I must thank Reno Omokri for his measured response to my own reaction to his comments at the Atlantic Council. I see that he has now tried to throw more light on his relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan and Joe Trippi; but, with all due respect, I do not think he has done enough. Now, while it is not my intention to drag this on and on, I feel it is crucial that we understand what both of us are saying, what the disagreement is substantively about, how to resolve it and how we move forward from here as patriots that want our nation to work under the right leadership.
Personally, I am not interested in just blaming the leadership for our woes and sitting in one corner sulking while they heartily rape our nation! No, I am more interested in making whatever leadership there now do what it needs to do, what it has to do to get our nation and our people working to attain the potential we all know we have! Reno Omokri is not an enemy; but only he will decide if he is a spoke in the wheel or the oil!
In relation to the issues under consideration, one thing I must first state is that it really is not about whether Omokri works with Joe Trippi. That is not in doubt. What is in doubt is when he started working with him. He says he’s been employed in Trippi’s firm since 2006 and has tried to produce a letter/affidavit written in 2007 to support this. If Mr Omokri had stopped there, I wouldn’t be pushing it further here; however, since he is interested in putting out documentation to prove his employment with Trippi & Associates, I will have to let him know that what we need is not a letter or affidavit, but his letter of employment in 2006, his ID card(s) within the period and pay stubs/advice and most importantly, evidence of dated work that he’s done for Trippi & Associates from the date of his employment till now. While I am not saying that a scanned letter with the date of 2007 is a forgery, I am saying it isn’t proof enough of the date of his employment with Trippi & Associates or the fact of it. After all, I am not saying Omokri has no association with Trippi. If he doesn’t, Trippi won’t be at the Atlantic Council to show support. What we are talking about here is the nature of that relationship and I stand by my claim that it is not a clear-cut employee-employer relationship. It is one based on an arrangement that concerns the work he and Trippi do for Jonathan. The convoluted attempt to hide that smacks of something fishy. Or is it the practice of Mr Trippi to be writing “To whom it may concern” letters on behalf of his Vice President or other staff as proof that they work with his organization?
Now, I am surprised Omokri is keener to disclose that he is not a kinsman to President Jonathan or Oronto Douglas than dealing with the substantive issue related to that, which is his working relationship with Jonathan. The point I am making is that Omokri cannot pretend to be an outside observer or a mere activist or civil society person commenting on national issues from an objective platform when he is a paid operative of the Jonathan media machine and when he is always there working with Oronto Douglas on Jonathan’s media agenda. I mean, anytime Joe Trippi comments on Nigerian affair or writes about Jonathan, he is quick to make a full disclosure. He would preface anything he writes in this regard with an admission that he works for Jonathan and then go ahead to say whatever he’s got to say. That way anyone reading him will put that in perspective and accept or reject whatever opinion or fact he tenders in that context. But, no, Omokri does not do that. In fact, if we are to believe he works for Trippi & Associate in the capacity he claims and from the time he claims up till now and if we are to believe he is Vice President (Africa) for the organization and that it is in such a capacity he is involved with Jonathan, the latter being a client of his company, why then is he not making the same full disclosure like his ‘boss’, Joe Trippi? Why is he hiding the fact when it indeed should be the first thing to disclose? Mr Omokri should stop being economical with the truth. He is a lawyer and understands what constitutes a conflict of interest. I view as less-than-straightforward the manner in which he is going about things and his penchant for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians by presenting himself as an independent observer and commentator. He is being paid by the Nigerian taxpaying public and must know he owes them full disclosure at every point in time he chooses to make a public intervention on his client’s behalf. Dr Jekyll must first publicly execute Mr Hyde before he can make us swallow his medicine!
