Journalism, power, and Mu’azu Magaji Dansarauniya - By: Suleiman A. Suleiman | Dailytrust

Journalism, power, and Mu’azu Magaji Dansarauniya

Mu’azu Magaji Dansarauniya
Mu’azu Magaji Dansarauniya

Last Thursday, I hosted an episode of the Daily Politics program on Trust TV, the most recent offering to the public on the Media Trust stable. As is mostly the case, I had two guests and we discussed the topic: “The politics of fuel subsidy in Nigeria”, following the federal government’s abrupt u-turn on this most vexatious policy issue in Nigerian governance. One of the guests was Engineer Muazu Magaji Dansarauniya, an oil and gas engineer, a politician and a former Commissioner for Works in Kano State.

Shortly after 9 pm and about fifteen minutes after the programme aired live on TV, I received a call from the other guest, Malam Ahmed Sajoh, a public affairs analyst, chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Commissioner for Information in Adamawa State. Sajoh told me that Magaji had just been arrested by the police and taken to the Utako station, a location not too far from the offices of the Daily Trust newspaper where the interview held.

I was beyond shock and wondered how anyone would be arrested just after appearing on my programme? I had never met Magaji before that night, did not know much about him and the programme itself was not meant to inflame passions without substance, which is my view of most political journalism in the country. As the name implies, the programe is designed to provide in-depth analysis of issues around politics, policy and governance in Nigeria and around the world but in the same measured yet serious tone with which I try to write in these pages.

What we prize above all is serious political education through sober but informed analysis. Many important politicians of the ruling and opposition parties have appeared on the programme, including former governors, ministers and ambassadors, as well as journalists, lawyers, academics and people with civil society backgrounds, depending on the topic of the day. It is a sort of TV version of this column, not the anger and bluster that characterise much political programming on TV in Nigeria. Yet, it is a programme in which we take guests to task and try to ask searching questions about politics, policy and governance. Above all, the programme values free speech and diverse opinions expressed in mature and enlightened language.

In fact, I often tell guests that they are free to hold and express their opinions about anything and anyone, provided they support their positions with evidence or sound logic, and it is my job to call them out when they don’t. In short, having a guest arrested after appearing on the programme is the last thing I would expect.  

More importantly, on the programme for that day specifically, Magaji was invited mainly because of his technical expertise as an oil and gas engineer, who worked at Shell for many years. Both he and Sajoh spoke not as APC politicians but as analysts. To the best of my knowledge, they didn’t say anything misleading, divisive, controversial, let alone defaming. Magaji in particular provided very intelligent technical insights into the workings of the oil industry in Nigeria and globally. So I could not understand why he would be arrested shortly after the program.

My consultations with Sajoh and reporters in our newsroom made it clear to me shortly afterwards that Magaji’s arrest by the police had nothing to do with his featuring on Daily Politics. It appears that he has long been involved in some political skirmish with His Excellency, the Governor of Kano State, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje. I also found that Magaji was a former ally of Governor Ganduje, in whose government he worked as a commissioner. After falling out with Ganduje, however, he moved to the faction of Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, himself a former governor and leading member of the ruling APC in the state.

One informant told me that Magaji “has been a thorn in the flesh of Ganduje” since falling out with him, using social media to criticise the government of which he was once a part. As  I write, Magaji has since been arraigned in a Kano Magistrate court on allegations of “breach of peace, intentional insult and defamation of character” over a picture of Ganduje he allegedly posted on social media.

As Daily Trust reported during the weekend, citing the governor’s lawyer, Adekunle Taiye Falola, Magaji “Posted a picture portraying our client (Ganduje) as an immoral and ungodly man in an extra-marital affair with a strange woman whose face appeared in the said picture”. The picture, the lawyer, said, “Had been widely circulated by the suspect (Magaji) on several social media platforms, in a brazen attempt to assassinate the character, goodwill, good name and image of our client, the first citizen of Kano State, which he built for several decades in civil service and in frontline politics in Nigeria”.

Now, as a journalist, I know that defamation of character against anyone is a serious matter, let alone against a sitting governor of a state. So if Ganduje feels strongly enough to go to court over a picture someone posts of him on social media, then, for sure, let him and the person have their day in court. But there is one fundamental thing Ganduje should understand about the nature of political power, about how to use or abuse it and about the role the media plays in the acquisition and use of it, by those who have it and those who seek it alike, in general, and in the specific context of Kano politics.

First of all, those who have been exalted by Allah should remain in their exalted position rather than stoop to pick up fights with their political ‘un-equals’, in a manner of speaking. It is Ganduje who is the executive governor of Kano State, not Magaji, and it is hard to see how much political harm Magaji or any other critic can do to a governor already serving his final term in office. There are millions of people, in Kano and beyond, who believe Ganduje has done well as governor. Nothing Magaji or any other critic say would dissuade such people. There are also many others who believe differently and such people do not need Magaji’s social media posts whatever guise it takes.

Indeed, it is in the nature of unequal political fights that the weaker opponent tends to have more advantage precisely because the more powerful side gives them attention. The most powerful resource Magaji has against someone like Ganduje is not Magaji’s own intellectual or polemical resources, not his allies or social media. His most powerful resource is Ganduje’s attention. The more the governor pays attention, the more powerful he gets. It is what got him to this level in the first place. In this vein, Ganduje can borrow a leaf from President Buhari who generally does not bother about people he knows cannot stand up to him in any way other than in the context of our democracy. The powerful must use their power sparingly, precisely because that is the most effective way to wield power. A word is enough for the wise.

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