By Eze Anaba
I want to make this clear. This piece is not a defence neither is it an apology.Â At the end of the day it might turn out to be a clarification.
Of course I am talking about the now famous trip to Minna by some media executives to chat with former Military President General Ibrahim Babangida. The trip has been made famous following allegations that the General gave the â€˜malleableâ€™ editors 10million Naira to support his presidential bid.
The charge did not state if the 10 million was for all the editors or each of the editors. Before I give further details on the money issue, let me give a little background to the trip.
When I was invited to a chat with the former military President ahead of his 69th birthday and that he would also seize the opportunity to talk about his Presidential bid, I thought it was a good opportunity to assess the man up close and ask him some serious questions to which I believe Nigerians would want answers.
It would also be the first time I would be meeting him. I cleared the trip with my bosses in the office and on Saturday headed for Minna via Abuja. On arrival in Abuja there were at least two coaster buses and some cars loaded with journalists that headed to Minna.
The trip to the Generalâ€™s territory took us the better part of two hours. We got to his abode at about 9.30pm and he came in some minutes later. The small hall he used for the meeting was crawling with journalists both from the print and electronic media.
Please contrast that with names of eight journalists that were mentioned. When he came he brought out a sheet of paper and started reading. I remember telling a colleague that sat beside me that the man meant business.
After reading his text his minders said it was a â€˜no hold barred sessionâ€™ Then questions started flying. To be fair to the man he tried to answer all the questions posed at him and I can tell you some were very difficult and uncomfortable indeed. For instance he was asked what he forgot in Aso Rock that he wants to go back and pick?
He was asked how he wants to combat corruption that he democratised when he was a military ruler. To the first he talked about good governance that is severely lacking in the country now, and to the second he said nobody has been able to indict him of corruption.
He was asked what he intends to do with an economy that he damaged with SAP. In response he saidÂ SAP was a precursorÂ to NEEDS etc and that the privatisation that SAP started is what has been carried over board today.
He was asked if he really intends to sue the Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project that has been harassing him over the Okigbo report, as threatened by his media aide, Kazeem Afegbua.
He said he would not sue because since his aide mentioned it, over 20 SANs have emerged to defend SERAP and that if the harassment persists he would sue. He said that the Okigbo report people are talking about was never followed with a white paper which would have made it an instrument to be used. And that the report did not indict him. These and other questions were asked.
I have to admit that he was not totally convincing in some of the answers he gave but he did not dodge any questions. We left his house in the morning that day and nobody to my knowledge ate dinner in that house.Â We all got to our hotel tired and hungry.
After the session with the man I left Minna the next day very happy that I met him and asked the questions I asked. If the opportunity arises to take him on again I will honour it if my employers agree.
What manner of an Editor would shut out a man like IBB who is in the presidential race What kind of journalism will not give people fair hearing even if they are alleged criminals. How can you give proper and balanced perspective to issues without hearing people out?
This reminds me of an issue that I regret to this day. When I was covering the late Ken Saro Wiwa trial for Vanguard, I had an opportunity to interview Colonel Okutimo, the then commander of the Military Task Force in Ogoniland. I had insisted and trailed him for days.
When I eventually cornered him after one of the sessions, I accused him of being a butcher and that if anybody did to him what he was doing to the people in Ogoniland how would he feel. He replied that he was not the monster people thought he was.Â He later agreed to an interview.
I was in his car to the venue of the interview when my friends in the human rights community harangued me out of the appointment. Mr Richard Akinnola is alive and can testify to it.Â If I had conducted the interview it would have enriched the case of the activists and could have helped in late Kenâ€™s defence.Â I vowed that the incident would not repeat itself.
I will never shut anybody out again as long as I remain a journalist. To return to the money issue, I was named alongside seven others as having collected 10 million.Â As I said earlier, the report did not say if the money was for all of us or for each of us. It also did not say whatÂ Â over 50 other journalists in that hall got. Did the General single out eight of us?
And the others went empty handed? What I donâ€™t understand is must everything be about money?
IBB has thrown his hat in the ring, let those opposed to him and they may be many challenge him legally. Trying to throw mud at journalists who were just doing their job is not the best way to go.
I am waiting to hear the millions another formidable candidate in the person of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar paid editors he discussed with last Monday since editors are now supposedly paid to support presidential candidates.
What happened to the journalism principle of hearing the other side? What happened to fairness and balanced reporting?
The principle of a market place of ideas will count for nothing if the citizens are not afforded the opportunity of hearing the other side. This principle is at the bedrock of jouranalism and it is important that it is.