By Muyiwa Adetiba
It is generally accepted that most Newspaper Editors know more than they let on. The ability to know what to use and what to withhold is part of your information management; it is also part of your professional and ethical responsibilities because some ‘truths’ can have unwholesome ripple effects if used in their entirety. I will give an example.
I was an Assistant Editor in Punch at the height of the apartheid struggle. Like every young man at the time, I was indignant and very impatient with the pace and nature of the international fight against apartheid until I had ‘an instructive conversation’ with the late Brigadier Joe Garba, who was then our External Affairs Minister. He specifically asked me to switch off the tape before he said “Do you know that there is not a single ‘Frontline State’ that can survive economically without South Africa? Many of them don’t even have access to seaports and depend on South Africa for imports. As I speak to you now, if I want to get a Frontline State, my calls would have to be routed through South Africa. So if we were to apply sanctions as rigorously as you guys want, our people would suffer.
These are realities that we must contend with.” I left chastised but with a better understanding of the complexities of politics. ‘Off record’ was a phrase I heard often during my interviewing days as high ranking officials tried to explain that things were not always black and white. There were also files and data which would come into your hands as an Editor but which could not be used because of their geo-political implications. Make no mistake; all Editors practice self –censorship –even in places with the so called free press.
So when a man who had risen through the ranks to become Editor and then MD of one of the most influential newspapers in the country called to ‘complain’ about one of my articles, I had to listen. He felt I was too effusive in my commendation of the concession the President made. He was particularly uncomfortable with the word ‘Statesman’. “Do you know how much money was taken out to fight this election? Do you know how much was spent in the last weeks of the election? Do you know what has gone on in this country in the past six years? He asked. “How can any man who has done this much damage to his country be called a Statesman? In fact, I pity the incoming President.
Things are in such a bad shape that I wonder where he is going to start from. It is obvious that he has to be prepared to hurt us, I mean all of us, before he can make any impact”. Given what I had earlier said, I believe he had more information which his paper could not use but which had made him angry.
In any case, the stories flying around would make anybody angry even if only half of them were true. Certain sections of the Price Waterhouse Coopers’ report on the NNPC audit went viral soon after the report was released to the public. What one gleaned makes one wonder at the competence — and patriotism—of many of the handlers of our economy. There seems to be a systematic looting at that sacred corporation which didn’t start yesterday and which successive leaders find convenient to turn a blind eye to. Incidentally, I was already high up in the hierarchy during the 2.8 billion naira saga around NNPC and General Buhari in the late 70s. Like a good journalist, I wanted to know more. So I arranged a ‘chat’ with the late Chief Bayo Kuku who was then the Vice-Chairman of Mobil Producing. After the usual ‘off record’ plea, he said of NNPC and the probe people were angling for at the time “They may not find the antelope they are looking for
but they will find several bush rats”. Those were his words if I still remember correctly after so many years. The interpretation to today’s scenario is that while the missing figure might not be the exact amount that Mallam Lamido, the ex-Central Bank governor alleged, there would be several unaccounted for funds that would not do credit to that corporation and its managers, past and present. It also means that the rot is deeper than the ordinary man thinks.
The task to redeem the country is an onerous one because there are bush rats’ in almost every institution. We who want Buhari’s government to revive the economy, we who want Buhari’s government to tackle corruption, we who want Buhari’s government to take us to the next level must be prepared to change our values and discipline our appetites. I start with the press because charity must start from home. Many Editors have become so used to the largess from corrupt politicians that they see it as ‘entitlement’. Many reporters and correspondents have become so used to ‘envelopes’ of various sizes and colours that they see them as perks of office. In very few newspapers can a story sail through without someone’s palm being greased. Yet we are supposed to be the watch dogs of the society. What obtains in the media houses obtains in the judiciary where clerks and registrars are more powerful than lawyers and where justice is more often bought
It obtains in the universities where admissions are bought, hand-outs are bought and degrees are bought. It obtains at our borders where officials stop needles while allowing camels to pass through. It obtains even in the market place where different levels of fake products are marketed as genuine.
Yes, the extravagance of Aso Rock must be curtailed—from budgets for food and entertainment to the size of the Personal Assistants and aides; from the fleet of Presidential planes to Presidential limousines. The allowances of the legislatures must be drastically reduced—from non-existing personal aides to constituency allowances.
The bloated civil service must be trimmed and those who do an hour’s work but demand a day’s pay must be told to sit up or ship out. Bogus overseas trips and training must be curbed. Contracts must be monitored and the system of allocating money for the same contract every year must become a thing of the past. Payment of taxes must be enforced especially among the elite class and the proceeds judiciously utilised. The political class must stop being parasitic and contribute to the economy.
The expectations are high and the job difficult; but it would be a near impossible task if we did nothing about the culture of impunity and entitlement that is so pervasive in the society. We also cannot make the omelet we so desire without breaking a few eggs.