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Rumour Mill, Quackery, Lies And Fake News: The Story Of Sahara Reporters, By Bilyaminu Kong-Kol

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The objective of communication is, indisputably to attain a desired result; definitely for it to serve the purpose for which it is designed, intended or planned, positive or negative.

Communication has been perhaps the most important aspect of human and social existence even during the primitive age. Therefore, care must be taken to preserve its sanctity and values and that demands that the content being pushed out is not distorted or cooked, espousing the public good and sometimes truthfully exposing wrongdoings in the society.

A medium which hurts, destroys people and elicits growling phone calls and libel suits has little chance of survival. Ethically, objectivity, fairness, sticking to the facts, weighing facts against truths and demanding the other side are hallmarks of good reportage. One of the dictums is that as reporters you should not LIE; it should not be the figment of the imagination of the organization.

The Sahara Reporters team has crafted a different set of canons for its recruits; their specialty, to say the least, is taking the frontier of reporting away from facts to the inglorious realm of groundless speculation and dementia. It is an absurdly false and characterless brand of gutter and blackmail journalism; a pack of chatterboxes and clamps whose stock in trade is falsehoods, obnoxious and villainous “beer parlour’’ gossips.

By constantly waging wars against those in authority and vilipending them, the online medium is gradually tightening the noose around its neck as purveyor of fake news and propaganda.

At best Sahara- Reporters’ variant of journalism is no-par-value as against evidence-based, factual, authenticated and verified reports of a credible medium. The nontradable products of the medium are fertile grounds for a classical study of an abuse of the new media and its irresistibility by gullible few who are wont to be rather quick jn swallowing their churn-outs hook, line and sinker and disregarding rebuttal or apologies by such errant media.

Unlike a renowned restaurateur with wide ranging traditional clientele who are pernickety, the likes of Sahara Reporters are piffling, pigheaded and higgledy-piggledy. The dysfunctional aspect of their reportage is fast becoming a phenomenon contrived mainly to destroy, damage reputation and integrity built over the years all in a bid to get rich quick extortionately. In the absence of any regulation or regulatory body or union, the only option is to approach the court to checkmate this errancy and miscreants in journalists’ toga whose watchword is publishing dishonesty, malicious, repulsive, contemptible and loathsome reports.

They continue to relish in it because the wheel of justice for libel and defamation cases is supposedly slow as most cases are not expeditiously tried – taking several years to serve justice. The question is: How many people who have consumed the fake news ab initio will ever get to read the judgment obtained against such errant medium or media? Even apologies are taken with a pinch of salt !

Since most media are near shutdown or distressed with zero-assets, damages to the tune of millions can’t be settled by them while they resort to out-of-court settlement and getting monarchs and personages to intervene, typical of the miscreants they are. Sahara Reporters as a medium is in and out of court with fusillade of lawsuits and it may just be adding to the long list inadvertently.

The speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, ex-Lagos State Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode, Ogun State Government, the Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele even Nigeria’s Presidency have had to refute their stories time and again with some of them ending up in litigation.

Sadly, there is character or profession in Sahara Reporters that can act as institutional gatekeeper to checkmate these inanely, insubstantial and irritatingly silly bush telegraphs, spreading gossips swiftly without restraint. It would have been better for the medium to go back to the medieval and primitive method of communication by words of mouth or gongs or drumbeats that can be denied or disowned.

A litany of some of the fake news published by Sahara Reporters include: In March 2020 – Sahara Reporters published a report that the Government IT clearinghouse, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) received one billion naira from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on the orders of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.

According to Sahara Reporters it was intended for a “digital learning scheme”.

NITDA has maintained it is not promoting and has never promoted any programme with the title “Digital Learning Scheme” and has therefore never received any sum from the NCC for this phantom project or any other project.

NITDA in strong terms publicly and unequivocally denied the false report and has challenged Sahara Reporters to publish proof. Till date the media house is yet to respond.

