Let’s dig for the truth | Dailytrust

Let’s dig for the truth

What is the role of the press in the anti-graft war? On the face of it, the question is patently foolish.

We can all see the press performing its very admirable role in the unending war. Its role is to report the evil deeds of the scoundrels that for long seized our country. So, in due obedience to that sacred assignment, our daily newspapers are filled daily with mind-boggling stories of graft and what Nigerians, armed with the conscience of the thief, do to their country. We know because the press knows and reports how the war is waged. Could the press do more?

The question raises an important issue about both the role and the performance of the press in the anti-graft war. It is important for the press to remain relevant in this war. The first thing to note is that the press appears to be stuck in the grove of conventional war reporting. This has reduced it from an active participant in the war to a passive role. It is faithfully present at the feeding trough. It gets fed and regurgitates the information to the ignorant public.

The anti-graft war, as every knows, is an unending war. The bad guys have never been defeated; they show no signs of giving up their evil deeds even for the irresistible promise of an expensive piece of real estate in heaven.  In a perverse sort of miracle, their tribes increase and their daring increases. And thus, they steal more; they accumulate more and they make honesty a vice and dishonesty a virtue in our country, the second most religious country in the world. India holds the ace, in case you did not know.

I wish to suggest that the time has come for the press to re-assess its role in this war to, at least, get out of the rut of discharging its routine role of informing the public. Perhaps, we should address the question: what should be the role of the press in the anti-graft war? Its role is both critical and fundamental. It goes beyond reporting what EFCC gives out. Whatever role the press carves out for itself would be necessarily limited by the fact that it is not its duty to arrest or prosecute those whose fingers are dripping with palm oil. But its capacity to interrogate institutions in the anti-graft war is not impaired by any laws I know of in the land. The press has both the constitutional and professional duty to roam freely out of the box, armed with the most potent weapon in its arsenal: investigative reporting.

It seems to me that because the press has not asked the right questions all these years about corruption, we still do not really know the truth about corruption in our country. Still, everyone recognises it as the cankerworm in the wooden edifice of governance in the land. We recognise it as the root cause of our arrested national progress and development. We see its damning effect on everything we hold both cheap and dear. But what really is the truth about it? It is easy, from what we see of the information given out by EFCC that the corrosive effect of corruption is undeniable. Would that alone constitute the truth about this cankerworm that has seen the unceremonious end of governments?

Former President Goodluck Jonathan once said that corruption was exaggerated. In other words, if it was any consolation, we need not believe everything EFCC dishes out about corruption in high places. Or, to put it another way, it is not as bad as everyone thought. Can we accept that as the truth because it had the imprimatur of the president? He may be right and he may be wrong but we do need some empirical evidence to establish the truth. Given the state in which we are, we are all tarred with the same black brush.

I can find no better national institution with the inherent capacity to dig into the truth about corruption than the press. The freedom of information act should prove helpful here. The the dockets of the various courts in various parts of the country are filled with tens of anti-graft charges filed by the EFCC against those it has fingered as the foot soldiers of corruption. Once the commission puts the case before the courts, it appears to be satisfied that it has done its duty. How many of us have any ideas about the number of EFCC cases pending against former state governors? The press should carry on from where the commission begins to dither. Indeed, the press should treat all EFCC information as both background information and a tip off. It should use the information to dig for the truth; the truth may help free the accused but the consolation is that it would serve the end of justice.

Things might have improved since Ibrahim Magu took over as chairman of the commission but when the commission based its prosecution on investigation rather than evidence, it took advantage of public suspicion and sentiments about corruption among our public officers to damage, in most cases, the reputation of some individuals. Under chairman Ibrahim Lamorde, EFCC was in the habit of criminalising legitimate contracts awarded by state governors. The commission totalled the cost of these contracts and the unfortunate former big man was taken to court on charges of pocketing all that money. If the commission slaps anyone with 154 corrupt offences arising from 154 contract awards, it should interest the press. The press has a duty to protect the innocent just as it has a duty to afflict the guilty. I know this would require attitudinal change on the part of the press. I would be the first to admit that this would take a minor miracle.

The press should take up the challenge of looking into institutions that have been repeatedly accused of corruption. The judiciary readily comes to mind here. It should be possible for the press to interrogate this second leg in our three-legged system of government. Today, many Nigerians believe that the temple of justice reeks of dog poop. Perhaps, the truth is exaggerated; perhaps, the truth is even worse than what we know so far. There are some elements in the judiciary who cherish the good image and the integrity of the judiciary. I believe such men would welcome the press digging in and unearthing the truth, the real truth about the depth of corruption in the system.

These are not mean challenges but if the press continues to ignore them and limit itself to what is available at the feeding trough, we would not be any wiser about the truth.

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