All the above notwithstanding, the core reason for my intervention is over Omokri’s claims that SaharaReporters is invariably behind the killings, maiming and destruction of property going on in the North of Nigeria because it reported on statements made by opposition politicians. Isn’t it surprising that Omokri who claims to work in the public media sector has a problem understanding that in an election season everyone, opposition or incumbents, do need to be heard? What exactly does he describe as amplification? Is SaharaReporters the only medium that reported on these things he found inciting or is it a case of calling a dog a dreadful name to garrotte it? Nigerian newspapers and Nigeria-related websites are replete with stories and reports on opposition comments, but Omokri chose to stigmatise SaharaReporters! He chose to do so, even where he knows that the foot soldiers of mayhem do not read SaharaReporter! Or how many of these were seen wielding iPads, Samsung Galaxies or Blackberries as their sources of information with SaharaReporters clearly emblazoned on their screens? Are the things he accuses SaharaReporters of anything more than the usual opposition positions as they presented them to the media and as published by all?
The truth is that violence and the threats of violence have since stained the political environment from the day Mr Jonathan decided to cynically overturn his party’s zoning arrangement with the backing of his godfathers with the aim of contesting the presidential election. While I personally find the whole zoning thing distasteful in operation within the PDP (but not in principle), I find it more worrying that a President who rose to the top of the party and national political hierarchy through that system would, in a fit of ambition, jettison it to serve his own selfish purpose. Of course, every follower of Nigerian politics understands the fact that an incumbent President can coerce the party machinery and the leadership into dancing to his or her tune in a prebendal state, but to do so raises huge moral questions that he or she must address. For Jonathan, it is a simple case of whether it was fair for him to instigate the sacking of his party executive, undermine the spirit and intendment of section 7(2)(c) of his party’s constitution and suborn and twist the hands of everyone that matters into making this possible when he could have generally let his party get on with their convention and either contest under the banner of another party or just opt out of it altogether, while concentrating on his work as President. Was it wise for him to go all this length and at this cost, in human and material terms, to occupy that seat at the expense of performance and loss of trust of a huge section of the country? Was it wise of him to heat up the polity with all that debate and the attendant violence that followed immediately and which has now finally come to a head when misguided citizens think protest against his electoral triumph must take the form of destruction of lives and property? Why is Omokri pointing the accusing finger at SaharaReporters when it would have been more appropriate to finger his client?
Again, let me state that I have accepted the result of the election. I accept Goodluck Jonathan as the legitimately elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I accept him as my President. But he must understand that this is a mandate grudgingly given, because as much as popular (but tentative) opinion is of the view that the election that produced him is better than the atrocious affair that brought him and Yar’Adua in 2007, even that assessment is far more likely to get worse with further revelations about the high-tech rigging that happened. It is not a question of whether he would still have won in a truly free and fair election or that other parties too did it; it is about setting real democratic standards for succession, not pretences towards it. Nonetheless, whatever the flaws of the election, he has a better platform than President Musa Yar’Adua to change the national dynamics. People have seen that the INEC in place is one we can improve on and make better, unlike the outright criminal enterprise run by the crooked Professor Maurice Iwu. At least investments have been made in technology and an attempt has been made to produce a proper voters’ register. Even though it proved to be flawed, it did help in no small way to reduce incidences of fraud. Yes, some under-aged voters found their way into the register and were caught voting; but still, we aren’t talking on a big scale here. People have rightly observed now that most of the rigging took place with multiple voting by the same persons with connivance of some INEC and security officials and that figures got magically inflated between polling stations and collation centres with inexplicably exponential rise in the numbers and percentages that voted on the 9th of April and the 16th of April in crucial and decisive areas. So, our electoral challenge would be to cut out these shady areas and make it more foolproof. Yes, President Jonathan and Attahiru Jega deserve some form of commendation for how far they’ve gone to sanitize the process, but whatever they have done is clearly not enough. We need to make the system intelligible and believable for even the most illiterate of our countrymen and women to avoid the type of thing we are seeing in the North today where uninformed, illiterate and unemployed young men feel justified to go on rampage killing and maiming because they think their vote did not count!
