Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Media Trial and Thieves of Our Commonwealth By Abimbola Lagunju

A group of people had a bright idea to start a company some years ago. But they did not have enough money. The capital outlay was in millions of dollars. They asked people to buy into this company and thousands of people bought shares of this company believing that the outfit had a future and their investments would yield multiple dividends over time. However, the company declared losses every year and the stakeholders were aghast. They feared for their investments. They elected a new CEO and ordered him to conduct a full audit of the company. The auditors discovered that the company had been making a lot of money, but the money was stolen by the directors and the former CEO’s of the company. The thieves, when arrested and confronted with evidence, did not want the stakeholders to be informed of the theft. They engaged the services of lawyers to help them keep the story from the stakeholders. They insisted that their story should not be shared in the monthly bulletin of the company. They did not want anyone to know of the damage they had caused to the company. They claimed they had their rights to privacy. Now the company is on the brink of a collapse and the stakeholders have no idea what will become of their investments. Many of them have been impoverished. This is the story of Nigeria.

Nigerian officials caught in the web of corruption and their lawyers have invented a new phrase, “Media Justice,” which in other words means that when caught, the sordid operations of the thieves and robbers of our commonwealth are, in their opinion, prejudicially exposed by the media. They claim that public opinion evoked by these exposures impinge on the rights of their clients and may influence outcomes of judgment. Their logic is that if they stole in secrecy, they should be made to account for their actions in secrecy. They do not want the public to know what they did and what punishment they have been able to bargain with the courts.

And many of the Nigerian mainstream media, either for fear, or intimidation or even corruption at their own level seem to have bought into this logic. It is not uncommon to see ambiguous reports of an arrest by the anti-corruption authorities of “a highly placed official (names withheld) of a Federal Agency..bla bla”.  In some cases, pictures of such arrested officials, with their eyes covered by a black bar accompany these worthless reports. The Nigerian mainstream media hardly investigate corruption cases despite being given a free hand by President Buhari to investigate and report anomalies in the Nigerian system. Rather, they prefer to feed on the crumbs of the hard work of uncompromised online outlets. I doubt if the daily sales of all newspapers in Nigeria outmatch the daily number of views of say, Sahara Reporters.

The looters of our commonwealth, their lawyers and the compromised mainstream media who seek secrecy of arrest and trial of commonwealth thieves seem to be intent on redefining democracy. Their intention is the usurpation of the role of the public as the employer of the entire system of governance to whom reports of good and bad should be regularly rendered by the press. They want to use the guise of the rights of thieves to thwart the rights of the public to know what has been happening to our commonwealth. They seek to deconstruct the rights of 180 million of us to benefit the looters.

Unfortunately, the public is divided in its demand for exposure of thieves. It operates on the fault lines of religion, ethnicity and clanship. Corruption and robbery of our commonwealth are seen as an ethnic right and very often, the religious and ethnic bigots throw away their rights as citizens who need to be informed and accounted to, and seek to protect one of theirs caught with his/her hand in the commonwealth till. They claim persecution of the thief either because he/she belongs to an ethnic group or a particular religion. They do not want them exposed. The impact of the robbery of the commonwealth on their rights as citizens as well as on the quality of their lives is lost on them. They prefer handouts from thieves to organized development of Nigeria. To paraphrase Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the engineers of ethnic and religious fault lines have succeeded in dis-membering the nation and re-membering it into ethnic and religious agglomerations sustained by gratuitous gifts of thieves.

What do these thieves and their lawyers call “Media Trial”? Is it the process of informing the stakeholders of the Nigerian commonwealth that these thieves have been denuding our common grass? The Encarta dictionary defines trial as a “formal legal process: a formal examination of the facts and law in a civil or criminal action before a court of law in order to determine an issue.” No press in the world can engage in this process. It is not their vocation. However, it is their vocation to report on the “formal legal process” and it is the right of the stakeholders to be informed about the process.

The so-called media trial cannot and should not also be misrepresented as public trial. A public trial ends in lynching and so far, none of their clients has being lynched because of press exposures. The citizens have the right to be informed and to follow the process in our courts to the logical conclusion of retrieving our monies and seeing off the thieves to jail.

And we the people must jettison the dark glasses of ethnicity and religion in order to collectively ask for our dividends.