On July 29,2022, the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, on his arrival from Spain had addressed journalists at the Port Harcourt International Airport on recent happenings in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The governor, observed and regretted that some journalists like Dr. Reuben Abati, had made some uninformed assertions on happenings in the PDP and did not bother to check the facts. His remarks were innocuous. Excerpt of the interaction of Governor Wike is captured thus; “People like Reuben Abati, former Press Secretary to the President, sometimes, when you read or hear what he said, you begin to wonder where are we heading to. No more investigative journalism – people just stayed somewhere, concoct stories, all kind of things they want to say.”
That observation was made to reference comments on a recent interview that was conducted by Abati and Tundun Abiola, who co-hosted Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Governor Wike pointed to some of those comments on that programme and said, ” See the statements he made. So many lies were told and then you say I should not react to some of those issues? That will not be fair.”
At best, such is the unarguable position of Governor Wike, unapologetically, and we would have left it at that without dignifying Abati, a mystified self-satisfied public commentator with any response about his public outburst on the 1st August,2022 while on Arise Television, Arise News.
Abati, buoyed by self-importance and in his characteristic penchant for bellicosity, recklessly jettisoned journalism ethics which demanded that he comports himself in public or while performing his duties as journalist in such manner as to maintain the dignity of the profession. Rather, he delighted in maligning Governor Wike.
Any discerning mind will agree that Abati’s outburst and unbridled derogatory commentary on Governor Wike can best be described as irresponsible, scurrilous and infantile. And we do have moral obligation to put things right by setting the records straight. We do so with the same conviction that Governor Wike spoke of, which he made clear at his interaction with journalists and stated that, “I can’t continue to remain silent. Nigerians must know what happened, Nigerians must know who are those that love them. Nigerians must know whether we are serious about leadership of this country.”
It does appear that Abati seemed to be so self involved, and driven by ‘a-should-be-known’ vested interest about the inner happenings in PDP, otherwise, why fume about the resolve of governor Wike on what he would be unveiling in the coming days. There are often two sides to a story and if Abati is not interested about the other and balancing side to what he believes to have known already, it shall be construed that truth does not matter to him.
Every journalist worth his salt pushed to secure it, as demanded professionally, to access it and to balance the view points. If Abati is averse to such, then on what truth does he practice his journalism?
The sacredness of facts is embedded in the truth that is adjudged as absolute, eternal and eschatological. It is a conscience path that the media must continue to tread and be guided while playing out their roles, a duty that places on journalists a moral duty to steer clear from inputting their sentiments into information in order not to broaden the harm done by misinformation.
Abati had claimed to have been a journalist since 1985. Such boasting of the sojourn of his professional practice, he thinks, puts him on such pedestal to say Governor does not have the capacity and intellect to teach him journalism. The best of journalism, he knows, were not taught to him in the classroom. He garnered from daily experiences as he discharges his duties. Events and persons he had met and encountered had impacted more on such knowledge base he prides in. No matter how one despises the teacher, the lessons taught, inculcated by the teacher are often eternal.
Does length of service make one hard to err? So, is Abati infallible? Can he be wrong? Of course, he can and has been so observed. But does he know it when he is wrong professionally and be humbled enough to accept correction? That is where the cloud keeps thick darkness. His rantings on Monday 1st August 2022 on his Arise TV morning programme show him to have displayed how intolerable he could be when his errors are pointed at, and to him.
It is this bitterness that has manifested because he failed to have realised that decency should be his watch word, particularly, when he is on live television. The privilege to anchor a television programme cannot be a licence to malign a person of the governor’s status.
In his zest to impress some extraneous influences, Abati merely discredited journalism ethics which prohibits him, in any manner, to ridicule, cast aspersions on, or degrade any person by reason of his political conviction, not even the office of a state governor. Rather than puffing in arrogance and indulging in unwarranted combativeness, Abati, ought to have realised that journalists engaged in television and radio media practice ought to show higher adherence to ethical practices and tolerance.
Indeed, what investigative journalism does is to search out the truth from the subtext of falsehood to achieve the needed correction. It is for this that Governor Wike wondered about the absence of factual substance sieved from investigative journalism efforts in some, if not all of the comments made by Abati. His commentaries therefrom, arising from that Arise TV interaction, were obviously tilted, showed of him, who is a distant fellow to the inner happenings among politicians within the PDP, as if he were an active participator. It suggested a taking of sides. His comments were short of a well searched out positions.
Abati might want to claim he merely expressed his freedom of speech as enshrined in the country’s Constitution, but he must bear in mind, as a journalist, that he has responsibility to refrain from using stinging and pungent language that cast cloud on a person’s credibility. Freedom of expression does not license a journalist, no matter how highly placed, even inadvertently, to insult the Governor of Rivers State.
Perhaps, one needs to inform Abati to learn to value positions and opinions of other people according to their merits. To this end, it may interest him to know that before joining active politics, Governor Wike, already had two degrees in Political Administration and Law, respectively. Hence, the governor’s intellectual acumen cannot be questioned by him.
Governor Wike was Chairman of Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State between 1999 and 2007. During this period, he served as Deputy President, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, in 2004 and was later elected the President of ALGON. He was also an African representative in the Commonwealth Local Governments Forum.
In 2007, he was appointed the Chief of Staff to Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi between 2007 and 2011. And on July 14th, 2011, he was appointed Minister of state for Education, and later as Supervising Minister of Education. By this time, Abati was the spokesperson of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Abati, will acknowledge that during Wike’s tenure as the Minister of State for Education, he made a remarkable impact in the sub-sector of basic education.
It is on record that as Minister he spearheaded a nationwide reform of the nation’s education system. Some of the notable programs he championed for include: Enabling access to quality education for about nine million Almajiri children in northern Nigeria.
In 2014, he resigned voluntarily to vie for Governorship of Rivers State on the Peoples Democratic Party’s ticket, won the general elections in April the following year. On April 3rd, 2019, he was re-elected as the Governor of Rivers State in the 2019 general elections.
In his stint in office as Governor of Rivers State, Wike has achieved a lot. Every sincere Rivers citizen and residents will attest to the fact that fulfilling promises and delivering quality projects is the mind, body and soul of the Governor Wike’s administration.
The constant, consistent and recurrent narratives of the last over seven years of the Wike’s administration has been an unprecedented delivery of projects, transformation and progress. In recent times, the governor and eminent Nigerians have traversed the length and breadth of the State to commission or flag-off various development projects in the education, healthcare, housing, social welfare, sports sectors.
May be, Abati needs to be reminded of his own writing in Premium Times, January 24, 2016, in the article entitled, “Where are the public intellectuals.” In that article, Abati discussed who intellectuals are and would have expected him to be excited when such traits are manifested by well-meaning Nigerians. Abati just refused to accept the richness of intelligence possessed by Governor Wike, who in public life, has impacted enormously on national life, and pushed ideas forth to feed public discourse. In fact, in that article, Abati noted that intellectuals have ideas that they push within and beyond ” boundaries, destroyed illusions, questioned orthodoxies and enabled societal progress… intellectuals exerted great influence on public policy, and their input into the governance process could not be ignored.”
So, does Abati fear to learn and relearn some of his professional trappings for saner practice patten, howbeit, also unlearn his egocentric attitude that obfuscate his professional judgment and capacity to tolerate an opposing view without being personal or sorely emotional.
Kelvin Ebiri is Special Assistant Media to the Rivers State Governor, Nigeria