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Obasanjo's governmentand apologists should respect CNN and Freedom of the press inNigeria

By Nkem Ekeopara

EXCLUSIVE Commentary for
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston

USAfricaonline.comand NigeriaCentral.com


There is no doubt that the news and current affairs managers ofthe global information network at the CNN are reasonably concernedabout their undeserving bashing in Nigeria. Sadly, the Nigeriangovernment orchestratedanti-freedom of the press chant and demonstrations was spearhed byretired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo's cronies following the reporting ofthe facts, I repeat the acts of the violence unleashed by Obasanjo'sgovernment on Nigerians, inter-ethnic conflicts and killings, violentexplosions in Ikeja; all of which have led to the deaths of almost10, 000 or more Nigerians. The foolish anti-CNN campaign continues tobe fuelled by the government and its propagandists spearheaded by aself-proclaimed Gen. Obasanjo partisan and apologist, kinsman and"journalist" Reuben Abati of The Guardian newspaper of Lagos. In thefinal analysis, the issue of Jeff Koinange and CNN in Nigeria is anissue about the freedom of the press. No attempt should be made bythe likes of Abati and other Obasanjo apologists to muzzle it.

Let's look back. to Nigeria's recent history to understand thelatest diversion. Recall Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka appearance onCNN's 'Question and Answer' program, just a few days before Obasanjowas formally selected/arranged into office in Nigeria, in May 1999,through what the CNN correspondent in Nigeria at the time, JimClancy, possibly cowed by protests such as mine, poignantly called'Ballot Box Stuffing.' I had protested later and deplored CNN'slaundering of Obasanjo's image and literally helping in imposing theformer military dictator on the peoples of Nigeria. Suddenly,reporting facts have become a problem for Obasanjo, his apologistsand misguided apologists. Indeed one recalls with deep sadness thefact that they apparently announced the result of the presidentialelection before the contest took place.

CNN, like most the western media peddled and blew out ofproportion Obasanjo's 'handing over' to Shagari in 1979, touting himas the only military dictator that ever did that in Africa.

While the CNN and Western media outlets were used for thisunprecedented PR blitz for Obasanjo's interests, neither he nor hiscanvassers protested the boost. First, Murtala-Obasanjo regimeusurped power with one justification - to return Nigeria to ademocratic rule after Gowon had reneged his pledge in this directionin 1975.

The favoured North wanted that to happen. It would have amountedto suicide for Obasanjo, never a solders' soldier, to act to thecontrary even with as we later learnt, President Carter who was theUS president at the time, was prepared to back him in every way, ifhe elected to toe the path of metamorphosing into another monstrousMobutu for their interests. This carefully crafted hype didn'tconfigure into the Obasanjo image laundering campaign thepresidential election controversy (which Obasanjo acted in favor ofAlhaji Shehu Shagari) for which Obasanjo is still seen as a traitorby his Yoruba kinsmen.

Any wonder, he even lost his own party's ward election to the AD.Increasingly, the international community is seeing the fact aftertheir may 1999 pro-Obasanjo hype that he, Obasanjo, lacked thedemands of a modern society, requisite intellectual preparation,temperament and refinement to lead a democratic government in anenvironment as complex as Nigeria.

While Obasanjo's Information minister, Jerry Gana, a geographyProfessor, but better known as a having served all the post-1983military dictatorships in Nigeria, commended CNN during 1999, he hasreportedly asked that CNN's Jeff Koinange be removed from thecountry.

I am equally informed that the CNN refused to follow thelaughable blitz in which Obasanjo was to be presented and "packaged"(as has been done in the local Nigeria media, repeatedly) by Abati,and other self-declared Obasanjo apologists as a "Nelson Mandela" (!)&endash; wonders will never end with our former military dictatorObasanjo. Beyond their funny spin, please recall that South Africa'sNelson Mandela is the moral and living legend of our time, walkingfrom prison to president, with principles intact and a great visionwhich neither discriminated and favored his own ethnic interests.What a terrible insult one had to bear in those days to rerad theObasanjo-Mandela comparison! The groups and persons in Nigeria aredangerously and perniciously arrayed against the CNN correspondent inNigeria, Koinange and the rights to Freedom of Speech as enshrined inthe UN charter and in Nigeria's constitution.