In 2018: Sahara Reporters in a report said that a former minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode’s two-year old union with wife Precious Chikwendu had allegedly “hit the rocks and threatening to explode in dramatic fashion”.

“We wish to put it on record that there is absolutely no an iota of truth in any part of that story and it is nothing but fake news” the minister said in a statement.

“As a matter of fact, it is a total fabrication put together by a desperate and vicious media house that seeks to destroy the lives of every member of the Fani-Kayode family.

The wife, Precious Chikwendu, also came out to accuse Sahara Reporters of publishing falsehood and asked the media house to apologize.

The couple is still together and both had triplets last year. Again, Sahara Reporters is yet to apologize for publishing fake news.

Also in a report fraught with lies and embarrassment, the online medium alleged that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, purchased a multi-million Naira Abuja mansion for his son who recently got married.

Malami described the report as ‘fabricated allegations’ that had become the trade of his traducers. The report also alleged that the Attorney-General was planning “a second leg” of wedding for his son and had allegedly chartered private jets to convey guests to the purported venue. The minister had responded, saying the son does not even reside in Abuja.

“It is one of such libelous publications of which the newspaper is commonly known for, the AGF said. It targets a selected few for unsubstantiated fabricated allegations while overlooking more serious reasonable allegations visibly against its favoured sectional kinsmen.”

The AGF challenged anyone with evidence on his alleged purchase of the said mansion and charter of private jets to make such public.

“Who is the vendor of the purported house bought for my son in Abuja at N300m? Where is it located? Where are the title documents?” he queried.
On the alleged chartered jets: “It is common knowledge that I have neither a father nor mother anywhere in Nigeria to convey to Kano for the wedding.”

“Who then am I using the chartered flight to convey? Which jets are chartered? Who paid for the charter? Through which means was the money paid?” he further queried. Till date, Sahara is yet to publish any evidence to support the story.

Sahara Reporters is on a mission: engaging in needless and self-destructive controversies to tarnish the image of public officers and citizens who are resolute in executing an agenda without kowtowing to powerful vested interest groups who resort to mudslinging when their demands are not met.

Quackery appears to be the vision, mission and centrestage of Sahara Reporters publishing devoid of decorum. In this time and age, no sound professional journalist worth his salt should sit down after quaffing some beer to do a story unmindful that there are consequences. Typing out squiggles from the reporter’s notebook, if not from the head, on the computer represents lives and the reporter and the organization should be conscious of what they do those lives.

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Opinion

An ode to General Ibrahim on Unijos honour – By Toby Prince

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Unpretentiously, commitment and hard work in public service pays handsomely. Feasts of garlards brighten up your day from unexpected quarters. It confers on the recipient, more sense of responsibility and the patriotic feeling of self fulfilment to really hear resonations of eulogies vibrate everywhere.

The honouree is usually excited because humanity has found a breather through him and society covertly and overtly appreciates his sacrifices. There is nothing more profoundly enduring like contributing to the elevation and development of one’s country. Nation- building is a task for everyone, and obligatory to perform in everyone’s small space.

This is the proud and enviably recognized posture of the Director General, National Youth Service Corps ( DG- NYSC), Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim. Sentiments apart, Gen. Ibrahim is a loveable personality, not only by his innately gifted bundle of talents, but his rare capacity to utilize it for public benefits of mankind.

Someone once described Gen. Ibrahim as a soldier of the finest breed, an intellectual/ academic don, classic administrator, innovator, reformer, goalgetter and an amazing pacesetter. Nigerians have attestably encountered Gen. Ibrahim in these neons in the various military establishments where he has served. Now, as DG- NYSC, Gen. Ibrahim has marketed himself in spellbinding excellence on the job.

Therefore, a few days back, at an event, his alma mater, the University of Jos (UNIJOS) Alumni Association feted this crack military officer, with an award of excellence in Abuja. The association accurately assessed and endorsed the decision in recognition of Ibrahim’s tremendous achievements as the 18th DG- NYSC in barely two years on the saddle.

