought by its sponsors in and outside the magazine) is a proof that the public takes the magazine’s campaign with a pinch of salt.

Abati in his reference to Tell’s second publication on Fayose says: “It is as juicy as usual with all the imprints of investigative journalism”, I want to ask Reuben Abati how he would describe a poisonous apple? Yes, the apple in its purity is juicy. But when poison is introduced into its arteries what becomes of the apple juice? A poisoned apple had a lethal juice. Such an element of death overwhelms sweetness, which is intrinsic in the interpretation of juice. Rather than refer to such an apple as juicy, moralists would call it “deadly juice”. It is along this line of thinking that Abati may be wrong to describe Tell’s jaundiced investigation as juicy. Abati goes further in his opinion to demonstrate his opinion when he uses another adjective “the imprints of investigative journalism”. Again, I would like to ask the respectable columnists: Are the imprints of investigative journalism devoid of the elements of thoroughness? Tell related with the Ibadan Polytechnics’s Assistant Registrar (accounts) instead of the Assistant Registrar (Academics). In any brand of journalism, except yellow, what is obtained from an unauthorized source cannot be taken as final until it has been compared with what is got from the authorised source. Yet, there can be no conclusion until materials from various sources have been collated.

In the last Tell publication Fayose was represented. There was no neutral commentator on the matter. The magazine was more interested in the representation of the documents produced by the Alliance for Democracy (AD) -documents with all the imprints of forgery. Look at the writing and signature on the AD letter and receipts. You do not need to scrutinize to see that the minutes that purportedly emanated from different people were indeed written by the same person. Take another look at the dates on the documents to discover the imperfection of forgery. The inconsistencies in dates are as bad as the language of expression. One of such minutes says: “Prior to our discussion, please approve”. Upon that instruction, an approval was granted to release Fayose’s academic records. Could our revered columnist tell the discerning people of Nigeria what is the meaning of this instruction from a highly placed officer of an academic institution?

According to its letter, the AD’s request for Fayoses results was premised on the need to use it at an election tribunal sitting in Ado-Ekiti in March 2003. The gubernatorial election was almost two months away at that time, yet, AD claims that an election tribunal was sitting in Ado-Ekiti. In spite of this and other flaws in the published documents, Abati describes the prejudiced and subjective report of Tell as having the imprints of investigation. If an investigator cannot investigate fake documents that he is offered and does not only accept them but uses them to prove other claims wrong, one wonders what is the meaning of investigation in the context of Abati’s article.

In the magazine’s effort to shore up its waning credibility over the Fayose matter, Tell decided to interview the Ibadan Polytechnic’s Rector, an action that ought to have been taken in its earlier edition, but in the desperation to prove its biases, the magazine attempted to speak for the institution, twisting the rector’s angle of explanation and cajoling him to the magazine’s premature conclusion.

In its narration, Tell’s fixated position is exposed by its constant effort to counter every strong point registered for Fayose. For example, it acknowledged the Polytechnic Alumni Association’s defence of Fayose and quickly follows that fact with a derogatory comment that the Alumni Association is “a one-man show”. The report is replete with evidence that Tell is driven by personal enmity rather than any objective principle.

The consistent slanted reportage portrays Tell as more interested in proving its allegations than telling the truth. That is why it must downplay all defenses by and on behalf of Fayose and emphasise his offences; and where there are none, create them.

It is disappointing that Abati, going by his article of Friday August 22, has been hoodwinked by Tell’s sanctimonious posture. Tell waged a successful war against the military because that sector of the society was identified as the enemy of the people. Let the magazine not push its luck too far. Fayose is not an enemy of the people. He is a friend of the Nigerian public.

In view of the foregoing, it would be better for the reputation of Tell to watch the news rather than tell lies. Let it abandon its present journalism of treachery against one man and adopt the developmental principle of emphasising those things that are positive about our heroes instead of pulling him down through outdated gutter journalism. I suppose Abati is listening.

• Olayinka is a Special Assistant to the Governor of Ekiti State