Biased Reporting Of The Senate Presidency Election

By Olukayode Thomas

Media houses, especially reporters, must realise that their credibility is like virginity; once lost, due to the compromise of values, it can never be regained and the regrets of such acts of indiscretion may last a lifetime.

The Nigerian media’s reputation for bias and pecuniary journalism is legendary. Sadly, our performance in the run-up to and after the race for the leadership of the National Assembly shows that, like the leopard, we have not changed our spots. Thanks to a naive public that neither discerns nor filters information, the merchants of unprincipled journalism among us continue to thrive in a social space that willingly embraces the fantastical.

Societies with robust media and reputable journalists would have called for the resignation of the National Executive Council of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the poor handling of the Mock Elections that was to produce the party’s candidates for the top National Assembly jobs at the International Conference Centre (ICC) on June 6. That the party’s leadership bungled the exercise was the primary cause of the lingering crisis in APC that is affecting the running of the government.

Let facts speak. On the day of the Mock Election, the APC leaders chose the party’s consensus candidates for the House of Representatives leadership in the constitutionally and universally accepted open-secret ballot manner, which the party had adopted in all its previous elections. For the election of the party’s consensus candidate for the Senate, the party leaders declared it would be an open ballot, which is not only alien to APC, but was clearly meant to corrupt the voting pattern.

The Saraki group boycotted the exercise because they deemed it illegal. Apart from Premium Times that reported the event verbatim, most media houses hailed the ‘election’ of Lawan as sacrosanct. In saner societies, the media would not only have condemned the exercise as being dishonest, but they would have accused the party leaders of bias. But rather than condemn the illegality, the media lambasted Saraki for not toeing the party line. Talk of travesty of justice.

Earlier, during the party’s retreat for its elected senators at Ibeto Hotel, where a Mock Election was to be conducted to select the party’s consensus candidates, the Lawan group, once they realised they didn’t have the numbers to win, boycotted the exercise, opting to address a press conference where Ahmad Lawan and George Akume were presented to the media as the consensus candidates of the group for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.

This incident repeated itself at the International Conference Centre (ICC) on June 4, when the group also boycotted another exercise to elect a consensus candidate because they didn’t have the numbers. Elsewhere, members of the group would have been sanctioned by their party leaders for boycotting its programmes twice, but they didn’t even get a slap on the wrist, and we journalists, the supposed watchdog, looked the other way.

We, journalists, also failed to question the integrity of party leaders who mandated APC’s National Working Committee (NWC) to zone the positions of the National Assembly principal officers, and which zoned the Senate Presidency to the North-Central and the Speakership of the House of Representatives to the North-East. Certain leaders of the party, who felt offended because the zoning arrangement did not favour their anointed candidates, overruled the decision of the NWC. Till date, nobody is asking questions.

More ridiculous is our non-scrutiny of the allegation that oil barons spent billions of naira to enthrone Saraki so that the senate would not probe shady oil deals. There was also the ridiculous claim that Saraki described Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was ‘a mere commissioner’.

It is an established fact that the executive does not need a probe by the National Assembly to prosecute anyone. Once the EFCC or the police has enough evidence, it proceeds with prosecution. So, one wonders how some spin doctors think they can play on our intelligence by falsely claiming that oil barons sponsored Saraki to prevent their prosecution when we know this is impossible. How can we, as journalists, allow such unsubstantiated allegation to go without scrutinising it? Why didn’t we ask those making the allegations to prove it? We also swallowed hook, line and sinker the report that Saraki called the Vice President a mere commissioner. When was this comment made and in the presence of whom? In the presence of phantom sources?

A serious newspaper like The Times or The Guardian, both of England, would have given a gourmet treatment, instead of the fast food treatment, to the issue of President Buhari’s invitation to APC Senators to a meeting at the International Conference Centre on the day the Senate was inaugurated.

They would have probably devoted a whole week and several pages to asking questions such as: The President arrived from Germany in the wee hours of the inauguration day, so at what point and time did he contact the party leaders and set a meeting for 9 am? If he had contacted them from Germany, why didn’t PMB call all the principal characters and inform them about the meeting? Why fix the meeting for 9.00am when he had already written a letter to clerk of the National Assembly to inaugurate the house by 10.00am? Why was the clerk not instructed to move the inauguration to, say, noon? If the clerk was instructed and did not comply, why wasn’t he sanctioned? Any serious media house would raise these and several other questions and search for answers.

But not our media houses. We just take press releases as the gospel truth and run them verbatim.

Our biased and unprincipled reporting could also be seen in way we reported both candidates’ romance with PDP senators. With Lawan and Saraki ready to slug it out on the floor and PDP abstaining from contesting for Senate Presidency, it was clear that the PDP Senators were the beautiful brides and both candidates would seek their hands in marriage.

But only Saraki is being vilified for romancing with the opposition, even when a member of the PDP National Working Committee, Olisa Metuh, revealed that the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu reached out to leaders of PDP and sold Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila to them, promising PDP lawmakers juicy committees if they voted for them.

Our media probably thinks like EFCC operators who prosecute only perpetrators of 419, whereas the victims, who are equally guilty of fraud, are set free. If Saraki deserves to be condemned for romancing PDP, Lawan too should also not be spared. The fact that his attempts failed does not mean he did not lobby the PDP Senators for votes.

Saraki also deserves knocks for not articulating his positions in the media. He has behaved like Buhari did in 2011, when a reporter claimed he said Nigeria would be on fire if the 2011 election was rigged.

For several months, Buhari failed to articulate his position in the media. The lie became the gospel truth until he sued the reporter and media house – forcing them to beg for an out-of-court settlement. But the damage had been done.

Media houses, especially reporters, must realise that their credibility is like virginity; once lost, due to the compromise of values, it can never be regained and the regrets of such acts of indiscretion may last a lifetime.

We should also take cognisance of the sociological implications of our reports; thousands are making life-changing decisions based on our reports.

Olukayode Thomas, a two-time CNN African Journalist of the Year Winner, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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