ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The advent of the internet and independent/alternative media have ensured that Nigerian citizens
can now practice their own journalism from where ever they are, Mr Sowore
who conducted the said interview is one of the many Nigerian citizen journalists
Citizens As Journalists
By Uche Nworah
It was interesting reading Reuben Abati and Levi Obijiofor (two of Nigerian Guardians Grade A columnists) on Friday, the 13th of January 2006. Their various takes on the Gbenga Obasanjo/Omoyele Sowore interview would make good case studies in any journalism class.
While the sparks from the said interview continue to fly around Nigerian communities worldwide, the comments of these two veteran journalists deserve further analysis, especially in the context of global journalism practice and politics, and also todays Nigeria the need to balance her socio-political interests, the interests of public officials with the public interest.
From their commentaries, both writers assumed wrongly that the interviewer (Omoyele Sowore) is a journalist, and have therefore attempted to apply journalistic ethos and principles in their analysis, judgement and condemnation of both The News magazine and Mr Sowore. However, their various positions and assumptions hardly took into consideration the pedigree and motive of the interviewer, an avowed activist who in a recent interview said he was not a journalist, choosing rather to describe himself as an enemy of corruption.
Mr Abati in his own analysis wonders what constitutes a media interview, and asks
Is the word interview so elastic in journalism practice that it accommodates eavesdropping, invasion of privacy and abuse of privilege?, as if on cue, Femi Falana Chambers, the firm of lawyers retained by The News and Mr Sowore in their reply to an earlier letter by Gbenga Obasanjos lawyers have had to dig deep inside the dictionary to come up with the meaning of the word – interview, and have used the same as part of their defence to deny any wrong doing on the part of their clients.
It is easy to discern the true motives of Mr Abati and those of other establishment paddy-paddy writers and journalists who have been questioning the mode with which the interview was obtained, one may be right to assume that some of these people benefit somehow from the system and may therefore prefer not to rock the boat, choosing instead to maintain the status quo, this assumption may not be entirely wrong if we fully read between the lines of Mr Abatis additional analysis – the danger of the reporter behaving like a local gossip is that journalists will no longer be trusted. We will lose the confidence of friends. Once a journalist shows up, everyone will be under pressure, not knowing what they will say and it will be reported.
These views of Mr Abati hardly does the image of the Nigerian journalist any good, and gives the impression of a sell – out, it could be misinterpreted to mean that Nigerian journalists have abandoned their watchdog and fourth estate of the realm responsibilities. If these so called friends of the Nigerian journalist, whose confidence Mr Abati would not like to lose are public officials and have not soiled their hands in any manner in treasury looting, then there is no need to be afraid of the journalist.
We constantly clamour for change in our society but refuse to accept the fact that age-old dogmas, beliefs and practices may have to give way to new paradigms. Change has only come to societies where the citizens will it. It may be as a result of too much of such closeness of journalists to the executive arm of government, coupled with other factors that this new practice of citizen journalism is flourishing in Nigeria.
The advent of the internet and independent/alternative media have ensured that Nigerian citizens can now practice their own journalism from where ever they are, Mr Sowore who conducted the said interview is one of the many Nigerian citizen journalists, who are trying their best to fill the void, and make a difference, something that establishment journalists have failed to do. Desperate times indeed demand desperate measures, and if one of such measures is to trick Gbenga Obasanjo into spilling the beans on the presidents men, then so be it.
President Richard Nixon of America wouldnt have resigned if the likes of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Watergate fame were only concerned with maintaining the trust and confidence of their friends in government.
There are also other cases we may look at here, for the sake of argument. Ryan Parry, a Daily Mirror reporter in the UK working undercover used false pretences in 2003 to secure employment as a footman in Buckingham Palace; he did this successfully for 2 months and exposed the flaws in the security system at the palace. His effort was commended and led to the improvement of security protocols at the palace, there was no condemnation of the methods he employed to break the story, because it was in the public interest.
Also Mark Daly, a BBC undercover reporter joined the Manchester police force with the sole aim of exposing racism in the police force, and for eight months filmed his colleagues secretly. The final report (The Secret Policeman) caused a big scandal in the UK and led to the resignation of at least 6 police officers who were caught in the act, Mr Daly went on to receive a human rights award. The only people that questioned Mr Dalys methods were the politicians and those in the establishment who had a lot at stake, like they say, the guilty are afraid.
It was also disappointing reading Reuben Abati, a seasoned journalist and Chairman of the editorial board of the Guardian Newspaper baiting The News magazine and Mr Sowore (a graduate of geography) to investigate further, hear him in his own words; I now challenge them to go a step further and investigate the allegations made in that famous interview, and check whether Gbenga Obasanjo is also covered by the defence of truth. The public will like to know more for example about the Pentascope deal.
Meanwhile, Mr Sowore lives in far away New York, The Rutam House offices of the Guardian Newspaper is in Oshodi – Lagos, you may now begin to wonder what Mr Abati and his cub – reporters discuss during their morning editorial meetings, or is it a case of lack of resources or lack of will? Why cant he send some of his many reporters to conduct the remaining investigations, and then scoop it, as that will also bring glory to the news organisation, which once claimed to be the flagship of journalism practice in Nigeria?