Mr Omokri is a Nigerian and I do believe he’s a patriot doing his best, but sometimes our best needs to be questioned by others who want a better standard. If you’re working for the President in the area of selling him to the social media network community, start with having something to sell. Start with getting the President working on things he should work on. Be bold to tell him that you will not be party to selling snake oil to the Nigerian and international public as achievement. Jonathan does not strike me as someone who would be mean enough to initiate a programme to go after his opponents, those that oppose him or critics of his policies in cyberspace; but he certainly is someone who would be persuaded to see it as inevitable if such an idea is sold to him. It’s quite easy to see that he is a plaything in the hands of some of his close advisers. His Facebook musings, his tepid hot and cold and hot speeches and his uncoordinated policy positions all indicate too many cooks, doing several things, contradicting each other and letting the President carry the can of indecisiveness, weakness, timidity and visionlessness all on his own, as he should! No one is saying we must have an Einstein for President; but he must at least know how and where to find the right people to make him not only look good, but to work to make that impression real!
The President has less than two years to win us over. His first business is to unite us; so, the Omokris of this world must not point accusing fingers at SaharaReporters or anyone. Rather, they should spend time in cyberspace selling the unity idea in concrete forms to complement whatever the President is doing on the ground. His second task is to institute transparency in government and show that there are no sacred cows anymore in the nation by rooting out all the rotten apples, high and low, especially those in the corridors of power. The President can do no worse by beginning to look at the Power sector which portfolio he’s kept for himself and which is stinking to high heavens as we speak. People like Oronto Douglas and Omokri must be telling him to clear the Aegean Stables by releasing the report of the Ndudi Elumelu Power Probe, reviewing the proposed sale of PHCN assets to political criminals at pittance by first making sure that due diligence is followed and transparency instituted in all the stages of disposal, collapsing the two Committees he set up in this regard into one, keeping an eye on the atrocious spending of the Presidential Task Force on Power, listening to the workers’ perspective, routing the generator and petroleum cabal stalling things in the sector and most importantly, putting the right investment in there to get our people working and our economy moving!
But while engaged in the above, he must equally do a lot of introspection and admit that his own profligacy must stop! He is a leader and one simple thing about great leaders is the ability to correct their mistakes. He has come into a position where the culture of profligacy is entrenched. He has let himself be swept along by that wave, possibly believing that this is the only way to do it in Nigeria, because that is the way we are. No, that is not the way we are; that is the way the Nigerian unproductive and predatory establishment is. He does not need to borrow the ACN’s broom to do a clear-out of that culture. He can find his own and it is called courage and political will! Once he shows Nigerians that he has his broom in place and the will to wield it, we will back him all the way with the last drop of our blood; not because we’re suicidal, but because we know that if he succeeds even halfway, our own children’s future will be secured! The Omokris of this world can help here by publishing the President’s vision and actions in this regard in cyberspace! We want our country to work and we have given President Jonathan the key to move this engine forward. If he isn’t sitting on the driver’s seat and starting this train, we are not jumping in with him! SaharaReporters remain committed to advocacy journalism. It remains committed to outing the secrets of bad governance. It remains a sentinel at the door of our national patrimony. Jonathan will find us and the long-suffering Nigerian people veritable instruments of national progress if he shows himself to be forward-looking. Let him just share his vision and show he’s got the bottle!
I hereby call on Mr Reno Omokri to look to the future, change his work ethic to fit in with what is required in public service. I call on him to see this period as one to develop himself for bigger things in our nation and to know that sacrificing his credibility this early pursuant to any leader’s personal agenda isn’t worth it. Of course, Jonathan isn’t a bad person to work for, but he himself must develop the cojones to determine how he wants to do that work or what it should entail. The underlining principle is to always make sure that he and his colleagues operating for Jonathan in the social media arena are bringing people together pursuant to a productive and sustainable vision of development, rather than an investment in divide and rule. SaharaReporters isn’t being paid by anyone. It is a citizens’ initiative that has citizens’ backing. So, where we see our citizens following Omokri and Jonathan in that mission to save our country from the maniacal grip of bad leadership, we will only be too happy to join the train.