How Nigerian Media Fuelled Herdsmen/Farmers Clashes By Rasheed Abubakar

On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, around 8pm, the news of the seven travellers who were burnt to death in Benue hit the airwaves.

The Punch Newspaper featured the story via its Facebook page and Twitter handle, with the headline: “Bandits kill, burn seven travellers to ashes”.

Some print and online media also reported the incident, and as usual, they all sourced from a press briefing from the Benue State Police Commissioner, Mr Fatai Owoseni, who narrated how “some hoodlums believed to be of Tiv stock between 9:30am and 10:30am stormed a motor park in Gboko, where they attacked seven people believed to be of Fulani extraction, killed and burnt them.”

Gboko Motor Park is in Gboko Local Government, Benue State, and according to the Police boss, the victims “were said to be travelling either to Okene or Taraba State when Tiv militia criminally attacked, killed and burnt them to ashes.”

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the identity of the victims (Fulani) and the perpetrators (Tiv hoodlums) were conspicuously missing in the cover headlines of most of the top Nigerian newspapers which captured the unfortunate incident.

The Punch’s print edition featured another headline which was different from its online version (cited above), which read: “… Seven killed in Gboko, Governor Ortom imposes curfew” as one of the three bullet kickers to the main cover headline; “Benue Killings: Senate Summons IG over failure to arrest suspects”.

The Guardian had on the bottom left of its cover, the headline: “President writes Senate, lists steps taken on Benue killings”, without acknowledging the massacre of the traveller-Fulanis by the Tiv hoodlums.

The Nation followed suit, going silent on the Gboko killing, but gave prominence to President Buhari’s letter to the Senate as a banner headline, where Mr President said, “I have acted on Benue killings.”

The cover headline of The Vanguard, “Gov Ortom slams curfew on Gboko over the killing of 7″ also conspicuously failed to reveal the identity of the victims (Fulani) and the perpetrators (Tiv hoodlums). Sadly, Daily Trust, which many believe to be flying the Northern agenda also disappointed many of its esteemed readers as it also flaunted on its headline, “Curfew in Gboko as police confirm 7 killed,” committing the same mischief of hiding the identities of both the Fulani victims and the Tiv killers.

Why the Media Blackout?

I didn’t know the extent of the evil committed on the innocent Fulani travellers until the gory images and disturbing videos of the attack were posted on Facebook. No one has denied the authenticity of the images and footage. There is no better way to describe the killings except that they are barbaric and pure evil, and they expose the peak of man’s inhumanity to man.

I wept for this country and the future of Nigerian journalism as I read the mixed reactions that trailed the videos and pictures. I saw how aggrieved Nigerians rained heavy curses on the Nigerian media for their imbalanced, mischievous and misleading reports of the killings. They accused the media of turning a blind eye to the killings, the same way they underreported the alleged massacre of 800 Fulanis with their families as well as the burning of their homesteads in Taraba State by local militia in 2017.

While many who have known me for my critical media analysis expected me to write about the incident swiftly, I waited patiently till Friday, February 2, hoping that the indicted media would right their wrongs, but I was stunned; they never towed the path of rectitude.

Although, it might not be ethical to flaunt the gory images on the front covers of newspapers, a cover mention would have been appropriate. One would have expected the media to honour the burnt Fulani travellers who were said to have already been buried according to Islamic rites with cover mentions, the same way the media flaunted on their covers the burial of the 73 non-Fulanis in Benue State. But this never happened. It served them well, they insinuated, I think.

What Happened Afterwards?

Pathetically, a similar killing attributed to Fulani herdsmen which happened on the same day (Wednesday) in Kaduna (albeit at night, while the Gboko killing happened in the morning) received prominence and ample cover mentions in some newspapers.

For instance, The New Telegraph of Thursday did not acknowledge the killing of the seven Fulani travellers on its cover, but went ahead to give the Kaduna attack prominence on its cover in its Friday edition, with the headline: “Herdsmen sack Kaduna village, kill seven”, as if the killers were herding cattle during the attack.

Disgracefully, some of the newspapers who mischievously hid the identity of the victims and perpetrators of the Gboko killing of Wednesday were not ashamed to write on today’s (Saturday) front pages of their newspapers about the suspected Fulani herdsmen killing in Taraba State yesterday.

