Bible scholars and most Christian faithful are familiar with the story of Apostle Paul, formerly known and addressed as Saul, the most persistent persecutor of Jesus’ disciples who became the most prolific propagator of the Christian faith in his time. According to the biblical account of his conversion, as told in Acts 9:1-19, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee in Jerusalem, swore to wipe out the new Christian church. Acts 9:1 says he was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He procured letters from the high priest, authorising him to arrest any followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus. On the Road to Damascus, Saul and his companions were struck down by a blinding light. Saul heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Saul asked who was speaking, the voice replied: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Saul was blinded. His companions led him into Damascus to a man named Judas. For three days Saul was blind and didn’t eat or drink. Meanwhile, Jesus appeared in a vision to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to go to Saul. Ananias was afraid because he knew Saul’s reputation as a merciless persecutor of the church. Jesus repeated his command, explaining that Saul was his chosen instrument to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. So Ananias found Saul at Judas’ house, praying for help. Ananias laid his hands on Saul, telling him Jesus had sent him to restore his sight and that Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith. Saul ate, regained his strength, and stayed with the Damascus disciples three days. After his conversion, Saul changed his name to Paul.
Before his conversion, Paul, a tent maker and an expert in the legal traditions of the Jews, was known as a Pharisee of Pharisees. No one can describe him better than the way he describes his life before conversion in his Epistle to the Galatians:
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13–14, NIV).
Of the 27 books in the New Testament, at least 13 are traditionally attributed to Paul. In an ironic twist, Paul was later to write an impassioned letter to encourage, strengthen and energise the Ephesian Christians in their faith.
The news of Saul’s conversion must have come as a great relief to the followers of Jesus, just as those who have been following Kadaria Ahmed’s castigation of the media fraternity must have been relieved to see her on Arise TV last week, urging Nigerians to “tell their politicians that it is time to have a bipartisan approach to insecurity, because it is something that is going to consume us. Even now as it is consuming us, we are not asking who is PDP or who is APC. And this continuous politicisation of insecurity, for me, portends a serious danger to Nigeria.”
Had Kadaria exercised this measure of equanimity in her response to the BBC documentary, The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara, it would not have attracted the acerbic reactions it engendered in some quarters. Instead, she assumed the sanctimonious role of an overbearing headmistress upbraiding her pupils for failing to do their homework. “Journalists and now a global media organisation of repute, the BBC, which should know better, are becoming tools for terrorists, even if unwittingly, by amplifying the faces, voices and stories of killers and marauders who are still operating with impunity across Nigeria”, she said.
My initial reaction was “Kadaria again!” when I encountered her sermon on the platform of the Broadcasters Global Forum, a virtual Forum of veteran and serving media professionals in over a dozen countries committed to improving skills and enhancing professional ethics across the world. My mind immediately flashed back to January 2021, when Ms Ahmed lampooned the Nigerian media for what she saw as its role in “enabling ethnic strife” for daring to condemn the escalating scourge of criminal Fulani herdsmen pillaging farmlands, killing, maiming and raping hapless Nigerians across the country. She said then in an epistle tagged ‘My message to the Nigerian Media’: “For sometime now, many of us have thrown away the book on ethical reporting, propelled by emotion, we have betrayed every moral consideration that assigns our noble profession a role so significant we are seen as the last hope of the common man, so much so our jobs are constitutionally protected.”
She then proceeded to liken the role the Nigerian media is playing to a similar role played by the Rwandan media which plunged that country into a genocidal war. She failed or pretended not to know that the 1994 Rwanda genocide, where, in just 100 days, about 800,000 people were killed, was triggered by the Hutu-Tutsi class war, with the Tutsis perceived to have greater wealth and social status as well as favouring cattle ranching over what was seen as the lower-class farming of the Hutus. Kadaria downplayed the Nigerian president’s refusal or inability to effectively manage the country’s ethno-religious diversity, for which the incumbent Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, has been decked with global accolades.
In a rejoinder to her ‘first missionary treatise’, I had urged Ms Ahmed to listen more to the philosophical lyrics of Reggae legends and pay particular attention to the immortal words of Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) that “until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war; until there’s no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained!”
I am not quite sure she did.
In her umbrage at the BBC, she had declared: “The public’s right to know is a sacrosanct tenet of journalists who are not and should not be in the job of censoring news. Finding the balance between that and ensuring media platforms do not provide the oxygen of publicity for terrorists and criminals is not easy, but it is at these difficult junctures that good journalism needs to stand its ground.” She must have patted herself on the back when Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed echoed her sentiments in his own reaction to the BBC documentary. “Media is the oxygen that terrorists and bandits use to breathe. When otherwise reputable platforms like BBC can give their platform to terrorists showing their faces as if they are Nollywood stars, it is unfortunate”, the minister said.
Is it so easy to forget that government actions and inactions, what Barrister Dominic Akhigbe tags ‘ineptocratic’ attitude, triggered the Rwandan genocide and the Nigerian banditry before the media provided the oxygen that fuelled them? I don’t think so. Does anyone hold a contrary opinion to the reality that Nigeria has never witnessed the level of ethno-religious division and economic impoverishment as we are witnessing today? Yet, we hear preachments on patriotism. What kind of patriotism can you preach to hardly and badly paid journalists – empty-stomach patriotism? If one may ask, which came first? Would we be having these breaches if the government/military authorities had not surrendered their platforms to terrorists, bandits and known and unknown gunmen to the extent that known bandits are now publicly crowned community leaders? Chinua Achebe of evergreen literary memory put it succinctly when he said in ‘Arrow of God’, “A man who brings home ant-infested faggots should not complain if he is visited by lizards”.