Or maybe they still prefer the armchair journalism style that one of my journalism lecturers, Dr Callix Udofia used to describe as he said, she said, choosing instead to feed off the many contributions and efforts of citizen journalists on Nigerian internet sites which the establishment journalists subtly deride.
Not surprisingly, Mr Abatis analysis of the interview continues to generate mixed reactions, alongside the original interview on internet forums and pepper soup joints, in one of such forums, a pundit went as far as alleging that Mr Abati has chosen to pitch his tent and loyalty where his mouth is, and that since his other job is emceeing events for the rich and mighty, he wouldnt want to tinker with such a secure and regular revenue stream, as against Sowore whose exposé writing will not in any way affect his day job working with catholic charity organisations in New York.
With all due respects to his past journalistic accomplishments but Levi Obijiofors comments regarding the said interview passes him off as a creature from the past and an enemy of progress. Hear him; The opinions expressed in that interview were clumsy and in bad taste because never before has the nation experienced the son of a sitting president expressing, on the pages of the print media, personal opinions that were designed to pour scorn on the image of his fathers deputy, and other serving public officers in the country.
Maybe someone needs to remind Mr Obijiofor what generation we are in, this is the information age, the age of individual freedom, liberty and public welfare. Why look for precedents or lack of it to justify Gbengas actions?
According to Mr Obijiofor Journalists who engage in unethical conduct are usually tried by a committee set up by the relevant press council. In this regard, Gbenga Obasanjo might consider lodging an official complaint with the Nigerian Press Council or the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). Mr Obijiofor is already assuming the position of both jury and judge.
His analysis is more pathetic than Mr Abatis because he spoke from the two sides of the mouth, questioning both Gbengas character and motives, and at the same time attacking Mr Sowore with the same ethics argument. But in so doing, he fell flat on his face because the Sowore that he is recommending to the NUJ to be sanctioned is neither a journalist, nor a member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), he is a citizen journalist, citizen journalists operate without borders just like the Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders). So how does he expect NUJ to sanction somebody that does not operate within its scope?
The Sowore/Gbenga Obasanjo interview is only an eye opener and an indication of the sign of things to come, because as the idea of citizen journalism catches on more in Nigeria, more and more Nigerians will begin to feel so empowered to pick up their pens and keyboards and write about the issues that affect them the most, there is no longer any fear about the mainline media refusing to publish such alternative views because the independent internet websites are there to give such views a right of place.
What really should concern these two veteran journalists – Mr Obijiofor and his colleague Mr Abati are the ways to improve the working conditions of the Nigerian journalist, so as to adequately empower them to be able to continue to live up to societal expectations in an increasingly changing and globalized world, if not, the activities of citizen journalists like Sowore may cause their honourable profession to become increasingly irrelevant in Nigeria. Casting an inward look on the state of the journalism profession in Nigeria is very much desirable now.
Gbenga Obasanjo in the said interview remarked thus; One day, I was at Abeokuta with the Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniels; these press guys came in and started asking hard questions. The moment they were served with food, they left their scrap papers and rushed the food. Of course the next day, their reports were very shiny. Thats the way it goes over here. The press boys are a hungry bunch.
In their commentaries, Reuben Abati broached lightly on this serious indictment of the journalism profession while Levi Obijiofor did not even touch it at all. Mr Abatis answer to Gbengas allegation seem to have been made from the corner of a victim-The sad thing about journalism is that all kinds of persons have ideas about it, since in any case it is a profession into which anyone can dabble and start claiming authority. This remark has hardly addressed the crises facing the Nigerian journalist today raised by Gbengas comments.
While the debate about what is in the public interest continues, it must also be pointed out that people who declare themselves eligible to rule, are at the same time accepting the fact that a thin line will separate their private and public lives. Their various activities become news, rightly and wrongly, they know this from day one as it is the nature of the game. Goldfish has no hiding place, especially rotten goldfish. The appetite of the public and their expectations in this Big Brother age is limitless; such can only be satisfied by full citizens involvement in a vibrant media landscape and not a docile one.
In recognition of the UK publics insatiable desire and appetite for information about their government, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his government in addition to the usual information flow and exchanges with the Whitehall and 10 Downing street press corps recently experimented with a novel concept, they allowed Channel 4 black female presenter (June Sarpong) to follow the Prime Minister for 24 hours to capture a day in the life of a British Prime Minister. The documentary will be aired on the 30th of January 2006.
Would our leaders in Nigeria ever agree to such a programme, or do they still have things to hide?
January 2006. firstname.lastname@example.org
Uche Nworah is freelance writer, lecturer and brand strategist. He studied communications arts at the University of Uyo, Nigeria and graduated with a second class honours degree (upper division). He also holds an M.Sc degree in marketing from the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus and obtained his PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education) from the University of Greenwich where he is currently enrolled as a doctoral candidate. His articles have been published by several websites and leading Nigerian newspapers. He received the ChickenBones Journalist of the Year award in 2006.
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy
This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literarySchool Library Journal
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 15 January 2006 / update 7 January 2012