In Nigeria, journalism has been rumoured dead several times, but the media seem to have finally killed it by their coverage of President Muhammadu Buhari’s vacation in London for the past three weeks. None has published a story explaining the whereabouts of Buhari or his state of health. It has been one photo of visitors published on social media or a release by a press assistant who got information from someone who got information from someone else.
This Monday, the trending story was that US President Trump engaged Buhari in a phone conversation. Yet there was no evidence that the two leaders spoke on the phone. Trump has yet to mention it in his tweets. At the time they were supposed to have spoken (3:45pm), Trump was shown live on TV hosting Canadian prime minister Trudeau.
Trump couldn’t have disturbed an ailing president who was vacationing in a foreign country. There is acting President Yemi Osinbajo who has stepped in for Buhari. Maybe a representative of the president spoke with Trump on his behalf; is that what deserves to be hidden from the public?
A group of “image makers” who attempted to shield Nigerians from former president Umaru Yar’Adua between December 2009 and May 2010 was called “the cabal”. Another “cabal” seems to have emerged in 2017. In one breadth, Buhari was described as “hale and hearty”; in another breadth, he was meeting with his doctors. In the morning he was reported to be having lunch; in the evening, he was waiting for lab results.
No lens could be used to separate truth from fiction in news stories published by Nigerian media, mainstream and online, anymore. Also on Monday, there was a story that Bola Tinubu had denied that he visited Buhari in London together with Bisi Akande. An APC spokesman later refuted the story. How many politicians are trustworthy anyway?
When otherwise credible newspapers, TV and radio stations choose to rely on press releases from doubtful sources or hearsay from beer parlours, it is a sign that journalism is dead. Not just investigative journalism but the entire profession is imperilled.
The result: Few people believe what they read in the media anymore. For most Nigerians, seeing is believing. Buhari’s return will clear all doubts.
Eyeway has been different. We are convinced the president is not feeling fine in London. And we pray for him.