The plethora of ecomia on the NYSC boss yawned loudly with the exceptionally positive feats and accomplishments of Gen. Ibrahim as head of the scheme. It is palpable that his choice for the award was not a mistake.

Of grippling relevance, the Chairman, Unijos Alumni, Abuja Chapter, Mr. Joseph Chukwu uttered something unique about the persona of Gen. Ibrahim as the alumni association mulled with the idea of an award to him, a man of solid credentials and unbeatable records of performance anywhere. Chukwu exclaimed to the audience that Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim’s name came topmost and got thundering ovations when he was nominated for the award.

Its difficult for Nigerians in any congregation to collectively agree and endorse anyone for honor without some protest voices. But Ibrahim broke the jinx in an association comprising professionals of different ilk, ideological persuasions and creeds. This general acceptability in itself is the first big plus and loud testimony of his credible performance in public service.

Did the University of Jos (UNIJOS) Alumni Association actually make a mistake by conferring on Gen. Ibrahim the prestigious award of excellence and a good ambassador of the varsity? Has Ibrahim really lived up to public expectations in his assignment as NYSC boss by repositioning the scheme to the status of a focal catalyst in the overall quest of Nigeria’s national development?

The answers are handy from an independent inquest of Gen. Ibrahim’s leadership of the NYSC scheme. Its needless to trumpet that Gen. Ibrahim met an NYSC scheme which was grossly underutilised, with potentials of serving corps members largely unexplored!

But he dexteriously turned around the fortunes of the scheme and changed dormant narratives to now a vibrant and beneficial scheme for serving corps members and their post – service years. Even public perception of the scheme has positively changed. Gen. Ibrahim has also excitingly laid the path of achieving finanacial independence for the scheme which will assume full effect in the nearest future. He is already partially successful in this regard.

Therefore, Ibrahim has upgraded the existing NYSC’s Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneural Development programme ( SAED) and ensured the one month training in different vocations impact on the quest for more knowledge on all corps members. Some of them actually begin to utilize such skills in their places of Primary Assignment ( PA).

And thinking out of the box, Gen. Ibrahim has gone ahead to partner with multiple financial institutions to empower corps members with start-up capitals towards self- reliance through personal investments in the post- service years. Today, Nigeria is a nation, where some corps members have become employers of labor after the mandatory service year because of the skills through SAED and the financial backing of some institutions partnering with NYSC to finance their business proposals. The Central Bank of Nigera (CBN), Bank of Industry (BOI), Heritage Bank, (HB) and Access Bank among others can attest to it. These benefits are a product of Gen. Ibrahim’s leadership ingenuity.

Furthermore, the NYSC boss has accepted, adopted and is implementing President Muhammadu Buhari’s policy and initiatives on agriculture and food security. Similarly, the NYSC under Ibrahim’s guidiance has also partnered agric-based institutions and other organisations to sponsor training of serving corps members in farming techniques, cropping and mechanized agriculture.

Today, the previously moribund NYSC farms across the federation have come up alive and new farm plantations have sprouted. NYSC alone has cultivated over 60, 000 hectares of rice fields as at 2021. The harvested rice is processed for consumption in the scheme’s owned ricemills and the investments are still being consolidated. Undoubtedly, this is an enormous contribution of corps members to food availability in the country .

The NYSC boss is not resting on his oars. Gen. Ibrahim has revitalised NYSC investment ventures across the country, such as garment, bread and table water factories, which are functioning at maximum productivity. They also double as
training avenues for serving corps members.

Its shocking and indeed novel that the NYSC under Gen. Ibrahim has started to generate and remit revenues from these investments into into the federation account. In 2020, the NYSC paid N280 million into FGN coffers and in 2021, a sumptuous sum of over N.5 billion was remitted, with plans to keep increasing its revenue generation.

And the big bang! Gen. Ibrahim has conceptualised and vigorously pursuing the establishment of the NYSC Trust Fund. He is working towards the future. Sensitization campaigns on this initiative have gone virile and received favorable endorsements from a wide spectrum of Nigerians.

When the NYSC Trust Fund comes into fruition, it will provide a wider range of corps members more access to start-up captals to finance their private business ideas as they blissfully exit the year of service to fatherland. The expected impacts of these laudable initiatives in the nearest future are truely tremendous! Gen. Ibrahim truely deserves more than the award of excellence from Unijos alumni, but a national honour.

Prince is a journalist and wrote this piece from Guzape, Abuja.

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Opinion

Who is Afraid of Gov. Yahaya Bello? – By Rotimi Akinsanya

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I have observed with much dismay, the recent drama or altercations between Governor Yahaya Bello (GYB), the youngish, ever-smiling, gap-toothed, cerebral, focused and courageous leader of Kogi state and the anti-graft agency, EFCC over the alleged diversion and secretly stashed N19.33 billion bailout funds for workers salaries released to the state years back.

The EFCC claimed the N19.33 billion was domiciled in a fixed deposit account with Sterling Bank PLC, bearing the imprimatur of “Kogi State Bailout Account.” However, the Kogi State Government has insisted, it has no such accounts domiciled with the bank at the center of the controversy. The narrations make the saga more interesting. But it has placed a heavy burden of clearing the incidental conjectures generated by a tale crafted and circulated by the anti-graft agency.

More intriguing, the EFCC suddenly made a detour by withdrawing the suit filed in court seeking to establish the source and ownership of the about N20 billion bailout funds domiciled in Sterling Bank PLC. I find it completely, incongruent, the EFCC’s multiple explanations of freezing, unfreezing, discontinuation with the case and the return of the said amount to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

I am more scared and suspicious that the EFCC , through its spokesperson, Mr. Willson Uwujaren suddenly expressed the commission’s public disinterest in exposing the source and ownership of the funds, but felt accomplished that it blocked the exit of the funds. Except the EFCC has invented new laws or operating now on the basis of personal discretion, why is it necessary to back out from such a sensitive investigation of a presumed “executive fraud” after the media blitzkrieg on the matter?

Exposure of financial crimes and its sources assist in deterring others. But in this instance, the EFCC wittingly denied Nigeria this opportunity by arm-twisting itself and pleading that the controversies be laid to rest with the CBN’s custody of the money, persuading itself feebly that it “is expedient for the instant suit to be discontinued and the account unfrozen”.

I suspect grandeur hatchet job of some covert political antagonists’ at play against GYB to tarnish his public image. It appears to me these politicians are desperate to portray GYB as a corrupt politician, governor and leader before the Nigerian public since he is seeking the 2023 Presidency of Nigeria.

Can any one of us reasonably imagine that a State Governor could disown such humongous amounts in this period of severe economic crunch? It’s incredible! Ask Rivers State Gov. Nyemson Wike, who instantly claimed ownership of huge sums of monies, in different currencies, the EFCC discovered hidden in a building in Lagos state. He didn’t take a breath before claiming the discovered monies belonged to the people of Rivers state.

Is GYB a different personality? Is he being blackmailed or given a bad name in order to smear his reputation and halt his rising political profile in the race for Aso Rock in 2023? Since Nigerian youths officially adopted GYB as their next President, to continue with the marvelous works of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Kogi Governor’s shadows are shuddering many political camps; penetrating rare places ; receiving frantic endorsements from all stakeholders and the Youths throughout the country. It has caused some extreme anxiety in some persons.

Precisely, GYB’s political outings are causing nightmares to many opponents including traditional politicians and perpetual powermongers in Nigeria. Could it be the reason for the recent attempt to demean his person and administration on the plank of the EFCC?

Methinks, EFCC’s latter conflicting narratives of same incident and its sudden lack of enthusiasm gives more credence to these obvious conspiracy theories against GYB, pointing to his 2023 Presidential ambition as the main target.

