On Monday, December 13, 2015, Sahara Reporters published a supposed news item with the headline “Governor Udom Emmanuel in desperate move to bribe Appeal Court Justices to prevent re-run election in Akwa Ibom State.” That piece was not just speculative and lacking in truth but sensational and intended to burnish the perceptions of its authors.
The cleverly concocted piece, which married routine events with the imaginations of the authors, detailed an assumed plot by some respected politicians in Akwa Ibom State, in connivance with certain revered Justices at the Court of Appeal, to ensure that the election of His Excellency, Mr.Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, as the governor of Akwa Ibom State is upheld.
The report, which is a deliberately distorted version of events surrounding the presence of certain Justices of the Court of Appeal in Akwa Ibom State early this month, is intended to whip up sentiments and arouse public suspicion against both the Akwa Ibom State Government and the respected Justices. It is so unfortunate that certain persons could embark on such demonic enterprise without considering its impact on their targets.
Quoting “high profile sources,” Sahara Reporters did not only state that Governor Emmanuel is determined to use federal allocations to the State to embark on the assumed act of corruption;but carelessly alleged that the phantom project is spearheaded by Senator Effiong Bob, described as “a two-time senator from Akwa Ibom State, a senior lawyer and a chieftain of the PDP.”
The same report stated that Bob “is said to be close to many Justices of the Court of Appeal and senior members of the judiciary in Nigeria some of who were his colleagues at the Nigeria Law School, Lagos, in 1984.”
Just for the sake of an argument, when did it become an offence to have classmates and be a part of Old Students Re-union? When did it become illegal for a lawyer of 31 years post-call standing to know people in the judiciary? What makes Sahara Reporters to assume that such a relationship would always result in lawless acts by the parties involved?
While it has never been Senator Bob’s tradition to react to issues in the media, this case is an exception. It can only be left to the imagination what the sponsors of this bundle of lies, disguised as journalism, stand to gain by dragging Senator Bob’s name and that of the respected Justices of the Court of Appeal into an issue that only exists in their imagination.
Yes, Senator Bob was present at the wedding of Justice Ita Mbaba’s daughter on December 3; and he had good reasons to be there. Apart from both being senior members of the legal profession, both are elders of Uyo Senatorial District which Bob represented at the Senate. Justice Mbaba was a Judge of the State High Court when Senator Bob was the Attorney General of the State.They have come a long way together.
The Distinguished Senator only attended the church service at Qua Iboe Church along Abak Road in Uyo and neither went for the wedding reception nor was at any imaginary meeting at a hotel in Uyo where Sahara Reporters assumed he, alongside others, met with the Justices of the Court of Appeal.
For the avoidance of doubt, none of the Justices mentioned in that report is a member of the Appeal Court Panel currently handling the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election case. In addition, none of the Justices mentioned in that report as Senator Bob’s classmates was at the wedding.
So, why would Senator Bob arrange a meeting between Justices who were not at the wedding and Governor Udom Emmanuel who, in the fertile imagination of Sahara Reporters, knelt down to beg people who have no role whatsoever to play in what happens to him next? Do Sahara Reporters and its sponsors understand the negative impact of its fabricated falsehood on the career and reputation of the people mentioned in that story? Is this what speculative journalism is about?
The hotel mentioned by these political propagandists is equipped with close circuit television cameras. It would be in the interest of Sahara Reporters’ credibility for them to play to the world the video footage of the events that unfolded in that hotel—how Senator Bob, the Governor and the mentioned Justices at least entered into the hotel where Governor Emmanuel reportedly knelt down to beg the Justices.
Despite this failed attempt by Sahara Reporters to stand truth on its head in celebration of falsehood, Senator Bob’s respect for journalists and ethical journalism still remains intact. He believes that freedom of expression must not be tampered with but that a line must be drawn between political falsehood and sound journalism.
It amounts to sheer insanity for anybody to use the globally cherished freedom of expression as an avenue to trample upon the rights and integrity of other people. Dragging names of innocent people in the mud just to score political points is both criminally and morally unacceptable. Media organisations must understand, in the words of Israel Scoble, that, your credibility is like virginity; once you lose it, it’s impossible to regain it.
**ANIETIE AKPAN IS THE SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO SENATOR EFFIONG BOB