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By Seyi Olu Awofeso

From the minute Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter to her father – General Obasanjo – was exclusively published by Vanguard newspaper on Wednesday, December 18, a media tussle to crush the truth ensued.

One pole of reportorial partisans elsewhere countered saying the letter was forged by President Jonathan’s (government) agents and coyly placed in Vanguard newspaper to deceive the public.  But the Vanguard Political Editor who’d exclusively sourced the letter had expressly published his own name as the reporter still having the original letter in his own hands.

The question then is: “Where was the ‘reasonable doubt on the genuineness of Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter in the light of that fact?”

To be sure, ‘reasonable doubt’ is not sheer legalese but a commanding rule of reasoning – for it means asking oneself after taking due account of all accessible facts if a sensible doubt remains that will falsify all presently known facts or render those known facts  un-convincing as yet.

It follows there can’t be ‘reasonable doubt’ until all accessible facts are got, and so; regarding the ‘Iyabo Obasanjo letter’, there was no “reasonable doubt” on its genuineness from get-go.  Nigerian journalists, for the most part, just dis-abled themselves from seeing the truth, and, accessing it from the Vanguard Political Editor’s office.

By so doing, Nigerian journalists un-cleverly created their own “un-reasonable doubts” – having refused or failed to do as little as telephone the Political Editor of Vanguard newspaper who sourced and published the Iyabo Obasanjo letter – with the original copy still in his drawer.

Between the partisans – who said President Jonathan’s federal government agents fabricated the “Iyabo letter” – and the purists who published it as true; having received it directly from Iyabo Obasanjo with her oral confirmation, an ensuing tussle dominated the Nigerian press until Iyabo Obasanjo was provoked to grant an interview to Vanguard newspaper where she blasted Nigerian journalists for their “un-reasonable doubts”.

Iyabo Obasanjo was so irritated by Nigerian journalists’ hamfistedness that she came out on Friday, December 20th, to restate that she indeed wrote the letter to her father (General Obasanjo).

“Nobody can ever say i told him or her that i did not write the letter i wrote to my father – General Obasanjo. I am not a liar. I will not back away from what i wrote because there is nothing i wrote to my father (General Obasanjo) which is not true” Iyabo Obasanjo declared.

So annoying was the baseless doubt cast by Nigerian journalists on her letter to her father that Iyabo Obasanjo nearly uttered dire imprecations on Nigerian journalists; both in radio and television stations and including those on-line and the broadsheet types, whose irresponsible leitmotif, she said, was to cast baseless doubt on the letter, as if paid to do just that.

“How can you live by social media saying i did not write the letter? That is part of the problem with Nigeria – people just fly rumours. I have not told anybody i ever denied writing the letter 0! I wrote it myself. It is early morning here in the United States of America and i woke up to hear all sorts of rumours going on in Nigeria. If i were one of you in Vanguard newspapers – who published my letter – i would simply ignore these rumour peddlers saying the opposite.  I was so surprised they would even say they called my father. I said to myself, “Are these people mad?” How can you call the same person i said i am not talking to anymore, to ask him whether i wrote my letter or not? Is he going to speak for me?” she asked rhetorically.

Iyabo Obasanjo then more bluntly derided Nigerian journalists for acting with scant commonsense by seeking confirmation on the genuineness of her own letter from General Obasanjo – her father.

“People have also been calling me here in America and telling me they called my father (General Obasanjo), but since i wrote that i am not talking anymore to my father, how can you say you called the same person? You expect he can tell you what is on my mind?  Nonsense! These people peddling these rumours that i did not write the letter, just ask them that in the last four years how many of them have spoken to me? They are all mad people!” Iyabo Obasanjo blasted off.

In truth her anger is well-anchored because an un-prepossessed mind will readily concede it as valid.

She implies that by casting doubt on the redacted copy of the letter she gave to VANGUARD newspapers -because she deleted her signature, so as not to make her signature public – Nigerian journalists show lack of intuition to anticipate and understand why only a redacted copy would be published.

But well before Iyabo Obasanjo angrily entered the fray, the debate between the two poles of purists and doubters in the media had exposed a certain illogic afflicting the Nigerian Press.

For sure, any journalist bearing a mobile phone could have called the Vanguard Political Editor who EXCLUSIVELY reported the ‘Iyabo Obasanjo letter’ and requested his confidential disclosure of the underlying evidence, before culling the Vanguard publication for use.

But no journalist reported himself as doing that, whereas, almost all journalists culled or excerpted the same Vanguard story of ‘Iyabo Obasanjo letter’, but mostly re-broadcast or re-wrote it with doubts they intentionally inserted without cross-checking the evidence with Vanguard newspaper.

