Saturday INSIGHT STORIES
By Tobi Adekusibe
Now that the social media mob action, or shall we say mob reaction that followed the skewed story about Lagos State Government sacking the chaplain in its church has subsided, a cursory look at the fundamental issues that were somewhat overlooked or deliberately downplayed can be logically revisited.
The trumpeted narrative had read like a scripted first draft of a play that didnâ€™t go through a review before the actors were ordered onto the stage. The wife of the Lagos State governor had attended an anointing service at the state-owned Chapel of Christ the Light. She allegedly got angry for not being recognised and accorded due privilege after which she had either stormed out in anger or waited to be anointed anyway but left displeased and unplacated (the narrative didnâ€™t seem to have a first-hand experience of how the episode actually ended. Nor did it seem to matter to those who hurried to let the concocted narrative out).
The next day, the chaplain was relieved of his duty with an alleged immediate eviction from his official residence. To add sweetner to the salted wound, the Chaplain got a deluge of free housing and furniture from well wishers written into characters as good Samaritans. What else, the script that has developed into a full-blown play had to be made plausible and draw public sympathy so that the toga of a villain could be pinned on the state government and a hero created out of a man whose cassock has become tainted.
And so the script writers encouraged and munched a deluge of reactions from the social media, cleverly ignoring opposing views or those that either pleaded caution or encouraged a deeper, balance appraisal of the issue. No! The writers of the one-way narrative wanted only one ending â€“ the demonisation of government and a reinstatement of the man with soiled hands.
Nigerians were angry, they wrote; and they have shown their annoyance by staying away from the Chapel the following Sunday, in apparent sympathy for the man who had been fired on principle by the same structure that hired him. It would injure the script and expose the hatchet writers if they had accepted that the church service of that Sunday was moved to a bigger space in the governorâ€™s backyard in anticipation of the large crowd expected for the stateâ€™s special anniversary service. Should it not have occurred to the writers of the hurried narrative that government could not have run away from its own little worship space just because a chaplain had been replaced?
In any case, the desperadoes of the lone-ranger media did not bother to test their assertion of a depleted chapel last Sunday when there was no need to hold another special service at the state house and normalcy had returned to the Chapel whose primary function is to cater to the worship needs of civil servants and those close to them. Once its untested narrative is defeated by common sense and superior logic, the mischievous media simply looks away.
But it is important to note that this whole narrative came from just one newspaper, the only one that found newsworthy and on its prime cover space, the sacking of a chaplain in a state-owned church. Eager to make a mince meat of the alternative fact, it found so appealing, it also chose, curiously, to make a daily glee of pinning the action on the wife of the Governor.
A careful examination of what informed this lone lost battle and why the First Lady of Lagos State was the convenient target of attack is necessary in order to appreciate why that castle of lies and subterfuge ultimately crumbled like expired cookies.
What is it in the story that other newspapers, especially those in Lagos, did not see or deemed newsworthy? Could others have simply missed a juicy story and the hatchet follow-ups on it or they indeed saw but chose to ignore the mischief that only one of their own packaged as news?
It turns out that the sacked chaplain is an ex-staff of the only paper that peddled the half truth. If the ex-chaplain didnâ€™t issue a press statement or register his angst on social media, that only one newspaper made a fetish of his â€˜predicamentâ€™ could only have been so because the aggressor pretending to be the victim took the news there. He evidently sought the assistance of his former colleagues and got a willing ally in those probably and curiously so, seeking an opportunity to take a jab at Lagos State government. The one-sided account became undisguised and reckless not just because the only newspaper in that ill-fated campaign of calumny found a useful launch-pad in the ex-chaplainâ€™s coated story but also in the deeper intent to hit at their main target â€“ the Governor of Lagos State.
Probe deeply and dispassionately and it wonâ€™t be difficult to see that the blame on the First Lady was just a convenient lie to throw dirt at the first family and the unprecedented, perhaps unexpected success in governance in their state. They probably must have reckoned that it would be foolhardy to pick a baseless battle with a man who has become a darling of Lagosians on account of his sterling performance. Itâ€™s simply impossible not to applaud his giant strides in many areas as a worthy example for the rest of Nigeria, let alone ignore them. The basis for an attack would therefore be hard and unsustainable. This is why the now mooted campaign during its short run always removed the person of the Governor or pointedly acknowledged his remarkable performance but would then add a proviso.
