There is a saying that goes like this: “If you want to kill a cock before it is ready to be eaten, just take it to the market place.” In the same manner, if you want to obliterate a man’s character and competencies, subject him to the whims and caprices of public opinion.
Before President Muhammadu Buhari was repackaged as a ‘converted democrat’ prior to the 2015 general elections, General Buhari was thought of as a radical, a brutal dictator attempting a comeback, a man on a mission to crush the adversaries that toppled him in 1985, and a serial-presidential candidate who had nothing new to offer the country.
After the General spearheaded the formation that amalgamated the now-ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and it became clear that he was the frontrunner amongst the aspirants that threw their weight in the ring to vie for the presidency, the perception of the Buhari that was sold to the Nigerian public in 2003, 2007 and again in 2011 was altered with the complicity of Nigeria’s mainstream media to signify the true perception of the man that has become our president.
With the buy-in from popular media, Buhari became incorruptible. Because the newsmen wanted you to believe it, Buhari became the saviour of the New Nigeria that the APC was selling to the public prior to the elections. Because the media was tired of Jonathan, Buhari became the anti-Jonathan – a president-in-making that would take Nigeria to the promised land. Buhari became all these things and Nigerians forgot the lies that they were previously sold about this same Buhari – because it was pounded into their consciousness day-in and day-out. Eventually, we elected a man that we had rejected at the polls three times before.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” that is how another saying that applies to what is happening today in Nigeria’s mainstream media and political environment goes. This is regarding the ongoing trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
You see, when the news media chooses to love you, they make you a saint in the eyes of the public. But when they choose to gang-up on you simply to skew public opinion (in the case of media houses with an agenda), or conform with public opinion (in the case of media houses that want to sell papers or generate traction), they can paint the sanest of individuals as mad men. With the power of pens, words, and subtle suggestions, virgins can be tainted as whores and the preachings of the noblest priests can be turned into incendiary words. In the same way, the trial of one man, which is clearly politically-motivated and has been full of flaws and procedural errors, can also be whitewashed as the poster-child of Nigeria’s anti-corruption struggle.
The media can make you believe what they want you to believe. After all, as Thomas Jefferson urged the newsman, Thomas Paine, in a letter in 1796, “Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword.” What this means is that these days, political assassinations are not done with weapons, but with words.
As mentioned earlier, if you want to destroy a man, subject him to the caprices of public opinion, and let his enemies stone him with unsubstantiated allegations in the newspapers. Let that man be standing trial on his asset declaration form from more than a decade ago, while the witnesses are talking about issues that are entirely unrelated to the case. Let that man’s rights under the law be trampled upon because he made a few enemies when he climbed too high. Let that man’s achievements in the seat that they did not want him to attain be brushed under the carpet, and only let his perceived negatives come to light.
Better yet, let us all drag him out to the public square before the trial is over and do the needful. After all, this is what mainstream media in recent times has demanded of us as a country. They have painted the picture that their paymasters want us to see, and we – the Nigerian public – have been too lazy to fact-check the fabrications by ourselves. In the same way we were too lazy to learn more about the positive sides to Buhari’s in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
As an alternative to being spoon-fed the doctored news, we can proceed with caution. Understanding that any negative legal or political precedents that are set in Saraki’s case, will not only negatively impact the country’s polity, but will also affect Nigeria’s governance. We can also task ourselves to understand the case, study the allegations that have been levelled against the man, weigh the contributions of the witnesses and the prosecution with an unbiased mind, and come to our own conclusions on its merit.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. Martin Luther King said. In this regard, we must not convict Saraki in the courts of public opinion. We must also demand that he be given a right to a fair trial. We must be conscientious in doing this, because the fabric of any society is tied together only by the equitable dispensation of the law.
And so far, the law – just like the news media – has not been fair to Bukola Saraki.
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