WikiLeaks, the online "non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public," is no match for Nigeria's RumourLeaks. While the Julian Assange-created, ripple-causing document archive blows the whistle on "material of ethical, political and historical significance," RumourLeaks blows the final whistle. And just as the Nigerian media have helped, to no little extent, in re-leaking WikiLeaks-leaked secrets to their numerous patrons, they also appear, especially in recent times, to be getting entangled in the web of the final-whistle blower.
Only recently a Lagos-based national newspaper whistled into this intriguing web. In its Sunday, March 06, 2011 issue, the daily had allegedly reported that "according to US diplomatic cables leaked to the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks and which was made exclusively available to us, (President Goodluck) Jonathan helped himself gain the vice presidency four years ago by voting illegally four times." Probably, an allegation of multiple voting by a vice president was as much as the diplomatic cables leaked. But perhaps in the competitive attempt to do better than WikiLeaks, the newspaper had gone further to report that "the astonishing accusation against Mr. Jonathan, now a president seeking validation at the polls next month, came from Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomole in a December, 2008 briefing with US diplomats."
The reaction of the Media Adviser to the governor, Tony Iyare, was swift. "At no time did the governor ever make such a weighty allegation against President Goodluck Jonathanâ€¦ The person in reference is the former military vice president, Augustus Aikhomu, whose name was tendered in court as having voted four times during the epic case to regain the mandate popularly given to Oshiomole." But did Gov. Oshiomole make allegation of multiple voting against a (former) vice president during a briefing with US diplomats? If he did, did he go further to mention the name of the actual deputy? If he did not, what then was the source of the newspaper's report that the (former) Number Two in question was Goodluck Jonathan? WikiLeaks? RumourLeaks?
That was only one of numerous such intriguing head-on collisions involving media reports and newsmakers' denials in recent times. In the final days of February, 2011, some national newspapers reported that the Oba of Benin, Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, ordered the Minister of State for Works, Chief Chris Ogienmwonyi, out of his palace over his failure to accomplish the completion of the rehabilitation works on the Lagos-Benin Expressway. Some 48 hours later, the revered monarch, in a statement issued and signed by the Secretary to the Palace of the Oba of Benin, Orosanye Guobadia, was reported to have described the report as false and misleading. Were the palace authorities playing games? Or, if not, what then was the source of the "misleading report"?
In the same vein, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, was reported, in a national newspaper on Tuesday, March 08, 2011, to have refuted the reported allegation alluded to him that the Supreme Court judges took bribe to validate the election of the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Ardua. The Speaker was reported to have denied, in a statement signed by his Special Adviser (Communications), Kayode Odunaro, ever making such allegations including statements describing the EFCC as worthless in any meeting with the then US Ambassador, Robin Sanders. Was the Speaker saying the whole truth? Was the national daily which had earlier reported the story, quoting WikiLeaks as its source, actually spreading the gospel according to the whistle blower? Or was the case that of the hand of leaking WikiLeaks but the voice of ultra-leaking RumourLeaks?
The devastated Speaker had earlier crash-landed into another media controversy when at the beginning of March, media report had it that an helicopter in which he was flying in company with Gov. Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State crash-landed somewhere in the state. But an evening news report monitored on a local radio station on March 03, had the spokesman for both public officers putting up a denial claiming that the plane only had an emergency landing following an engine problem. Blowing the whistle might be sufficient to describe emergency landing. Only the final whistle could have appropriately captured the calamity of crash-landing.
Even the darling of the majority of the populace, largely expected to create the desired tension-dousing atmosphere, the Freedom of Information Bill, itself got caught up in the controversy. After he was extensively quoted by several newspapers as having said he would advise President Goodluck Jonathan against signing the Bill, Special Adviser to the nation's number one citizen on National Assembly Matters, Senator Muhammed Abba-Aji, had attracted public criticism and even a warning from the Presidency. But speaking to journalists later, the controversial Special Adviser, apparently venting the spleen of indictment on RumourLeaks, claimed he was not against the bill but simply drew the attention of the public to the likely conflict between the proposed piece of legislation and the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution as it relates to the Oath of Office and the Official Secret Act.
If that media rub-a-dub music and hip-hop dancing provided any opportunity (even if clumsy) to wriggle out of the tight corner, his defence against his reported foreclosure of the Igbo quest to succeed Jonathan, did not. According to him, "contrary to this statement, I strongly believe that my Igbo brothers and sisters have equal rights with all members of other ethnic groups of our nation to seek any public office, including the exalted office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria." But any six-year-old kid on the streets of Ikot Ekpene or Talata Mafara is already familiar with that â€˜national anthem' of a verbal proclamation. And what the Senator strongly believed might not necessarily have informed what proceeded out of his mouth.
Like an okada accident victim ferried to the hospital on yet another okada, the reports and the denials are all reported by Nigerian newspapers. And just as the Good Samaritan okada rider would never fluff the opportunity to impress it on stakeholders he was not responsible for the accident, newspapers reporting the refutations never fail to dissociate themselves from the initial reports. "â€¦ Some national daily (not this newspaper) had reported thatâ€¦" Ominously, there have been quite a disturbing number of such situations in recent times. It is either newsmakers are becoming more and more sophisticated and daring in their fly-a-kite-and-deny socio-political engineering or that the media now source a good chunk of their information from RumourLeaks.