The Punch cover headline reads: “Herdsmen kill four in Taraba village after Governor’s alarm”. The Guardian wrote; “Herdsmen kill couple, two others in Taraba Community” and The Nation’s cover headline goes thus: “Herdsmen hit Taraba again 10 hours after Governor’s alarm…kill couple, two others”, with an eye-witness narrating how the victims were hacked to death.

Justice and fairness, to the Nigerian media, has two faces. They are matters of double standards. To them, the attackers in Gboko are too wicked to be Tivs – they can only be “bandits”, just as those behind the pogrom (of Fulanis) on the Mambila Plateau, Taraba State are not bad enough to be called “murderers” or “state government-sponsored local militia”, while the killers of the 73 Tivs in Benue are criminal enough to be “herdsmen”, in fact, they must be “Fulanis” too, hence the all too popular, and mischievously used “Fulani herdsmen” term.

Is that justice? Is that objectivity? Is this the fairness journalists were taught in school?  Is that the effect of ownership influence of the media or censorship? Have we (journalists in particular) ever pondered over the day we shall all account for our deeds, including what our hands have written (good or bad)?

In a bid to either cover up their biasness or justify their evil plots, another report has it that “the Benue State Security Council addressed the press and claimed that six out of the seven victims were not Fulanis”, contrary to the account of the Borno State police boss, where he corroborated the widely circulated report that the seven travellers “were believed to be of Fulani extraction.”

Irrespective of whether they are Fulanis or not, life is life and it must remain sacred. It must not be taken by anyone, be he Fulani, Tiv, Christian, Muslim or even an idol worshipper.

Politicisation of Massacres

I had earlier written in last Friday’s edition of my column in Daily Independent, with the title: “Herdsmen-farmers clashes, Islam and the role of the media,” that:

“The politicisation of the massacres and comparisons over the number of deaths on both sides shouldn’t have occurred if the Nigerian media had embarked on independent investigations into all the killings, particularly the Taraba/Benue pogroms, and exposed the perpetrators and their sponsors.

“There would not have been lamentations of media bias from the Muslims who believe the Nigerian media deliberately underreported the Taraba killings because the victims were Fulani-Muslims, and gave prominence to the Benue killings because the victims were Benue-Christians.

“It is sad that the Nigerian media, otherwise renowned as the champions of Nigeria’s democracy (because of the veritable role media professionals played during the military era), have not invested or deliberately refused to venture into investigative journalism after all their years of “enormous successes”.

“Rather, they have continued to spread fake news and verbatim news reports with screaming and sensationalised headlines on the cyber space, a practice which has created more fear than hope for Nigerians.”

A Word of Caution!

Reporting ethno-religious crises is one of the most sensitive aspects of journalism. Irrespective of the ownership interest, Nigerian media must be just and objective in their reportage to avoid the 1994 Rwandan ethnic cleansing scenario, which led to the massacre of 800,000 mostly Tutsi victims and some Hutu sympathizers by the Hutu ethnic majority. The Rwandans might have put the horrific event behind them, but the memory still lingers.

Unlike the Hutu ethnic majority who set up newspapers, radio and TV stations to spread hate speeches against the Tutsi minority, the Nigerian media must be seriously cautioned and even sanctioned for reports capable of overheating the polity.

Truly, the noble profession of journalism doesn’t give room for partiality, but I can confirm that Nigerian journalists have become heavily compromised. They are now lazy, partisan and divided into pro and anti-government factions, and of course, pro and anti-Fulani/farmer journalists, hence the continuous misrepresentation in the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes.

Little wonder Mr President, through his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu raised concerns over some media reports of the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes, which he described as unfortunate.

Imagine a national newspaper columnist reportedly writing that President Buhari was the first person to endorse the Benue massacre on New Year’s Day! If such a reporter is punished duly for spreading unverified reports, the propagandist journalists would be the first to attack the Presidency with the hashtag #FreeSoSo campaign, the same way they faulted government’s plan to monitor the social media posts of some prominent Nigerians for hate speeches.

The Buhari-led government, together with the Nigerian Press Council (NPC), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) need to bring urgent sanity to the journalism profession in Nigeria. The irresponsible journalism practice among men and women of the pen must stop forthwith.

God bless Nigeria!

*– Rasheed Abubakar is a journalist and the author of _”Hijab and the Nigerian Press”._ Email: rawshield123@gmail.com | twitter: @rawshield123*

Opinion contained in this article is strictly the writer’s and not Aledeh’s.

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