People have been asking me, “Simon , were you at that press conference on 14 September where Prophet T.B. Joshua allegedly gave N50,000 to journalists to write a positive story on the building collapse that killed many people?”, my answer is always the same.
I was not at that event, I do not know if he gave a bribe, I do not know if it was N50,000, and cannot comment on it. But I do not feel better or more righteous in any way than those who might have collected anything, if money was given.
The truth is this, as long as journalists in Nigeria are not paid for months or are given irregular crummy salaries, as long as they are not insured, as long as publishers pocket all the corrupt money they get in the forms of adverts or special reports from corrupt politicians, and as long as Nigerians refuse to spend their money on newspapers, which push publishers to solicit money from politicians who have pocketed everything, many journalists will continue to accept gifts, bribes or whatever you call it.
I understand that foreign journalists at the event and a Nigerian journalist allegedly rejected the money. I am happy they allegedly did and that’s where the profession should be. That’s the ideal we all want. But that’s not where we are.
Most journalists in Nigeria have no insurance. Many newspapers in Nigeria have not paid their reporters for months, some even a year, including those newspapers that are even getting those corrupt advert money from government officials.
A CNN, Reuters, Associated Press or BBC journalist will surely die if he was not paid for one year, had no insurance, no house to live in, and no friend to support him.
And many former journalists who are now successful and even the society at large, are very wicked. They see a journalist who is striving to stand out, who wants to be objective and unbiased, they watch him as life challenges crush him to death. No car, no house, no savings, nothing to show for 20 years of work. And when such a journalist accepts a gift, the same society says, look at him, he’s corrupt. He’s biased. He’s unethical.
But the same society screaming does not buy newspapers, they prefer to spend all their money on drinks, cigarettes, clothes, bags and cars but demand and expect higher standards from the media. So I am sorry to say it won’t happen.
The society is hypocritical and the media industry is sick. But until there’s a shift, nothing will change.
You can say these are just excuses. You may even add that the media should be our conscience, and only truth is acceptable. You will be passing a superficial judgement, because you cannot just should look at corruption in the media without understanding why the rot is so deep and the change so hard.
You must understand that it is the product of a failed society. A corrupt government, a corrupt judiciary, a corrupt police force, a corrupt army, a corrupt civil society, a corrupt banking and financial system, a corrupt educational system, a corrupt political system, in summary, it is the product of a failed country that does nothing when journalists are not paid for months or are left to wallow in poverty after serving their nations for 20 years.
I used to know a journalist who passed on after working for his company for many years in Lagos, and his wife was given only one month salary to take care of herself and their kids. I guess, this, certainly, is not the future we all envisaged after graduating with a First Class at the University.
My rambling is getting too long. Let me summarise.
The journalist who leaked the alleged bribery to the public claimed that he did so because journalists were too soft on Prophet T.B. Joshua and were not reporting the truth.
Hear him: “I observed that Nigerian media were being too gentle on TB Joshua despite the glaring irregularities surrounding the collapse. I read more reports about the “hovering craft” and how Boko Haram could have sabotaged the building.
“Very little was reported about the structural defects of the building. Not much was written about the fact that the building originally had 2 floors and was being illegally refurbished with 4 additional floors when it collapsed. We didn’t come hard on the Synagogue Church goons who attacked first responders. We didn’t highlight the fact that many of those that perished could have been saved if NEMA officials weren’t barred from the site for almost three days! We didn’t make an issue of the fact that our colleagues who had gone to report the collapsed building were molested on Saturday.”
Of course, you all know that these are lies. What he’s saying is not factual. Or maybe he did not read reporting of the building collapse enough.
On 15 September, the day after the alleged bribe was given to journalists, P.M.NEWS published this editorial: http://www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2014/09/15/the-synagogue-tragedy/ . You can read it yourself and let me know if it looked like they were being soft on T.B. Joshua or hiding the facts.
The 20-year old newspaper said in that editorial: “Perhaps most of the dead victims would have been rescued alive if the church staff and people perceived as thugs did not prevent officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, from carrying out rescue operations immediately the building crumbled.
Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, had to intervene by visitting the scene of the disaster and ordering the church staff to leave the site before rescue work could start in earnest.”
The newspaper concluded it editorial by saying: “We must go beyond speculation to serious investigation to unravel the facts and prevent future tragedies of this magnitude. Those who are found wanting should be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
Does that look like a newspaper trying to protect T.B. Joshua or that did not care about the dead?
Of course not.
But that was not all. the same day, the cover story of P.M.NEWS in Lagos read: “Boko Haram Attack: Nigerians Blast T.B. Joshua”.
The lead or the first paragraph of that story read: “Nigerians have blasted Prophet T.B. Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations for claiming that Boko Islamist sect might have brought down a six-storey building in his church that has killed more than 40 people.”
That front page story was published on 15 September. Does it look like people who were buying the story of a jet hovering over the building before it came down?
These examples were just from P.M.NEWS. It was the same thing for The Punch, The Nation, Vanguard, The Sun, ThisDay, Tribune, The New Telegraph, TheNews Magazine, and even TVC and Channels TV, as well as other television and radio stations.
So it is not factual to say that Nigerian journalists were being soft on T.B. Joshua or were hiding the facts. It is simply a lie.
If Nigerian journalists collected the money, they did so because of a sick industry, a failed state and the reasons I mentioned above. But the money certainly did not change the facts. And we all knew the facts even before the audio was leaked last week.
One thing I can say is that until investigation is conducted and concluded, no one can claim to know exactly what led to the building collapse. It will just be ranting, and rambling that lead to semantic noise but nothing evidential or concrete.
I can say more, and go on and on, but for now, it’s time to mourn the dead. May their souls rest in peace.