Former governor of Delta state Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan has taken a swipe at the unwholesome activities of whistle blowers with a plea to the Delta state Government to help reduce their blackmailing antics.
Dr. Uduaghan made the appeal Tuesday, 21/2/2017 at the commencement of the Press Week of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Delta State chapter with the theme: “Good governance, journalists and social media,” a theme that was addressed by the erudite professor of law, and former governor of Edo state, Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor at the Labour House, Asaba.
The immediate past Governor, who was Chairman at the 2017 Delta NUJ Media Week which held at the Labour House in Asaba, told dignitaries and participants that the social media is a leveler as it provides a forum for people to air their views, whether good, bad and ugly, but called for caution that leaders must be cautious and careful in the handling and use of information emanating from the platform.
He then drew attention to the issue of whistle blowers pointing out that petitions by whistle blowers have no basis as most times whistle blowers are just blackmailers.
“I appeal to the Delta state Government that activities of blackmailers should be reduced as such activities can lead to security challenges if left unchecked,” Uduaghan said.
“So we have a lot more ugly post in the social media than posts that are acceptable. It has the advantage of being fast but that speed also sometimes can be disappointing because once wrong information goes into the social media, it is very difficult to retrieve it. Even when you are able to retrieve or correct it, sometimes not more than 10 percent of the people who read the first wrong message will agree with the second message. 90 percent of the people will still be going forward with the wrong message.”
Expressing worry about the overwhelming activities of blackmailers who write unsubstantiated petitions against individuals in Delta state, the former governor who claimed to have been a victim, however urged the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa administration to address the matter with utmost importance and urgency to avert security breach in the state.
“Blackmailing has now become a big profession, especially in Delta state. People are now eating with it, building houses with it and buying cars with it. And everybody is becoming a victim of blackmail. It is very unfortunate.
“Let me appeal to the state government that sometimes, the activities of blackmailers can lead to very serious security problems and challenges. I am saying this with all responsibility and if the state government decides to seat and allow blackmailers to have a field day, then the result might not be good for the state.
He recalled how he intimated the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Festus Agas in which he complained about the unwholesome activities of these blackmailers, and that he had to bring the matter to the public domain having waited without any response from the state government to his complaint.
Uduaghan said: “… if the state government decides to sit and allow blackmailers to have a field day, then the result might not be good for the state….I am a man of peace….I have met the SSG and advised him. I am saying this because I have not seen the result of that advice.
“I will not be part of anything that will bring insecurity to Delta state,” Uduaghan said, appealing to the state government to help reduce the benefits that blackmailers are enjoying on the social media in the state.
He called on journalists not to take every social media story hook, line and sinker, but that as journalists they should ask questions when they stumble on such stories and do some investigation so as not to fall victim of the antics of blackmailers.
Uduaghan, who is also Patron of the S/South zone of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), further admitted that the whistle blowers Act, which had earlier been presented to the Senate was a good initiative, as it attempted to legalize a government policy aimed at checking the publication of false information, but the Bill suffered a premature death when the issue of social media was included in its scope of reference.
The former Delta Governor, who noted that the National Assembly lost a good opportunity to address what has become a very disturbing matter to the nation, then urged learned legal luminaries like Professor Osunbor to fashion out adequate documentation to aid the national Assembly tackle this false information menace and save Nigerians from what he referred as “Social Media Terrorism”.
On the issue of the huge debt he allegedly left behind for his successor, Uduaghan had this to say: “Somehow the N700 billion has been coming down because at a time, the Ministry of Finance said it was N355 billion and at another time they gave another figure of a little above N200 billion. It is still coming down”, he noted.
Although the former governor did not specify the actual amount he left behind in the government covers, he revealed that: “I am sure all of you know that by the time I left, Governor Okowa went to the House of Assembly to make a presentation and of course the next headline was that “Governor Uduaghan has left N700 billion debt in Delta state”, and that story is still trending till date.
“I requested for the governor’s speech to see if he said that but there was nowhere in that speech where the governor mentioned it. But somehow, either his media aides or some people just made it up. I had an option to counter the information out-rightly but I decided to be quiet about it.
“There were so many ramifications, the governor was just coming in, that was his first outing, then I counter his first outing, it has its own challenges but I decided to be quiet about it.”
Speaking further in Pidgin English, he said: “E never reach where I leave am. E go soon reach where I leave am but e never reach. If you people bother to read my handover notes, una go know where I leave am’.
“Even when the state government has tried to correct it, people still refer to that initial figure of N700 billion till today.”
