By Nkannebe Raymond Esq.
The awards last week by two corporate outfits, namely The African Value Awards and the New Telegraph Newspaper respectively, to the executive governor of Kano state, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, in the wave of the controversy swirling around his person has once again put to the fore, the role of the media as gatekeepers of public morality and its suboptimal performance in the discharge of the onerous but dignifying responsibility.
It is disturbing that a time when many Nigerians are calling for the resignation and immediate probe of the geriatric public administrator with a proven voracious appetite for wads of dollars, at least from what one could infer from the numerous video clips that might become his Achilles Heel, the media, in one moment of professional hara-kiri has elected to garland and serenade the governor against its pristine and solemn role as the fourth estate of the realm which ought to hold public office holders to the highest standard of official responsibility.
And the countervailing narratives put up by these labels in defence of their professional misfeasance do not help matters at all. On the contrary, it speaks to a well rehearsed deflective vest to justify nonsense. After all, nothing should explain away the celebration of persons with dubious and questionable official character. Further, it does not accord with the spontaneous corporate reaction expected from responsible organizations in situations such as the media platforms found themselves.
Take for example the recent withdrawal by bellwether media brands such as CNN, New York Times, The Economist, Bloomberg and CNBC from covering and/or participating in the just concluded Saudi Arabia Future Initiative Conference in protest against the Kingdom for its role in the gruesome murder of renowned journalist─Jamal Kashoggi. Opportune moments such as that are veritable openings for a responsible medium to reassert its role as the protectors of public morality and the pallbearers of the conscience of state. By electing however to celebrate the governor amidst the raging controversy, the New Telegraph and their counterpart easily came across as accessories after the fact.
The case of the organizers of the Africa Value Awards is of itself a paradoxical wonder. Here is an organization which holds itself out as committed to the reorientation of African values. With such a noble cause underpinning its activities, one would have thought that it’d have nothing to do with any recipient of its prize flagged for corrupt behaviour however ‘meritorious’ the process of his/her emergence, to the extent that it prides itself on reordering African values and reorientating the minds of the people, especially youths.
But how did the organizers of this award plea? Against the run of play, it enlisted in defence of the governor, describing the allegations against him as unproven by a court of law, and hence why it would go ahead to decorate him with its laurels.
These much were the sentiments of the chairman of the award organizing committee, Ambassador Daniel Obah. Queried as to whether the organization would go ahead to honour the governor in the wake of the overwhelming evidence of corruption against him, the man was reported to have said,”meanwhile we can’t go on to remove the governor’s name because of criticisms. Many people have alleged that we collected bribe from him, but this is a lie. He won through voting. We are not the court of law to say he is corrupt. We can’t deny him the award because of that”. He went on with the conviction of say a professor of law, “we should know that no court of law has pronounced him guilty of all the allegations levelled against him”.
The question that begs consideration is: should organizers of such awards arrogate to themselves the position of judge and jury so as to investigate the veracity vel non of any allegations made against the recipients of its award and then reach a positive finding why they should go ahead? Wouldn’t a decent and disciplined organization in the circumstances write to the recipient explaining the reasons why they may not be able to confer the award at that time? Of what use is a media organization if it cannot leverage the mood of the nation to make a corporate statement in condemnation of an acerbic behaviour?
I am sure that Mr. Obah knows of such a thing as the ‘court’ of public opinion. And that in this ‘court’, the conventional rules of evidence and its oscillating movements do not come to play. But what I do not think he understands is the commanding heights of the media and civil society organizations such as his, in this ‘court’. If he knew, he wouldn’t have embarked on that lame duck excuse advanced by him in defence of his organization’s professional indiscretion.
And assuming we are to forgive the former organization for not being a mainstream media house, are we to hold same for the New Telegraph? This label has the “sanctity of truth” as its motto and is bound by the ethics of the profession part of which is making a moral contribution to society. Implicit in this corporate responsibility is the courage to flag criminal behaviour in order not to allow evil seem good by their perceived condonation or recognition of same. But when the newspaper on Saturday garlanded the kano state politician with the award of “best governor” in the areas of health and education, despite the glaring case of official corruption against him, it was obvious that they had thrown caution to the winds and would rather cavort with a kleptomaniac perhaps in a transactional bid to save him some face (in the wake of his drowning popularity) in exchange for their share of the man’s infamous $5 million that have earned him the perfect sobriquet─Gandollar.
At the time of writing, the New Telegraph has yet to issue a statement on why it awarded the governor its “best governor” prize despite mounting allegations of corruption against him. This writer however does not think it would issue any report on that; the public opprobrium from Nigerians notwithstanding. And in the unlikely event it does, there is no prize for guessing that the alibi would be the same as advanced by the African Value Award as highlighted above.
All of these speak to the increasingly compromising stance of the Nigerian media that has seen it fall short at speaking truth to power at a time when the society is in dire need of same. Certainly for New Telegraph and the Africa Value Award, it does not matter whether the governor of a state pilfers the public wealth of his state, in so far as he is able to raise few blocks of classrooms and commissions maternity wards in two to three local government areas. Such must be what amounts to “Effective Leadership” for the organizers of the African Value Awards and the very totem of leadership excellence for the Telegraph.
It is not that one harbours any ill will towards these organizations, but public awards can sometimes make their recipients seem untouchable and above scrutiny when their actions run counter to the values propagated by the society such as official corruption, hence the need for acute circumspection by organizations that give out these awards, not least the media.
Late last year, the Oxford University began the process of stripping Aung San Suu Kui of the Freedom of Oxford award she bagged in 1997 following her response to the Rohingya crisis to drive home its derision for her dilatory behaviour in the wake of the crisis. In the same vein, humanitarian watchdog─Amnesty International only two weeks ago stripped her of a similar award for the same reason amongst a host of other awards stripped off her following her acts of omission in the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. This much is how organizations in saner climes use the instrument of their corporate awards to protest unofficious behaviour.
While it is true that Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje has not been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for what we saw in those odious clips whose potency have been proven by forensic experts, it does not inhere to the New Telegraph or the organizers of the African Value Awards to celebrate and decorate the man at a time when public opinion weighs heavily against him, and justifiably too. By decorating the man, they seemed to be calling the bluff of Nigerians especially indigenes of Kano whose common wealth is directly in issue, and at its extremes celebrating criminal and corrupt behaviour. Their roles aptly fit into those of an accessory after the fact in criminal jurisprudence, and if this move is calculated to launder the image of the man in the wake of the raging controversy, judging from the timing of the awards, let it be known to the organizers of the tokunboh awards that the public mood is writ large of its death on arrival.
Nkannebe Raymond, a Public Affairs analyst wrote in from Lagos. Comments and reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org