Therefore, as a public affairs analyst, I am compelled and indeed, finds it expedient to add my voice to the discourse that someone, somewhere is afraid of the rising profile of Gov. Yahaya Bello. I can vouch that the EFCC’s baseless hounding of GYB is an apt expression of the morbid fear in some powerful political forces. Certainly, some persons are not comfortable with the 2023 Presidential aspiration of Gov. Yahaya Bello who is being generously called upon to step into Nigeria’s main leadership fabric to continue with the good legacies of President Buhari.

Why I’m I this assertive on this angle? Such huge sums of money deposited with a commercial bank these years would yield amazing interests in millions or even billions of naira. How much did the fix deposit yielded on the account discovered by the EFCC, in addition to the original sum of N19.33 billion? It’s unrealistic that only the deposited money was recovered. Besides, the operationalization of fixed deposit accounts is for a fixed period. EFCC’s backout against the case would have also explained to Nigerians lucid details such as the terminal date of the deposit account where the N19.33 was found. But it declined.

So, the unassailable truth by EFCC’s poor outing is merely to cushion the path for GYB’s detractors who are apparently against his giant strides in the development of Kogi state, in order to frustrate the intervention of investors, development partners and sow a seed of discord between the Governor and the good people of Kogi state, as evidently, “The Kogi State government had disbursed its bailout loans for the purpose of which it was granted as of October 2019.”

We can baselessly drag the personality and reputation of GYB into the murky waters of Nigerian politics. Nonetheless, what is indisputable is his manifest beneficial leadership to the people of Kogi. He has worked hard to make Kogi State one of the most peaceful and devoid of all manner of security threats plaguing other states.

Before his divine rescue mission in the state, Kogi was a haven for appalling armed robberies, kidnappings and an extension camp for Boko Haram terrorists who found the alluring mountains, forests and caves of the confluence state, convenient for habitation. Kogi state served as the transit camp for Boko Haramists and Lokojo State Capital provided the shield in their quest to make an incursion into Southern Nigeria.

For years, the forests of Kogi State were Boko Haram’s chambers for manufacturing Improved Explosive Devices (IEDs) on a large scale, which were exported to other parts of the country. But GYB has positively changed the narrative of insecurity in the state, as no traces of the heinous and violent crimes he inherited are found anywhere in the state now.

I know like most Nigerians, the conducive security atmosphere in Kogi state has promoted agriculture in the state, further amplified by GYB’s active and exceptional support to farmers. He has inspired and supported young Kogites into massive farming through orientation, subsidy inputs, fertilizer supplies, supply of seedlings, ceaseless trainings and mechanization support tools.

It is the success story of Kogi state under GYB these years, in virtually all the sectors. I am not astounded that opponents who initially, (ignorantly though), touted GYB as a failed state leader, are wounded internally and have their outer pride gravely bruised that the Governor has conquered leadership at the state level and scheming to saunter into national limelight with a shot at the Presidency in 2023. It is the only sense I can glean from prodding the EFCC to baselessly bark at GYB.

But such scare tricks are not new to us. Alhaji Adoza Yahaya Bello has done his best for Kogi State. And based on popular demand, those who transverse the length and breadth of Kogi State have called on him to sustain the efforts of the Buhari Presidency. So, we expect dissenting voices and deadly plots in the camp of the opposers as experienced now.

In any case, Nigerian youths who are actively backing GYB for Nigeria’s 2023 Presidency have concluded that the scare tricks employed by detractors are too puerile to derail the popular agenda of the masses. The first stumbling block on GYB’s path to success has crumbled independently. With this sign, those insisting on throwing the proverbial banana peels on his path must be joking and living in self -denial or on some delusional exploits.

Straightforwardly, let me end this analysis by pointing out two scenarios’ likely playing out in this macabre dance. It’s either someone is out to destroy the good reputation of the EFCC by that shameful outing on GYB. Or, some persons are desperate to destroy the country by coming forward to challenge a candidate selected by the Nigerian Youths to fly the flag of the Presidency in 2023 and expectedly, coast victoriously into Aso Rock.