In his own comments, the Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Patrick Ukah, noted that, while the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa led administration has zero tolerance for blackmail and would never encourage the menace, the professional journalists who were still practicing should mobilize themselves and take over the social media space in order to provide a robust alternative to counter the activities of the false news purveyors.
“We don’t encourage blackmail as a government because if you encourage them, they will turn around to blackmail you tomorrow. The menace in the social media is being felt by everybody in the state because non professional are allowed to take over the media space. So I challenge the professional journalists to mobilize and take over the social media space from these non-professionals.
Ukah, who reiterated Governor Okowa’s call that journalists must retrieve their profession from social media charlatans masquerading as journalist stressed that Professional journalists must take over the social media and the cyber space and push out truthful information and opinions.
“It is encouraging to see that mainstream tabloids have already established their own online platforms and the time has come for professional journalist who want to set up independent media outfits to take over the social media space and publish stories that conform with the norms and ethics of professional journalists”, he added.
Delivering a lecture on the topic, “Journalists, Social Media and Good Governance,” former Governor of Edo State, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, asserted that the role of the media in ensuring good governance is enshrined in section 32 of the Nigeria constitution.
Prof. Osunbor noted that the obligation of ensuring good governance must not rest on the journalist alone but should be a collective responsibility of every citizen, adding that one way of achieving this now is through the social media.
In his speech read on his behalf by the Deputy Governor, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa observed that the social media space has been invaded by jobless miscreants and hack writers who regularly churn out fake news, and who take delight in black mail, extortion and character assassination.
“It is so bad that almost on a daily basis, individuals, especially public officials, are made to defend themselves against spurious and unfounded allegations”, Okowa said.
He continued: “I don’t know whether it is out of pressure to be relevant or to outdo the new media, some of the mainstream media are, regrettably, beginning to toe the line of the social media in publishing rumour and fiction. The cardinal principles of accuracy, fairness and balance are being violated to the detriment of the profession and the public’s right to be properly and adequately informed.”
The governor believes that the spectre of falsehood and misinformation that currently dominate the social media is a clear and present danger to the journalism profession. “A situation where every person with a phone or Ipad is now a journalist and a broadcast station, does not augur well for the profession and for good governance.
“It is incumbent on you the professionals to take back the profession from this pretenders and impostors. It is time, I say, to take back your profession!,” Okowa protested.
Mr. Edward Akpati-Ogude, NUJ vice president, Zone F, S/South, who represented the National President of NUJ, Mr. Waheed Odusile, in his own address, intimated that the issue of discipline among journalists is being treated with seriousness. “It has come to the notice of the NUJ that some journalists are being used by some politicians to blackmail other politicians. The union is looking into this and will not fail to flush out culpable journalists,” he emphasized.
Governor Okowa, who made a dramatic appearance in the last minutes of the event, arriving directly from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Stakeholders meeting in Abuja, called by the Ahmed Markafi faction of the party in the wake of the unfavorable Appeal Court ruling in Port Harcourt a few days earlier, noted that it was important for government to cooperate with the media to move the country forward.
According to Okowa: “We will continue to do the best we can to support the press. There are good journalists and there are those who want to misinform Nigerians,” he observed sadly.
Earlier in an address, the Delta State Chairman of NUJ, Comrade Norbert Chiazor, disclosed that the Delta State NUJ under his leadership had trained about 40 journalists- Deltans and non Deltans in the prestigious REUTERS News Agency in London, United Kingdom and also the union have partnered with different organizations to hold series of seminars.
Comrade Chiazor who expressed his appreciation to the former and present state governors for developing the NUJ Secretariat to an appreciable level, noted that his tenure is blessed with the monumental achievement of the building of the Delta State NUJ Press Center.
High point of the event was the presentation of awards to deserving Delta Journalists, who had distinguished themselves in the profession, including Mr. Emma Amaize of the Vanguard Newspapers, as the Best Journalist of the year (Print), Mr. Austin Edemodu, as Best Journalist (Sports reporting) and Mr. Frank Whyte Osabohien, as the Best Dressed Journalist in Delta State.
Awards of outstanding service and performance were also presented to all the NUJ Chapters in the S/South region, the Isoko Chapel of Delta NUJ and some serving Commissioners in the state cabinet, including Dr. Nicholas Azinge (Health), Chief Fidelis Tilijie (Water Resources), Mr. David Edevbie (Finance) and Engr. Jude Sinebe (Higher Education), amongst others.