Saturday, 15 October 2011

Suntai and the rest of us

These days it is easy for anyone to get angry over the slightest provocation. The daily grind of life in our country has made most people – “big and small” – to be on a short fuse. Our politicians are arguably the most harrassed, what with the hassle of winning an election and then maintaining “relevance” in the polity, as well as oiling one’s constituency using tons of currency on a ceaseless basis.

Given this background, perhaps Nigerian journalists would find Governor Danbaba Suntai’s diatribe against them excusable. Suntai (‘Pharm.’ to the uninitiated) last week made his true views about news men known to the world. The Daily Trust reported on October 5, 2011: “Taraba State Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai has said that he hates journalists and never wants to have anything to do with them.”

It was the kind of story that should make media managers (such as Suntai’s energetic information commissioner Emmanuel Bello) scramble to ‘manage the crisis’ through heated denials. So far, mum is the word from Jalingo, which tells me that the 50-year-old pharmacist-turned-politician was not misquoted after all. Well, well, sigh! So, someone out there in Taraba hates us, the pen-pushers. And to think that it is the chief security officer of the state! Are journalists now safe in Taraba? Now don’t bet on it!

The question is: why does His Excellency hate journalists so much? The report quoted him as saying it is “because they publish lies and are used by canny politicians to fight other politicians.” Journalism ethics in Nigeria, according to the governor, “are based on falsehood.”

Hitherto, Suntai used to strike me as a lover of the media, thanks to the efforts of his spin-doctors. Now I cannot say for sure why he showed his “true colours” in such a burst of anger. However, one can risk a guess that his current impression of journalists is a result of some unsavoury encounter with the media in the past. One of which could be his 2007 battle with Danladi Baido.

It will be recalled that Suntai did not participate in the PDP primaries of that year; the party’s candidate, Baido, was substituted with Suntai by the national headquarters of the party after Baido was disqualified two months to the election. In that strange era in our nationhood, any candidate on the ticket of the nation’s ruling party was favoured to “win” an election. With Baido’s backing, Suntai went ahead and won.

Their marriage of convenience did not last, though. What followed was a war of attrition, with the media being one of their major battle-grounds. With Baido accusing Suntai of plotting to kill him, it was an all-out propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the general public. Now, I don’t know who won the media war, but it is easy to surmise that Suntai was able to not only survive the four years of his first tenure but was also able to get re-elected last April. The media helped.

Suntai was also a victim of another war of attrition early in 2009 when a nebulous group, Concerned Indigenes of Taraba State, petitioned President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, as well as the EFCC and the ICPC, accusing him of massive corruption. He was alleged to be a freak for foreign cars, that he was also importing foreigners to replace local workers and that he was inflating contracts for road constructions for self-enrichment. Of course, these charges turned out to be false, concocted by his detractors in order to do him in, especially in the run-up to the 2011 elections. But, again, like the cat with nine lives, he survived.

There could more of such encounters.

Clearly, the governor was bruised, even if psychologically, by such brushes with media propaganda. I will not go into disputes with him except on point of his generalisations. One has heard such claims before, that the enemies of politicians – who must also be politicians – use some journalists against their opponents. However, I make bold to say that it is not all journalists that are used that way. And it is not only a Nigerian thing. The love-hate relationship between politicians and the media is a universal phenomenon which has been a subject of study right from the day journalism – or politics itself – was born.

Ironically, Governor Suntai made his assertion when launching his state-owned newspaper, the Nigerian Sunrise, on October 4. In spite of his chest-thumping that he wouldn’t have sunk public funds into the project if not for the trust he has in the management consultant of the paper, Barrister Danjuma Adamu, the mere act of giving birth to a newspaper showed that, somehow, Suntai believes in the journalism profession. The fact that someone like Adamu exists to earn his respect and trust means that there are many others like the consultant.

I’m also persuaded to believe that Suntai hopes to use the Sunrise one way or the other to advance his own causes. Of course, I wouldn’t expect him to use it against his opponents in the state the way most politicians use the media under their control. If he does that now or in the future when he removes it from state control when he leaves offices, as he vowed to do, then it would be the turn of journalists to hate him in return. But for now, we will continue to regard him as a hostile friend.


Published in BLUEPRINT last Monday

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