Between critical and blackmail journalism: Reassessing Sam Nda-Isaiah

Listen to article

Criminologists are right in classifying blackmail, extortion and con as related criminal offences.  But, it is wrong to accord them equal moral weight.  There is a marked difference between a conman and a blackmailer, which is why I disagree with Sahara Reporters of February 27, 2013, in its description of Mr.

Sam Nda-Isaiah, Publisher of Leadership
Newspapers, as a conman, while reporting the accusations against him by the Yobe State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam.

For the benefit of those who may not have had the opportunity of reading either the report of the accusations against Nda-Isaiah by the Yobe State Government published as advertorial in Daily Trust of Wednesday, February 27, 2013 and as carried by Sahara Reporters, the sordid details were that 'the Publisher had decided on a deliberate editorial policy to fabricate barefaced lies against us and ridicule our institutions, pillory our achievements and maliciously libel our functionaries all because we refused to yield to his unceasing demand for advertisement patronage'. The Government further accused Nda-Isaiah of not refunding, in whole or part, the sum of N10 million paid to his newspaper by the late Governor, Senator Mamman Ali, for the publication of Special Supplements, which was not done.

According to the Daily Trust advertorial titled: Why LEADERSHIP publisher is fixated on Yobe officials' written by Bego Abdullahi and also published by Sahara Reporters, Governor Gaidam described Nda-Isaiah as conman hiding under the umbrella of journalism to extort money from, and blackmail Nigerians who refuse to advertise with him. The Governor, therefore, concluded that the Publisher 'has committed grave ethical infractions that strike at the very core of the integrity of the journalism profession.' He drew attention to the difference between critical journalism and blackmail journalism', leaving the case in the court of the custodians and regulators of the journalism profession, especially the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigerian (NPAN).

The case so reported by Yobe State may just be one of many others whose victims either do not have the courage to report or simply feel that blackmailers of Nda-Isaiah type are rabble rousers, not worthy of any serious attention. There are many others who call the bluff and refuse to be blackmailed. Of course, such persons or institutions would always remain the targets of Nda-Isaiah blackmail, through negative editorials, scathing features articles and sponsored opinion write-ups.

No one can tell the circumstances that surrounded Nda-Isaiah unyielding criticisms of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who maintained throughout his administration that he could neither be blackmailed nor intimidated by any media institution. Nda-Isaiah also fought with the late Umaru Musa YarAdua, another principled Nigerian leader, although nobody knew what the Publisher demanded. Nor do Nigerians know today what the man is asking from President Jonathan, which he has failed to offer.

The public can be credulous and is sometimes easily fooled by the antics of blackmailers. In particular, those in the journalism profession are so crafty and ingenious that they easily make acts of blackmail appear like patriotic ones directed at the national interest. Naturally, therefore, the bulk of contributors to the social media tend to be in favour of people like Nda-Isaiah, to whom they impute noble motives.

The familiar strategy of a blackmailer is to identify an issue, the support for which public opinion appears overwhelming, irrespective of whether or not the position is right. The blackmailer then takes side with the public but, instead of expressing his position unconditionally, he proceeds to trade it with a threat to his target (a potential victim) to either pay or be prepared to face the consequences. If the target pays, that would be the end of the matter; if he does not, the blackmailer cries out; and for so doing, he gets public applause and he is praised for being good and public spirited. In such a case of blackmail, therefore, the undiscerning public is as much a victim as the targeted person or institution.

Now, here is a practical example of how blackmail works. On September 25, 2013, Nigeria Central Bank Governor (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi wrote a letter to President Jonathan alleging that a total sum of $49.8 billion was unremitted by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In response, the President ordered a team of financial experts, including the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to investigate. The team did, and as it turned out, the CBN Governor was wrong, although it was agreed that the NNPC still needed to clarify issues concerning $10.8 billion. The CBN Governor promptly apologised to Nigerians for his error and a few days after, the NNPC gave a clarification for the remaining $10.8 billion.

Knowing how sensitive the Nigerian public has become over issues of corruption and President Jonathan determination to tackle the scourge, Nda-Isaiah sought to make capital out of the issue. He devoted his column of Monday, January 13, 2014, to asking the question: Is the President Aware That $10.8b Is Still Missing As usual, he spoke of the President, not only as a corrupt leader but also as guilty of committing another impeachable offence, saying that only jesters and enemies of Nigeria would want Jonathan to continue as President beyond 2015. Concerned with Nda-Isaiah false claims and bitterness, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, who is the custodian of proper conduct in the party, wrote a letter to Nda-Isaiah, drawing his attention to NNPC explanation of the so-called missing $10.8 billion, the achievements of the Jonathan administration, including the MINT rating in which Nigeria is among the emerging economic forces of the world, the international recognition of the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesida, who had been named by Forbes as the Africa Person of the, 2013. The BoT Chairman wondered why Nda-Isaiah thought that supporters of an administration that had accomplished so much, should be branded as jesters and enemies of Nigeria.

As to be expected, Nda-Isaiah continued his blackmail. First, he splashed on a full page of Leadership (Sunday, January 24, 2014) what he claimed to be reactions to Anenih letter from the social media and, of course, most of selected comments were against the person of the respected elder statesman. Then, the Publisher responded through a publication in his newspaper, gleefully putting his picture side by side with that of Anenih.  Rather than answer the points raised in Anenih letter, he veered into a new line of blackmail, reminding Anenih that he was 80 years old, as if age itself was a crime rather than the glorious gift of God. Nda-Isaiah claimed that Anenih had referred to him as 'son' and felt embarrassed that he (Anenih) was supporting corruption in Nigeria.

Never underestimate the length to which blackmailers can go! Nda-Isaiah thought he could embarrass Anenih by reeling out a long list of corrupt practices and instances of fund embezzlement in Nigeria, including that of the alleged N300 billion voted for road construction, which he said Anenih could not explain satisfactorily. Nda-Isaiah deliberately ingnored the fact there was  nothing like N300 billion and that the former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, who originally made the allegations had confessed to Nigerians that it was a fabrication and pleaded with Anenih for forgiveness. Besides, a Senate Committee was set up under the Chairmanship of Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, to investigate the so-called misapplication of funds but found the allegations to be baseless.

However, Nda-Isaiah is not done yet. He recruited fellow writers, including one Pius Adesanmi, who told Anenih that at over 80, neither he nor men such as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Bamanga Tukur and Professor Ango Abdullahi, should continue to work in any capacity under a Government headed by a man as young as Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Even more curious is Nda-Isaiah challenge to General Muhammadu Buhari that he (Nda-Isaiah) would take him up on the APC platform should he (Buhari) not accept to step-down for him. Well, as a saying goes in Hausa: 'Ga fili, ga doki' meaning (here is an open field, here is the horse). Let the race begin.

      * Mr Ehigiator
sent this piece from Benin