And my honest advice to the antigraft agency is that it must avoid the temptation of chasing shadows in Kogi simply because some persons want to stop Gov. Yahaya Bello, as it won’t work. Such actions should also not be contemplated in any other state or on any other leader, as it is capable of eroding public confidence and credibility in the operations of the EFCC.

Akinsanya wrote this piece from Bariga, Lagos.

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Opinion

The Corp Member as a True National Hero – By Kolawole Abe

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It is the dream of every graduate of tertiary institutions in Nigeria to adorn the NYSC brown Khaki uniform. We have been regaled with tales of how newly deployed corp members wear their attires posing for the cameras and sending them to their parents and loved ones. The feeling is usually ecstatic, and a dream come true.

Parents and guardians are also not left out of the euphoria. You could easily hear parents discussing about their wards deployed for the mandatory youth service year in a loud tone. This is the NYSC, the scheme that has continued to serve the critical purpose of national integration and nation building amongst the teeming youthful population in the country. Welcome to the world of the NYSC, where people from various ethnicity and religion converge pursuant to a common goal in the country’s interest.

I have, on numerous forums, canvassed for improved funding for the operations of the NYSC due to its critical role in the socio-economic development of the country. My position has been hinged on the invaluable role the one year service period plays in the lives of our youths. We should also remember that some youths have, as a result of their engagement in the NYSC, realized their potentials and set out to conquer in their various life endeavours. Some have also met their life partners, while some have been beneficiaries of goodwill from parts of the country they found themselves. And the list goes on.

Beyond all of the above mentioned, I believe that a critical aspect of the NYSC has been neglected for a long time: the corp members themselves. Their sacrifices and efforts in important health, educational and agricultural sectors have not been given adequate recognition.

From NYSC doctors to teachers that are rendering invaluable services in public hospitals and schools to the deployment of corp members during elections in the country. While it is sad that some paid the supreme price in service to the country, it does not by any stretch of imagination diminish the fact that the Corp members are the true national heroes.

One needed to tour rural communities in parts of Nigeria and see the level of bonding exhibited between corp members and members of the host communities. In most cases, despite the language barrier, corp members find a way to interact and live in peace in their host communities.

I dare say corp members live the life of patriots, who leave the comfort of their homes to places, they have not visited before in most instances and blend to their culture and way of life throughout their service year, making contributions to the growth and development of the area.

If this is not an act of patriotism, I don’t know what else to call it. Call it the life of sacrifice. You won’t be wrong too, because we are availed daily with tales of corp members doing exploits in their places of primary assignment. It’s on record that schools have been built, vocational centres erected and a host of other notable projects mainly executed by corp members from their savings and donations from charitable individuals and organizations. Corp members have also been active as first-line responders in times of crisis, as evident in times of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ebola epidemic and cholera outbreaks in some parts of the country.

It is also on record that some communities in Nigeria depend on the services of corp members in their education sector because of the value they bring to the table year in and year out. The list is endless and why every corp member must rise in defence of the NYSC scheme.

Most times, I wonder how the country would have fared without the services of corp members who dot the nook and cranny of the country working tirelessly during their service year. But we can’t all but be grateful that the leadership of the NYSC in recent times has been actively introducing reforms that further empower corps members to be well equipped as entrepreneurs through its skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development programme.

The proposed NYSC Trust Fund would indeed be a game-changer because the full manifestation of the potentials of corp members would be availed the country. And Nigeria would be better for it. I think it is time for every corp member to take their pride in place as true national heroes in the scheme of affairs in the country. Your sacrifices towards a great and better Nigeria are outstanding and appreciated. Needless I say more, the corp member is an embodiment of strength, resilience and dexterity. We must admit and recognize this much in our quest for greatness as a people and as a country.

To all the corp members out there giving their best, I salute your courage in the face of danger; I salute your contributions to the socio-economic development of Nigeria, now and always. And to all prospective corps members, may your road be rough!

Abe is a former PRO of NANS and wrote from Akure.

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