If you have not heard about Philip Knightley, I suggest you read his book entitled The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth-Maker. The book has documented how truth is suppressed in times of war by politicians, the military and journalists who are ready to mislead the public. The First Casualty provides an account of how such distortions occurred from the Crimea war, Vietnam, Falklands, Gulf War, the war on Afghanistan to the war on Iraq.
While the Focus of Knightley’s book is more on the wars waged by the western imperial powers, compromising truth is at the heart of other conflicts courtesy of the media. In the build up to the war on Iraq, when the Bush administration was desperate for evidence that will be used to convince the American public about the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein over the existence of weapons of mass destruction, or mass deception as Scott Ritter will call it, some journalists were recruited to write fabricated stories about WMDs in Iraq. Judith Miller, who was a correspondent for the New York Times and a friend of Ahmad Challabi led that propaganda. As explained by one of the leading media critics in the US, Robert W McChesney, Judith Miller’s stories in the New York Times were used by the Bush administration as evidence to attack Iraq.
After it appeared that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the New York Times had to publish an apology to its readers for failing in its watchdog responsibility. I look forward to the day when Nigerian newspapers will offer such an apology especially looking at how the ongoing state of insecurity has been sectionalized, ethnicised or more aptly, Jonathanised.
So when I read the article written by General Andrew Azazi in the Washington Times earlier in the year, calling for American support in Nigeria’s crises, the first thing that came to mind was the Judith Miller New York Times propaganda strategy, and this time rather than coming from a journalist, it is from the heart of the Nigerian security services. What is more surprising is that the National Assembly does not see the imperative of inviting General Azazi to explain the motive behind writing such an article in the Washington Times.
Recent reports on how Nigerian security forces who are meant to restore peace and order in Kano, but ended up brutalizing and dehumanizing the residents, and then denying such atrocity is an example of how truth is the first casualty of conflict. An elderly friend from Maiduguri recently told us the story of how some security forces allegedly detonate explosions in the city, yet file a report blaming the militants. When you analyze the opinion piece written by Andrew Azazi in the Washington Times, and his recent statement that the state of insecurity in Nigeria is related to the PDP zoning arrangement, you know that somewhere the truth has suffered a heavy blow. When Henry Okah blamed the president for the October 2010 Independence Day bombing in a South African court, and the media treated the story like the stealing of a village goat, where people shout for few hours and the following day move to their farms and forget about what happened, you know that somewhere the truth had been compromised.
Unfortunately we have not seen the end of this drama. It is unfortunate that so many lives have been lost, others injured, children orphaned, women widowed. Yet this is not enough to make all those involved in this imbroglio to understand that what is at stake in the current state of insecurity in Nigeria are the lives of innocent people.
But as we have seen with other conflicts, whether in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Liberia or Sierra Leone, one day the truth will be exposed, and justice will be done whether here in this world or in the world to come.
*Dr. Yusha’u (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES