By Shella Sanda
Jewel Edwards, the Editor of Centre-Spread magazine was engrossed in the production of of her weekend edition when Michael Ebuwa, the Crime Editor entered the newsroom. Michael Ebuwa was loquacious and always demanded attention when he spoke. Sometimes, he could be too loud and distracting and Jewel Edwards didn’t want any distractions on production days.
Michael Ebuwa was barely seated on his table in the newsroom when he started talking on the phone. That was the last thing that Jewel Edwards needed in an evening like this. She shifted and focused on the computer, trying to create the impression that she didn’t need distraction and making an effort to ignore Michael Ebuwa who was now shouting on the phone and getting too excited over his discussion.
He had barely dropped his phone when he grabbed the left arm of Jewel Edwards on the key-board of the computer.
“Here is your exclusive,” Michael Ebuwa spoke loudly for anybody who cared to hear. “A woman just gave birth to octuplets in Surulere. All you just need is get a photographer take the octuplets and splash it on your cover.”
Jewel Edwards hated night assignments especially in the heat of production. She didn’t like to send anybody out as their attention might be needed anytime but octuplets was an exciting story. Women were not known to give birth to octuplets everyday and she developed instant interest in the story.
“Where in Surulere?”, she asked calmly.
“Let me write down the address,” Michael Ebuwa replied giving her a mischievous wink and fishing out a golden pen. He quickly scribbled the address and handed it to her, reminding her he had been giving her enough story ideas and would need to be rewarded. Jewel was uncomfortable and hated late production but the story was enticing. It was the human angle she needed to push forward the paper. She got a photographer and sent him to Surulere.
And then she waited.
She had almost given up when the photographer walked in. She heaved in relief as she made ready to grab her cover photograph praying it would be an exclusive. Carefully, the photographer brought down his camera and laid it on the table. He extracted the camera from the packand began to fiddle with it, setting the films to show his records.
Jewel was impatience.
“Did you take the octuplets?”, she asked expectantly.
The photographer hesitated, paying attention to to the camera.
“It’s not really octuplets in that sense,” he said quietly. Jewel’s face dropped.
“What do you mean?”
“You see, a woman claims she had eight children within eleven months,” the photographer explained.
“Rubbish,” Jewel Edwards said, pushing away the camera.
“I just want to show you the pictures I took.”
“You have nothing to show me, my friend. I think we have finished for the day.”
“But would a woman tell that kind of a lie? Something must be up. Let’s find out,” suggested Jombo Ajayi, an inquisitive reporter with eye for details. Jewel Edwards turned to speak with Michael Ebuwa who sold the story to her and realised he had gone!
“Men!,” she swore.
“If the woman claims she had those babies, I think we can make her prove it,” Jombo Ajayi continued. “In fact, let me write a story. Next week, we can follow it up. Let’s see what this woman is up to.”
Jewel Edwards considered many things. She pondered on Jombo’s suggestions and kept quiet. The story was incredible. If she published a lie, she would be torn apart . In fact, it could cost her her job as a journalist. But something kept telling her something fishy could come out of the story. But she would have to keep her job first to know it.
“Write the story,” she told Jombo Ajayi as she picked up the phone to call Ibikunle Badmus, a female reporter with a nose on the ground.
The story broke the next day. Woman gives birth to eight children in eleven months. The controversy began.
Centre-Spread magazine was torn apart by irate readers who belated the newspaper for publishing such a junk and playing on their intelligence. The online edition attracted a lot of criticisms and Jewel Edwards answered a lot of phone calls over the story. The text-messages she got almost packed-up her mobile line. She knew she had a story. But her colleagues had words for her.
“You better follow up that story or be damned,” said a colleague.
“How could an editor’s judgement be so warped?” said another.
“Have you seen the online edition?” asked yet another.
“This story will make or mar you,” complained a friend.
“It is a trash,” judged the Editor-in-Chief. “It has ridiculed us as a newspaper.”
“It’s the worst story any editor would publish…”
Before the end of that day, Jewel Edwards couldn’t know exactly who said what because so much was said. Jombo Ajayi who had his by-line in the story was jittery. Ibikunle Badmus only stared.
Jewel Edwards had an emergency meeting with reporters in her department. Ibikunle Badmus and Jombo Ajayi went back to the Surulere address with the reactions from the story to see the miracle mother of eight.”
But she was gone! A woman in the apartment where the photographer first saw the miracle babies and took their photos revealed they had to return to Aba that Saturday so the woman who also doubled as a pastor could conduct services in her church the next day.
The journalists were impressed. Would a servant of God lie? The woman they met dutifully wrote out a new address in Aba which she handed to the journalists who had never been to Aba. Jombo Ajayi decided his name was at stake and therefore, a trip to Aba would be worthwhile to unravel the mystery.
Michael Ebuwa never uttered a word to Jewel over the controversy his story idea generated. He didn’t want to be associated with it at all. He was overheard loquaciously telling a colleague that Jewel should have thought twice before publishing such a ridiculous story. He didn’t tell anybody he brought the story in the first instance.
Throughout that week, Jewel Edwards was on edge as more text-messages and abuses trailed the story. If there was anything good about that edition of Centre-Spread magazine, it was the fact that the copies sold completely.
While Jombo Ajayi trailed the miracle babies to Aba, Jewel Edwards kept tabs of his movements on phone. She called the ‘miracle’ mother and she confirmed she had her babies naturally , disabusing the idea of adoption or child-trafficking.
Again, Jewel Edwards waited.
The next edition of Centre-Spread magazine was a bomb! This time, Jewel heaved a sigh of relief. The miracle mother could run but she could not hide. Jombo Ajayi was ready to follow her to the ends of the earth to dig out the true story of her bizzare births.
Finally, the worst was over. Centre-Spread magazine was on a voyage of discovery and the story became a reference point and a running story.
Again, the readers doubted the story, insisting it couldn’t be true for any reason in the world. The miracle mother requested for a DNA and insisted she would prove to the world that she had the miracle births. She also wanted to prove to her estranged husband that he was the father of the babies and he could never run away from that responsibility. That generated more controversy as the man continued to stay out of the picture.
It was also where Centre-Spread magazine got it wrong as the photo-journalist in his initial story attributed a quote to a man he mistook as the husband of the woman. Igwe wrote to Centre-Spread magazine on the issue.