Any entity, especially one which has the mandate to govern or oversee the affairs of a select and unique group or persons would, inadvertently shift blame, engage in blame game, or outrightly seek the fall guy, in the face of an imminent failure.This scenario aptly captured the ruckus between the federal government, and some media outfits — BBC and Daily Trust.
The Daily Trust, which is obviously one of the most authoritative news outlets in the country had in March, 2022, aired a documentary on Trust TV, a sister organization, titled Nigeria’s Banditry: The Inside story. The documentary, anchored by an investigative journalist of international repute, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, did an excellent job. It gave chilling insight into the bloodletting and marauding activities of the bandits. It was about the first time, Nigerians had the opportunity to have a first hand account of such heinous and insane activities bandits perpetrates on hapless communities, especially in the northwest. Trust TV, just upheld one of its core mandates of informing and educating its viewers. They simply did their job, and were applauded. Because, the public has the right to know, and someone has the mandate to let them know.
The role of media in reporting terrorism and other acts of terror entails, respect for emotions, security and privacy of victims of terrorism. Empathy is expected to be shown to them. However, many will find it difficult to pinpoint where exactly Daily Trust went wrong, especially on the content of the documentary.
The documentary, obviously was not at cross-purposes with Nigeria’s broadcasting code of conduct. International standard set by the United Nations, the Council of Europe and other regulatory experts, like IFJ Global Charter of Ethics for Journalist, harped on the rights to privacy of the victim and his/her family against intrusion by journalist, whose report could put them in harm’s way.
For clarity, The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe believes that, terrorism should not affect the importance of freedom of expression and information in the media as one of the essential foundations of democratic society. This freedom, carries with it, the right of the public to be informed on matters of public concern, including terrorist acts and threats, as well as the response by the state and international organisations to these threats and acts.
The latest BBC documentary, Bandit warlords of Zamfara, was a follow up to the Trust TV’s, earlier one aired in March.It gave a gripping accounts of activities of bandits, and the most chilling was the account by a bandit kingpin, one Abu Sani, who stated what many have said in the past, in hushed whispers — government and everyone remotely concerned is involved in the insecurity ravaging the country. It has become quite lucrative, a venture.
In the light of this revelation, suddenly, government has gone berserk. It threatened sanctions on both media outfits for obviously upholding their globally accepted mandate in the discharge of their respective duties. Clearly, the federal government is going against Article 19, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and freedom of expression, thereby eliminating citizens’ rights to know.It’s even more shocking, the Trust TV documentary was aired in March, 2022, it took government about four months to respond. Now, that seems suspect.
If anything, any serious government would leverage on such reports and get spurred to action. That is the very essence of investigative reporting and journalism generally. To inform, educate and enlighten.
If not for the double documentaries, who would have known Ado Aleru is as free as a bird. Yet, a bounty of N5 million is on his neck,and on the wanted list of Katsina state police command. The documentary exposed what government would want to conceal. Many of these terrorists are known, at least within the security and larger intelligence community. If an armless reporter, armed with only a recorder, phones and other devices could track, locate and interview wanted terrorists, it means government is not ready to bring to an end insecurity despite depleting the country’s resources and foreign reserve through bogus security spendings.
For many, these documentaries should be a wake-up call for authority to do the needful.
First, there’s need for government to take ownership of its vast ungoverned and abandoned spaces across the country. Established territories and boundaries are important features of a sovereign State. Once non-state actors are allowed to establish an enclave in whatever guise, it becomes a clear call to anarchy, that which will consume everyone the moment they get stronger and more emboldened. Once they peak, they are quick to set up vassals. Communities around Birnin Gwari, come to mind, where terrorists openly had taken control, putting in place a form of taxation and other laws it deems fit.
Second, an enhanced intelligence gathering, sincerity of purpose and empathy for lives of the victims of terror. Nigeria is not in short of smart, young and intelligent personnel who would leverage on the use of technology in modern intelligence gathering and warfare. Sending troops to comb bushes without requisite Intel and Air support is a deathtrap, many lives were lost in such archaic warfare mechanism.
Intelligence is key in winning conflicts of this nature.Super Tucano bought were not put in use, in the northwest, several months after its delivery, for reasons not known.
Government must understand, the media isn’t in any way an adversary in the fight against insecurity, rather a worthy partner which seeks or plays its part in letting the world (including security agencies) know. That’s the role of the media, globally.The battle line, it draws will be anything but counterproductive. Because, many Nigerians tend to align with the press, which they depend upon for factual coverage of the war against banditry, kidnappings, terrorism and other forms of criminality.
Nigeria is passing through a perilous moments, even the country’s security chiefs affirms that. So, the focus of government should immediately shift to combating such challenge, rather than engaging Daily Trust and BBC in a battle of wits, which in Hausa, many will consider as borin kunya.
Abdullahi D Mohammed is with the Department of Political Science and International studies at the Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria.He writes from Kano