Death greatly exaggerated
We are down in the dumps again, killing on news platforms someone who is still alive, maybe not too well, but still alive. We say that President Muhammadu Buhari who went to London for a vacation has gone west. This graceless burst of bad news is not new. Unfortunately.
On November 4, 1989 several newspapers killed and buried their former President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, on their front pages. The headlines were idiotic, a deprecating endeavour in self-doubt. “Zik is dead?” “Zik is not dead?” The next day they all reversed themselves, looking like miserable journalism sophomores. This was a classic miniaturisation of their profession, reducing it to “Ameboism.”
You would think it would not happen again, that we had learnt our lessons. No. In March 2007, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died without dying. The man went to Germany for treatment for “catarrh” but the story was that he had died there. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had to phone him asking: “Umaru are you dead?” It was a tragically hilarious encounter. The “dead man” responded: “I have a severe dose of catarrh which has made it difficult for me to breathe. It is caused by the strenuous campaign across the country.” Nigerians thought whatever ailment made him abandon the campaign to become the President of Nigeria must be deadly serious, more serious than catarrh; in fact that he was dead. But he wasn’t dead. The following year, there was yet again, a swirling rumour of his death. We had no concrete information from his minders except that he was strong and plays squash. Even though he died eventually, it was not from catarrh or from playing squash or at the time they pronounced him dead. He died of something more serious that his minders thought they could keep away from the public for ever. All those around him knew that he was terminally ill but they chose the path of public deception through information manipulation. They did not reckon with Murphy’s law that “what can go wrong will go wrong.”
Two other Nigerian leaders have been killed by Nigeria’s feisty rumour machine since then: Former President Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s sitting President. Babangida went abroad for treatment for his well-known radiculopathy problem and some Nigerians decided to kill him with their foul tongues. Buhari’s trip in June last year was for a nagging ear problem and the rumour mill started grinding out information about his death. A couple of weeks ago he went for a 10-day vacation and according to the Presidency he would also see his doctor for a routine check-up. The commentators in the social media who have apparently taken Oake’s oath, a sworn testimony not to be taken seriously, took to their platforms in a mood of happy vulgarity to announce Buhari’s death. The nation was turned into one huge rumour mill. Was he dead? Was he alive?
And just a whisper away from us the CBN television in Banjul, Gambia reported, falsely, that Adama Barrow, the President Elect of Gambia had been murdered by unknown assailants who overpowered his security men, killed two other persons and wounded six. And nothing of the sort happened. Mr. Barrow is now sitting pretty in his office as the President of that poor beleaguered country pauperised by his deposed predecessor Yahya Jammeh who is now cooling his huge feet in a miserable exile dungeon in Equatorial Guinea. Is fake leader-killing an African disease, some form of euthanasia otherwise called mercy-killing?
Journalism is not science. It lacks the mathematical specificity of mathematics. But it is not guess-work, not gossip, not voodooism. It is based on facts and facts have no alternatives contrary to the nonsense spewed out by the Trump fraternity in the United States. Facts are just facts. Opinions have alternatives but opinions must be based on correct facts correctly stated. Mainstream journalism is in trouble right now because of the nuisance created by the so-called Citizen Journalism. One person sits on his lap-top computer and churns out nonsense and sends it to the world. The world gulps it down innocently. And the culprit for the dissemination of this falsehood is called media, even if the offence was committed by the social media which are not interested in professionalism or ethics that underpin journalism practice, and do not have the infrastructure for the credible practice of the profession. But we are condemned to live with the social media, warts and all, because it is a movement that has its positives too.
Part of the problem is that many Nigerians have a penchant for short cuts, quick fixes and for taking the path of least resistance. We also have the rare gift of puerile politicisation of every issue. Buhari’s death rumour may have something to do with the 2019 presidential race, specifically whether or not he is fit to have an encore in 2019. His potential opponents may be happy with the doubts that the rumours may create about his eligibility on health grounds for the presidential race in 2019.
Now Buhari is back apparently hale and hearty and not in a coffin. Mark Twain, real name Samuel L. Clemens, was in Buhari’s situation many years ago when a newspaper mistakenly published his obituary. He said wittily: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” President Buhari can say likewise. Afterall there are not many people in the world who are fortunate enough to read their obituaries in the media.