Sahara Reporters: When Near-Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely By Muhammadu Mustapha
On Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 Sahara Reporters published an article on the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki’s case at the Federal High Court, Abuja, that several legal professionals have called a dangerous judicial precedent.
The article in question, which was entitled “Billionaire Judge Withdraws From Saraki’s Case Over Saharareporters Investigative Report”, bragged about how Justice Abdukadir Abdu-Kafarati of a Federal High Court in Abuja withdrew from the case filed by the Senate President, which sought an order to stop his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). The article took outright credit for making Justic Kafarati withdraw from the case, at it levied several misleading accusations that called into question the character of the judge.
In the Monday, March 21st, 2016 article entitled “Billionaire Judge To Rule Tuesday On Saraki’s Application To Quash Corruption Trial”, Sahara Reporters laid out a series of charges against Justice Kafarati based solely on supposition, conjectures and presumptions, which have been since dispelled by relevant agencies of the Federal Government.
In Sahara Reporters’ claims, Kafarati had several petitions against him at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the National Judicial Council (NJC) based solely on the size of his personal net worth.
The Sahara Reporters piece went on to state that: “An EFCC investigation into [Kafarati’s] financial dealings shows [that] he was found with a vast treasure chest of N2billion in his private account.”
With these developments, Sahara Reporters cast aspersions on the competence and integrity of Justice Kafarati, which forced him to release a statement that said his honour had been “maligned by the reports.”
The Justice, went on to also state that:
“If I grant the prayers of the applicant. The reading public will say yes, the judge has been compromised. If I refuse the prayers, they will say the judge has been threatened or intimidated. The most honourable thing for me to do is to disqualify myself from this case. I hereby disqualify myself from this case and the file is returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment.”
However, in a shocking twist of events, the EFCC unexpectedly released a statement condemning the unauthorised use of its name by Sahara Reporters to subvert the cause of justice.
In the statement, the EFCC went on to describe the Sahara Reporters piece on Kafarati as “entirely the imagination of the authors.” This meant that Sahara Reporters lied to the general public simply to influence the decision of the court; a clear case of frying pans calling kettles black.
The EFCC went on to further state that “All allusions to the Commission’s investigation or documents in the said publication should be disregarded.” This meant that the financial watchdog had at no time revealed the details of any investigation into Kafarati’s wealth, real or imagined, to Sahara Reporters.
Banging the nail into the coffin, the EFCC ended its denial into Sahara Reporter’s claims by emphasising that at no time did it “share intelligence or reveal the content of any dossier it may have on any judge for that matter with any media organization either in Nigeria or abroad.”
Since then, Sahara Reporters has remained silent, failing to reveal where it got its alleged sources – if it had any in the first place. But, the damage had already been done. No retraction was printed. The Justice had already withdrawn. To Sahara Reporters, no retraction was necessary. Its agenda had already been fulfilled.
Over the last few months, Sahara Reporters has started a dangerous trend of attempting to preempt and subvert the cause of justice by publishing false reports against public figures.
Once upon a time, the public looked to Sahara Reporters to expose the wrongdoings of the government. With its catchy slogan: “Report Yourself,” the Omoyele Sowore-founded platform endeared itself to the public by standing on the side of the common man. When the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan erred, Sahara Reporters was always the first platform with the truth. When the ruling party at the time, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), attempted to rig elections, Sahara Reporters was always the first platform to get its hands on the actual election results.
However, in recent times, like a case of the powerful man becoming too careless in the use of his powers, Sahara Reporters has began to lose its way. Recently, the platform published a story about the Vice-President, Yemi Osibanjo, that alleged that he had cancelled a planned trip to India, based on a protocol gaffe. Sahara Reporters went on to quote the sum of $250,000 as the reported cost of the supposed trip, saying that: “The Nigerian government lost over $250,000 to VP Osinbajo’s trip cancellation.”
In a swift reaction by the Presidency, Laolu Akande, the spokesman to the Vice-President, denied the claims stating that there was never any final decision of the Vice-President to travel, and the trip in question would be led by Industry & Trade Minister, Dr. Okey Enelamah. Again, Sahara Reporters printed out no retraction.
Another famous example of Sahara Reporters getting it wrong, is in the case of the alleged arrest of Alhaji Musa Yola, an in-law to President Buhari. On June 28th, 2015, Sahara Reporters released an article with the title “President Buhari Orders Arrest Of Wife’s Younger Brother Over Alleged Extortion.”
In the article in question, Sahara Reporters cited sources that claimed that Yola, a younger brother to the wife of President Buhari, allegedly received N300 million from a businessman after promising to provide him with political access to secure an oil block from the Buhari administration. Days after the report in question came out, Yola filed a petition through his lawyers ordering Sahara Reporters to print out a retraction and an apology. Additionally, Alhaji Garba Shehu, the presidential spokesman also rubbished the claims of the New York-based platform. Again, with no arrests recorded of Yola by any of the government agencies, and with Sahara Reporters failing to prove its claims, it again failed to print out a retraction. The damage was already done. Yola’s image had already been tarnished.
The Way Forward
In common terms, the danger with Sahara Reporters’ actions is that the news, like the law is meant to be neutral, impartial, and work for the good of all concerned. However, in the course of the law and the reporting of the news, pointing falsified fingers and concocting uncorroborated charges against any person, simply to force a specific outcome, denotes a height of deliberate indecency.
Like the cases involving Osibanjo, Buhari’s brother-in-law, and in more recent times, Saraki, Sahara Reporters has shown that it is more interested in making the news, than reporting the news. What this means is that Sahara Reporters has demonstrated that it cares more about the hits that it generates on its platform, more than it cares about its credibility.
On the judicial side of things, Nigerians should be worried that a platform run from an office somewhere in New York, has the power to dispense the harsh judgement of public perception arbitrarily – without fact-checking its claims. Today, it has happened to Kafarati, who mentioned that he was withdrawing from Saraki’s case because his integrity was being called into question. Tomorrow, it could be the judge on your case, if you ever find yourself seeking redress of any sort in the court of law.
Moving forward, as Kafarati’s case has still not been reassigned by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Nigerians should insist that Kafarati continue with the case. We cannot continue to allow a platform with a long and extensive track-record of falsehoods to continue to dictate the trajectory of our laws.
Furthermore, there is a need for Sahara Reporters to stop parading itself as a credible media organization if it still intends on tarnishing the image of Nigeria’s public figures, and in turn, Nigeria without facts and it will.
All great nations have thrived on the adherence to the rule of law. With Sahara Reporters operating on unregulated guerrilla-style online warfare, the time has come for the public to entirely disregard it reports, or weigh them thoroughly with many tablespoons of salt.
Muhammadu Mustapha is a Public Affairs Analyst from Kano State.
You can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or @MMusty87.