Exactly a hundred years ago, a British invader (Lord Lugard) described the Nigerians he met as pathetically “lacking veracity”. Today, there’s worrying corroboration of his view by supposedly educated Nigerians to merit giving Lord Lugard the benefit of the doubt, seeing how Nigerian journalists fumbled the truth of Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter.

Their collective blunder actually reveals the need to bar pretenders from the profession, because journalism is too important to be left to charlatans and slow thinkers.  Journalism is the most educated and 4th important realm of government. It is historically a disciplined and tightly-structured profession. To remove its strictures and write before thinking is not journalism, but rabble-rousing.

Fidelity of all Nigerian journalists to veracity is not obvious. That credibility gap is now so wide to take any insinuation – including bribery. In proper journalism, truth-telling is not an option, but an obligation. Anyone finding that obligation too heavy need not hang around in a newsroom, when his dis-honest habit could fetch him a more paying job in a criminal-related endeavour like party politics in Nigeria.

Journalism is public trust. Only habitually honest and knowledgeable people should practise it – not quarter backers for hidden interests who disguisedly present crookedly diluted facts as newsreports.

Let’s pause here and ask in pertinence: “How did Nigerian journalists then choose to ascertain the genuineness of Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter – having inexplicably refused to reach the sole source who’d exclusively accessed, reported and published it under his own name and title as the Political Editor of Vanguard newspaper?

This is what happened. Several journalists in Lagos jumped in their cars and headed out of state to Abeokuta in Ogun State to confirm the genuineness of Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter from General Olusegun Obasanjo. That was nearly daft, to be polite, since these same journalists later culled the Vanguard exclusive story but spiced it with their self-inflicted and un-reasonable doubt by preferring the blithe comments of General Obasanjo’s aides and associates they obtained in Abeokuta, to the actual documentary evidence still with Vanguard newspaper.

“I can tell you authoritatively that the so-called letter from Iyabo Obasanjo was forged by those in (Jonathan’s) government,” was one of those blithe comments elicited from Femi Fani-Kayode and published by the Nigerian media as ‘reasonable doubt’ on the ‘Iyabo Obasanjo’ letter’ on December 18th.

“They think they can get at Baba (Obasanjo) that way. But they are mistaken. One thing is that if they want to fight Baba (Obasanjo) they should face him and leave his family out of it. Baba (Obasanjo) has spoken the truth and they should respond to the issues he raised,” Femi Fani-Kayode reportedly further said.

Whereas, the proof of evidence was closer to the journalists’ noses at the Vanguard office in Lagos than Iyabo Obasanjo was in Massachusetts, United States of America.  No Nigerian journalist successfully reached Iyabo Obasanjo in the United States where she’s resident although a few attempted by telephone but got no further than her answering machine.

Put together, all these facts and attempts still do not create ANY reasonable doubt to justify why the Nigerian press almost wholly reported the Iyabo Obasanjo letter laced with cynicism of the letter’s genuineness.  That was how Nigerian journalists negligently mis-led their readers with broadcast and published doubts on the ‘Iyabo Obasanjo letter’.

They wholly forgot the rule, “If in doubt leave out”. The rule does not say if in doubt publish doubts.

What’s perhaps more galling is there was no basis for reasonable doubt on Iyabo Obasanjo’s letter. Any journalist who spun a doubt in his own mind had the proof within his reach at the Vanguard office in Lagos and could easily have accessed it to clear his self-inflicted doubt.

Any journalist’s irresponsible refusal to fetch that proof is not the meaning of “reasonable doubt”.

It is rather gross negligence that’s to be avoided the next time because it disgraced journalism when the doubted letter was upheld as absolutely genuine but only after Iyabo Obasanjo had hollered at the doubting journalists as empty-headed.

At the bottomline there’s another question of media principle.  Since no reader must be made to part with ₦200 to read the “un-reasonable doubt” of any journalist in a newspaper, Nigerian journalists must learn their lesson from Iyabo Obasanjo’s hollering, change tack, and, use better judgment the next time to live down this editorial infamy.

Nobody has the right to receive 200 Naira from a newspaper buyer, pocket it under the pretext of practising journalism, but only by publishing his self-inflicted doubts for sale.  That is un-ethical. It is wrong. It is to be avoided. No journalist is under a duty to publish his failure to ascertain a fact for sale, or, entitled to pocket the reward of his gross negligence.

Journalism is the most educated and 4th most important realm of government.  Its honour must be protected against sciolists stealthily sullying its hallowed places.

                       …………………Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja.

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

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