Our attention has been drawn to an article written by a newspaper columnist Dr. Olatunji Dare in which he hid behind innuendo to criticize former President Jonathan’s new book and cast aspersions on his doctorate degree. Writing in his column of Tuesday November 27, in the Nation newspaper, Dare in a piece entitled ‘Matters Miscellaneous’, weighed in on the prevailing robust media reviews of Jonathan’s new book ‘My Transition Hours’.
In his intervention, he chose to go with the opinion of the cynical minority that had typically assumed a dim mien, even before reading the book. Coincidentally, the popular writer let down his guard by allowing himself to fall into the same unscholarly trap. He uncharacteristically got off his intellectual stool, by opting to run an uninformed commentary on a book he has not read, going by his own confession that he was drawing his acerbic conclusions from the account of some “reviewers”.
If the famous columnist and scholar had stopped at that, his improper haste that produced the ill-informed appraisal could still have found explanation in the fact that Mr. Dare probably did not want to miss out on the currency of the discourse. However, the writer betrayed obvious bias and prejudice for him to have averred that few adverse comments from the barrage of media reviews and engaging public interest already generated by the book, could dig up the ghost of what he called controversy over Jonathan’s “dodgy doctorate”.
Although we have heard such jokes cracked in beer parlours and lighthearted gatherings in the past, we had simply ignored them. We had anchored our restraint on the understanding that such banters, coming from the ordinary people and often targeted at public figures, usually yielded the strange advantage of lightening the burden of some of our people who are heavily weighed down by life’s daily grind.
However, to see such rumours jump out from the shadows into the writing of a serious and respected columnist of Dare’s ilk is, to say the least, in bad taste, utterly reprehensible and unconscionable.
In the first place, Dr. Dare who usually holds strong views on issues is well aware of the need to always separate rumours from facts. As a role model to younger journalists and writers, the least the society expects of him, especially in the age of fake news and unregulated social media, is to teach his wards to treat facts with reverence by avoiding the convenient broadway of salacious fallacies and specious contrivances, no matter how tempting.
Dr. Dare knows for a fact that Jonathan has never made any claim to obtaining any foreign degree, (save for the few honorary ones which he never celebrated); in which case the process of authentication could have been more rigorous. He also knows that Dr. Jonathan has never hidden the fact that his tertiary qualifications were obtained locally with his first, second and doctoral degrees all coming from the University of Port Harcourt.
That being the case, does it then make any sense that writers and researchers should still be operating on the realm of conjecture when the accurate information on the former President’s qualifications could easily be obtained, on request, from his alma mater? Why should a veteran journalist choose to rummage in the rumour mill for lies and half truths, when he could have readily taken advantage of the freedom of information Act signed coincidentally by Jonathan, to avail himself of the details of the former President’s qualifications from the University of Port Harcourt?
Besides, a simple internet search would have helped the writer out of this needless quandary as the university authorities had already clarified the status of Jonathan’s doctorate following such ‘dodgy’ and mischievous posturing from some critics in the past. For the avoidance of doubt, the then University of Port Harcourt’s Deputy Registrar (Information), Dr. William Wodi, had in a January 2015 statement, laid the rumour to rest by proving, with evidence, that Jonathan acquired his first degree, Masters and Ph.D in the same institution.
He had said: “For the avoidance of doubt, the authorities of the University wish to state without equivocation that Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, as he then was, was among 422 students, who matriculated in 1977. He was admitted into the then Department of Zoology, now Animal and Environmental Biology in the then School of Biological Sciences, now a Faculty in the new College of Natural and Applied Sciences.
“At the end of a successful residency period, Jonathan was awarded the Bachelor of Science (Upper Division) in 1981.
Daily Post newspaper further quoted Wodi as noting that the former President later enrolled into the postgraduate programme and obtained the Master of Science degree in Hydrobiology and Fisheries in 1985 and crowned his academic pursuit in the University with the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Zoology in 1995.
The truth is that if we have to fulfill our core responsibilities as journalists to inform and educate, we must admit that we have no better choice than to always apply rigor in our work. That way, the general public will be better served at all times.
Ikechukwu Eze, Media Adviser to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan