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V-mobile shares: Tinubu, Attah vindicated

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By Daele Sobowale
Journalists say a thing they know isn’t true in the hope that if they keep on saying it long enough, it will be true —Julien Benda, 1857-1952

A journalist should be pursuing a fair rendition of truth without regard to popular moods; the journalist should not be swayed by public opinion, only by the pursuit of truth, as close as he or she can get to it —Malvin Kalb. 1997. Vanguard Book of Quotations, p.109).

I AM not a journalist. But four years after starting to write this column and while col
lecting the materials for the Vanguard Book of Quotations I came across the first statement by Julien Benda.

My first instinct was to ignore it because by then I was already in the media. But, intellectual honesty demanded that I shy away from nothing. After all, the entries on God, democracy, love, etc. were full of contradictory pronouncements – some of them absolutely detestable.

So, I went ahead and included it. Fortunately, I already had the eternal  words of Malvin Kalb, one of America’s finest journalists to counter it. However, over the years I have observed how my fellow media practitioners, journalists and non journalists, have allowed the profession to become degraded.

In Nigeria, I usually shake my head when I read blazing headlines which turn out not to be the truth. Yet, which are repeated for weeks as follow up stories by the papers carrying the original “news” report.

By the way, this article could just as easily be entitled In Defence of Tinubu and Attah and it will still be correct. My reason for selecting the title is simple.

The issue under discussion goes beyond the matter of V-Mobile shares, Tinubu and Attah, it addresses itself to the Nigeria media’s pursuit of truth or, more too often, our failure to pursue it enough depending frequently on someone passing us a document full of half truths and sometimes blatant lies which form the basis of our story.

The V-Mobile, Tinubu and Attah story is a case study in how the media fail to discharge their responsibilities adequately to all concerned – including those against whom allegations are made.

I also have another reason for defending Tinubu and Attah. Irrespective of whatever else they did or did not do in office as governors, the two demonstrated courage in the face of an over-bearing and dictatorial president – Obasanjo.

Tinubu exhibited his own when he not only did not surrender Lagos to the PDP but also created 57 local government councils on the grounds that there is absolutely no reason why Lagos State with the largest population should have 20 LGCs, while Kano has 44, Jigawa 27, Niger 25, Osun 30, Oyo 33 and Imo 27.

We all know what Obasanjo did to frustrate the just demands of Lagos State and we also know that the PDP – including “our brothers” in the South West deserted us, yet most of them make their money in Lagos. For that alone, I will stick my neck out for Tinubu; any day, any time.

If there is ever going to be permanent peace in the Niger Delta, it will be based on equity – meaning the restoration of true federalism and the principle of derivation. This in turn means that each of the federating states should keep 50 per cent of the revenue derived from whatever sources in that state and the rest is sent to the central for another round of equitable allocation.

The oil producing states will get more money; my Lagos State will probably get less. But, that was the basis of revenue allocation agreed at the dawn of independence and there is no reason not to continue it. Attah by pushing for resource control was only adopting another synonym for derivation. And again, he suffered for it; his state temporarily suffered also.

But today, we are throwing money ay militants as a first step towards adoption of resource control. Like Tinubu, Attah was alone among the governors of the Niger Delta in the struggle.

The man might have been the vice president today if he did not, and does not, insist on resource control. To me courage is the rarest and the best of all human attributes especially when it is allied with the fight for justice. I salute both of them.

You can then imagine my consternation when weeks ago I opened the papers (names withheld to save the reporters and their editors the embarrassment that will follow) and read the story of Attah, Ibori and Tinubu being wanted by the London Metropolitan Police, LMP, on account of V-mobile share transactions which took place in Nigeria.

To begin with, some of our journalists, perhaps out of ignorance or mischief, had turned the London Metropolitan Police into a global police that can invite anyone for questioning. Well, I have bad news for them. The LMP does not have such powers and it cannot be invested with such powers by eager Nigerian journalists.

In order to get at the truth, as close as I could get to it, I then placed two calls – one to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s known numbers; but no luck. I wanted to listen to the other side – something which the authors failed to do. Then, I called Obong Victor Attah. I was lucky this time. I wanted to establish three things.

First, was there a conspiracy to sell V-mobile shares by the three governors? Were the proceeds of the sale handled or deposited in the same account? Was there a warrant of arrest for conspiracy by the LMP for the three governors?  My reason for not calling Ibori also needs to be explained.

My last encounter with Ibori was in the governor’s mansion at Asaba. He had entered with a lot of flurry, as usual, and when journalists requested for an interview he had said: “I don’t want to talk to journalists; you can go and write any rubbish you like.” I am surprised he is now granting interviews.

For me that was a gate voluntarily closed by the owner. He can open it any time he wants and he can rest assured of an open mind. Our system of laws still presumes a man or woman innocent until proved guilty by a competent court of law. All Nigerians, whether existing or former governors, will continue to enjoy their rights here.

I went beyond that. I then went and conducted my investigation into the matter because the stories that were published didn’t add up; there were too many gaps and there was a touch of herd mentality about the stories – as if they came from the same rumour mill.

Meanwhile, Asiwaju Tinubu had published, on September 16, 2009, in The Punch, a statement titled Econet shares: The facts, in which he had refuted the allegations made against him personally.

I reproduce the last paragraph of that statement for the benefit of those who might have missed it.  “I also read in the papers that the British Metropolitan Police investigated the integrity of the transaction and the alleged associated payments.

I categorically state that the British Metropolitan Police has never questioned, arrested or charged myself or any other official of the Lagos State Government under my tenure.

Any suggestion to the contrary is false. The investment, as I have said is straight forward. But if anyone has any facts to the contrary, I challenge them to bring such to the public domain.”

Next week: What really happened?

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