It is sad that Abati in his piece, titled "No to military rule"(The Guardian, February 8, 2002), will sacrifice whatever pretensionsand claims he has to being a journalist for his laughable,unrelenting and lengthy water-carrying for Obasanjo's governmentunleash without any sense of decorum and objective reasoning, anddescend in an infantile outburst on CNN's Koinange with outrightpersonal attacks. He described Jeff Koinange as "a perfect example ofthe international correspondent as a parachutist." By this tag, Abatiwho is suppose to know in one fell swoop puts to disrepute theimpeccable track record and remarkable contributions of internationalcorrespondents, particularly those at CNN, in bringing to theinternational audience of atrocities being committed by power hungrymonsters, whether in Odi in the Niger Delta of Nigeria or Kosovo inYugoslavia.

The assault on CNN issue reflects the Abati line of unreasonedopposition to any reasoned disagreement with Obasanjo. Worse, Abatihas used the letters page of The Guardian to attack a columnist forThe Guardian, and the Ibrus continue to look the other way. Only afew days ago, I believe on February 13, 2002 on the letters page ofthe newspaper, a "letter to the editor" from someone from Obasanjo'shometown of Abeokuta, Ogun State (near Abati's own home) wrote ablatant physical and spiritual threats loaded with other ethnicrubbish against Levi Obijiofor, a Guardian contributor/columnistbased in Australia. Instructively, Obijiofor has been taken to taskrecently by some Obasanjo 'plants' in The Guardian newspaperestablishment for being too critical of the uncouth andunpresidential posturing and lack of credible performance ofpresident Obasanjo, especially, on education, economic welfare,safety, power supply, ethnic relations, and matters of security.

Perhaps, Abati needs to read his litany of lies, limited knowledgeof Nigeria's basic history, sheer falsehoods, documented facts of hisinstinctive anti-Igbo bigotry and misleading use events to fanhatreds. Incidentally, while Abati strives to demolish, withfutility, Koinange's credibility, the term "mercenary" journalist hasalso been used by reputable Nigerian commentators like BanjoArowoloju to describe Abatiand his bigotry poorly-if-ever-researched assaults on those whomerely diagree with Obasanjo on the Nigerian affairs.

Another issue we must note in the CNN distraction foisted by theObasanjo group is that from Soyinka to Obijiofor and Abati (while thearmy ruled), many have written worse things than mere interviewswhere Nigerians spoke on CNN. Nigerians have cast their country inthe recent in the worst light than most reporters. And then there areCNN bashers who are self-serving politicians in different garbs.

They will go to any length, including instigating mob action andjungle justice against the 'offending' CNN correspondent. In Nigeria,such things are quite normal in the power play that goes on theirdaily to protect every interest, but that of the traumatised andimpoverished populace. But, I am worried by the lead that Abati andIbru-owned The Guardian newspaper have taken on this issue.

I am worried that people who should know are unconsciously orotherwise helping to truncate a known and accepted freedom, thefreedom of speech. Agreed such a freedom must necessarily beexercised with caution and responsibility. But those attempting tobring the correspondent and its employers, CNN, to disrepute havenothing in terms of hard and verifiable facts to prove to anyobjective person that Nigeria at the moment is not showing everysymptom of a failing State, if not a failed State. They have nothingin terms of Nigeria's past to show that history will not repeatitself, especially with Obasanjo's 'unlawful and unconstitutional'tampering/doctoring of the 2001 Electoral Law as passed by thelegislature of Nigeria.

Why is that some of these folks are quick to defend theindefensible? I know, first hand, the brutalities of military rule.Like Jeff Koinange, I'm opposed to military rule. But he has theright to report what the people he interviewed are saying. This CNNissue raises the question, again: how many of those in power andcorridors of power in Nigeria are really democratically sincere? Arethey not either retired military men (like Obasanjo) or their lackeysin the past? The truth is that the CNN correspondent is reading andreporting events as accurately he sees them.

The other sad fact is that since Obasanjo took over almost 10,000innocent souls have been callously and criminally wasted in less thanthree years, more than the waste in 15 years of militarydictatorship; such cannot make people jump up for this kind of"democracy."

In the final analysis, the issue of CNN's reports in Nigeria is anissue about the freedom of the press. No attempt should be made bythe likes of Abatiand other Obasanjo apologists to muzzle it.
Ekeopara, until recently an engineer with the State of KuwaitPublic Authority to Agriculture Affairs and Fisheries (PAAF), is acontributing writer for USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfricaonline.comand NigeriaCentral.com




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