A number of respondents to Kadaria Ahmed and Minister Lai Mohammed’s lambasting of the BBC felt the same way. US-based Communication professor Farooq Kperogi said, “You would think the government would be contrite and shamefaced. No, they conveniently used former BBC journalist Kadaria Ahmed’s flawed and professionally impoverished article against the BBC as a crutch to threaten sanctions against both the BBC and the Daily Trust for lending some light to the blight of terroristic banditry in Zamfara.”
To renowned Islamic scholar Sheik Ahmad Gumi, the BBC is only a scapegoat. “When a Commander-in-Chief rewards failure with Ambassadorial appointments in a system and a society that records increased attacks, when security agencies cannot even protect Abuja and especially when the Guards Brigade cannot even protect themselves not to talk of the President, then why blaming the media for such failure and ineptitude for reporting it?” he queried.
Broadcast journalism trainer and veteran broadcaster Chukwudi Okolie Ugbaja sees a whiff of misplaced priority in the attack on the BBC: “I would rather we concentrated on what Africa’s leaders have done to harm their nations more than the BBC has. What have and will the Nigerian authorities do about the exposure of sickening impunity from the bandits which the investigation reveals? The author of this article is in effect, fervently wishing that a festering sore does not attract flies.”
Abuja-based public affairs analyst, Dele Elempe, sees Kadaria’s outburst as unprofessional. According to him, “What Kadaria is asking the BBC to do is even unprofessional; that is, gloss over the situation as if in it, we would find solace in a matter that has gotten to our doorsteps. I would rather tell her it is necessary for CNN, Al Jazeera and others to focus on what we call the News Value of this apocalypse to bring to global consciousness that we are being annihilated systematically…” Elempe, like Ugbaja, obviously feels that when you press a sore that requires antibiotic treatment with only hot water, it festers.
Talking about news value, a documentary, according to Channels TV’s veteran broadcaster Deji Balogun, should inform, impact, and galvanise action for change. Certainly, the BBC documentary informed the viewing public about how the terrorists operate. Its impact is still reverberating. But instead of galvanising the authorities to take appropriate action to change the narrative by debriefing the BBC journalist and using the information to combat the terrorists and, possibly, neutralise them, it galvanised Kadaria Ahmed into characteristically disparaging the media.
This is not to say that Kadaria’s intervention totally lacks merit. It is globally recognised that glamorising terrorists can be counter-productive. But she was blatantly disingenuous and sanctimonious in her approach. She drew parallels that amount to false equivalence or comparing apples with guavas. For instance, after the March 2019 mass murder of 50 Muslims by a lone gunman in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed never to say the name of the Christchurch mosque gunman. She said:
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety – that is why you will never hear me mention his name.”
However, that did not stop her from labelling the culprit a terrorist, a criminal and an extremist. In Nigeria, terrorists are given fancy names like bandits and unknown gunmen. It is instructive to note that the prime minister, a Christian, promptly addressed a special meeting of Muslim community leaders in Parliament, opening her speech by using the Arabic greeting “Al-Salaam Alaikum”. Ms Ardern, who had already announced that the nation’s gun laws would be reformed and that the details would be presented within days, assured MPs that the attacker would “face the full force of the law”.
Less than two months later, the Australian culprit, 28-year-old Brenton H. Tarrant, a self-confessed White Supremacist, was charged with 50 counts of murder and 40 counts of attempted murder and with carrying out a terrorist act. What do we have in Nigeria? Self-confessed terrorists are granted amnesty without trial, rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. How many times has the Nigerian president addressed Christian leaders on the ceaseless unprovoked mass murder of their members by terrorists in the past seven years?
The prime minister also called on social media platforms to do more to combat terror after the gunman live-streamed his attack on Facebook. In the case of the BBC documentary, it was not visuals live-streamed by the bandit warlords of Zamfara that the BBC rebroadcast. It sought to unravel the mystery behind the intractable banditry in the state and succeeded where Nigerian government media failed. Media Trust, a Nigerian private media organisation has since been slammed with a hefty fine of 5 million naira, about 12,000 US dollars, for a similar offence.
Invariably, the media will continue to cover insecurity in Nigeria for as long as it persists. It is the BBC and Trust TV today; it could be anyone tomorrow. The questions that must be asked are, how do journalists navigate the landmines between accurately informing the people and avoiding complicity in “propagating terror”? What do they do when efforts to get information from relevant government authorities hit the brick walls of bureaucracy and denialism?
Back to Kadaria’s Arise TV outing, she has condemned the government sanctions saying, “I’m totally against sanctions; I don’t believe in muzzling the press. I don’t believe government should be in the business of trying to threaten media regardless of the mistakes media make. But I also believe media should be able to hold itself accountable. Our job is to hold power accountable.” This sounds very much like the message of Apostle Paul to the Ephesian Christians.
Ms Ahmed has also called on politicians to “go behind the scenes and persuade the president who’s not been well, to go on sick leave for an extended period and allow somebody else to have a go because by his own admission, he’s saying, ‘I’m not too sure there’s anything more I can do’.” She says, “I’m not too sure we will get to election, which is what people are holding on to, hoping that new people will come in. What happens between now and elections? It’s a long period. We’ve never had it so bad and if they (politicians) are not careful, under their watch, we are losing this country.”
True talk, you might say. But some may see this Paulian intervention as damage control. Has Kadaria only just realised that the president is too sick to continue in office? Have scales just fallen off her eyes to see what Nigerians have been seeing and saying for years? When she says she’s “not too sure we will get to election”, should we be worried? Is this her newfound cordial disposition toward the media going to be sustained?
It would not be uncharitable to give her the benefit of the doubt.
From Random Thoughts: A Collection of Essays & Poems by Tony Ekata
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