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Murky suspicions

bBy Donu Kogbara
MANY people have told me that they had no idea, until the last minute, that local council elections were taking place last weekend. Some even say that they didn’t know about these elections until after they had happened. And quite a few are suspecting newspapers of deliberately keeping the general public in the dark.

Bluntly put, the belief in certain quarters is that politicians bribed journalists to keep the news coverage of the then upcoming local elections as low-key as possible…so that riggers could thumbprint most of the ballot papers themselves…without too many irritating interruptions from bona fide voters!

I guess I should have been outraged by this accusation that cast my profession in such a bad light, but I actually found the idea of polling stations that were almost solely populated by crooked candidates and their sidekicks very amusing!

On a more serious note, the journalists with whom I’ve discussed the complaint admit that coverage of the local polls was scanty but ascribe this scantiness to the fact that so much attention was given to the presidential, gubernatorial, National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections last month.

As one colleague put it, sounding genuinely weary: “We covered no less than four different elections in April and many of us were suffering from chronic election fatigue by the time the local elections came up. My reaction was Not Again! You also have to remember that local council candidates are not very high-profile.”

Even if people continue to believe that journalists like myself neglected to mention the local polls because we were paid to look the other way, I am not taking the allegation personally because Nigeria has become a place in which extreme cynicism abounds and trust for ALL institutions is thin on the ground.

Whether you are a President, governor, minister, judge, legislator, traditional ruler, pastor, footballer, doctor, policeman or whatever, you will be suspected of dishonest motives or conduct at one point or another. So it’s hardly surprising that the media is also viewed with intense suspicion at intervals.


Kudos to the DAME!

A Vanguard reader recently wrote to me, to say that  he was very impressed by Dame Patience Jonathan’s active participation in the election. And I share his view that a tribute to our First Lady is called for.

Dame Patience was the only presidential candidate’s wife who made a determined effort to mobilise female voters. She displayed tremendous amounts of energy, humour and warmth wherever she went. And I think it is fair to say that she deserves some of the credit for her husband’s victory.

I don’t know Dame Patience personally. But I’m proud to be able to boast that this champion of female empowerment comes from my state.

Mr. President is lucky to have such a supportive spouse.

A much cleaner place

Another thing that has amused me in the past few days is a new Transparency International (TI) report that complains about the fact that many senior British civil servants and politicians walk into lucrative private sector jobs shortly after they leave government. TI is particularly concerned when these jobs happen to be in industries that the high-ranking officials were once in charge of.

For example, Patricia Hewitt, a former Health Secretary, got a bundle of well-paid jobs with firms that sell health products after leaving office in 2007.

TI, a respected ethics-monitoring organisation, says that this practice raises serious questions about conflicts of interest, puts the UK at “a high risk of corruption” and “undermines trust in government.”

I totally agree with TI, but it is quite funny to listen to Brits worrying about how to deal with ethical breaches that are very minor compared to the massive misdemeanours that go largely unpunished in this neck of the woods.

Whenever my British friends bellyache about the manner in which Hewitt and others of her ilk have exploited their positions, I tell my friends that I wish I had their problems and that they don’t know how lucky they are.

Smooth operator

TV coverage of the crisis in Libya is much enhanced by the masterful performances of Moussa Ibrahim, President Ghadaffi’s young spokesman.

Mr. Ibrahim is the highly articulate human face of an unacceptable regime. I don’t believe a word he says when he is justifying his boss’s homicidal sprees and ridiculous refusal to step down after over 40 years in power. And I imagine that he is as amoral as the blood-stained dictator who hired him to act as a mouthpiece.

But he somehow manages to come across as likeable and is so good at his job that he makes a very bad situation sound as good as a very bad situation can sound. He is a consummate spin doctor.

When Saif Al Arab, Ghadaffi’s sixth son, was killed in a bomb attack a few weeks ago, Ibrahim was at his best. He rose to the occasion. He came out fighting, but in a subtle, solemn and dignified rather than crude manner.

He expressed self-righteousness and outrage so skilfully that I nearly started to feel sorry for Ghadaffi and forget that he was the architect of his own misfortunes! Every Head of State could do with a Moussa Ibrahim at his side.


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