The adversary needed a â€˜weakerâ€™ vessel through whom they could launch a preemptive strike in the hope of penetrating the man who has come to represent the yardstick for good governance in Nigeria. Or how would a woman who, like her hubby, has admirably courted publicity with measured steps and who in two years in office has never dabbled in overt social glamour or gotten involved in matters beyond her role as the wife of the Governor, would suddenly fit the description of a power-drunk? No one becomes arrogant for simply drawing attention of the Governing Council to whom the Chaplain is accountable to the excesses and unbecoming conduct of an appointed shepherd that craves control and ceaseless bazaar? The traducers know that no governorâ€™s wife in Lagos has ever wielded the type of power they attempted to wickedly draped the First Lady with. But they needed to sell a lie in the desperate hope that the man who now typifies the resilient Lagos spirit would be rattled.
Truth be told, it is no longer journalism when a newspaper chooses to disregard both the governmentâ€™s published reaction and the intervention of an independent arbiter – the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) but instead twists its reports just to maintain a sensational, albeit judgmental bent. What type of journalism would pronounce a sacked man not guilty without first investigating stated cases of abuse of office against him? How come it was other online platforms that were able to show, with evidence that the man this newspaper wants reinstated indeed has a long-standing issues bordering on discipline, propriety and integrity with his employers? Why should the public allow unchallenged the orchestrated drama of a so-called eviction in 24-hours when no government directive made such demands on the ex-chaplain or go mute on the lie that he was stranded after his â€˜evictionâ€™ when indeed he has been a long-standing landlord of a developed property in Lagos?
Could his former employers have been scandalized by that revelation because their man reportedly built a house he did not disclose while still a staff in the advert department of the paper? It should be asked, therefore, what is it that propels an otherwise respectable media organization to pick needless fights that are apparently informed by mischief, sheer sadism and delusional self-importance when the end of such battles is almost always predictable?
Granted, nobody should be denied an opportunity to test his popularity. But that cannot be what drives a newspaper â€“ sheer populism- particularly at a time when the profession is plagued by numerous adversities that erode sales and credibility. But this same newspaper seems to delight in journalistic macabre dance once in a while. After testing its popularity with the Federal Government over the ban of its correspondent from the State House in Abuja for ceaseless negative coverage of the Presidentâ€™s health without being mindful of its security implications, it made impossible demands on Aso Rock, got snubbed and has since been left without a reporter in the Villa, leaving the poor young man to roam around Area 11 and Zone 4.
Yet, this same newspaper thought it could cow the Covenant University in Ota by opposing the institutionâ€™s right to discipline erring students. The university, a private concern committed to its avowed duty of graduating only students who have excelled in learning and character, simply ignored the meddlesomeness from Magboro. It did not look back in upholding its decision to rusticate erring students. How then could this same paper imagine that it could blackmail a state government like Lagos which, to be fair, has done better job of applying care and diligence than most of its peers?
How did this sort of judgmental journalism creep into the Nigerian media? How can a print organisation whose notoriety for going overboard in instilling discipline as the media house with the highest staff turnover rate could suddenly arrogate to itself the right to deny others the responsibility to apply sanction against wrongdoing? What kind of hypocrisy explains this malady?
And this is why pockets of hatchet opinion writers in other newspapers where the jaundiced news never featured should carry out or be subjected to a self-appraisal. How can a faulted news item that others avoided could serve as credible basis for a fair and informed opinion article? It would either amount to a spite on the good judgment that avoided a classic case of fake news or the motive that bred this ill-fated campaign is about to fester outside of the thorny garden where it was sown.
There can hardly be a better time than now for the fourth estate to interrogate its avowed commitment to good and responsible journalism.
â€“â€“Dr. Tobi Adekusibe, a media analyst and tutor, lives in FCT, Abuja.