By Toby Prince
_“Citizen Journalism has taken journalism out of context. Editors used to be Magistrates. But now, journalism has been reduced to just a conversation”—Martins Oloja , (Editor of The Guardian Newspaper, Nigeria).July 16, 2022._
_In response to Oloja, author, journalist, and public relations executive, Kelechi Shadrach Okoronkwo wrote on his Facebook wall on July 7, 2022, “We can not mourn enough the desecration of the journalism profession, especially in times of election like this. Some ethnic and religious warlords, and political thugs no longer bear arms. They are undercover as publishers and journalists. The media space is full of junk. One does not feel safe, any longer, consuming any media item.”_
The name, Peoples Gazette, is one that should ordinarily command respect, trust, and assurance. The word “gazette” carries the ring of “an official journal” and when paired with “Peoples” it connotes an information platform that belongs to the people or at least an outlet for sourcing facts that add up to advance the collective interest.
Tragically, however, Nigeria’s version of Peoples Gazette published online at www.gazettengr.com is proven to be a branding scam aimed at leveraging on the respectable phrase to con its readers into believing that they are getting reliable information going by the believable name of the platform they are reading it from. Far from being a respectable news platform, Peoples Gazette is just another of those blog sites whose owners/publishers are full fledge into cybercrime viz cyberstalking, trolling, libel, blackmail, and extortion.
The Managing Editor of Peoples Gazette, Samuel Ogundipe has been using his publication for exactly this purpose. To the unwary, sites like Peoples Gazette would appear to be breaking news and exposing corruption, supposedly with biting analyses. The reality is however uglier than that altruistic front. Anyone that desires to know how things work at the backend only has to observe how the so-called “big exposés” fizzle out without follow-up or how public office holders earlier branded as undesirably corrupt become the subject of praise-singing.
Public office holders that have received a dose of the nauseating medicine from this kind of blog sites can attest to the overtures made to them, often under the guise of the publisher of the site attempting to balance a story that is supposedly indicting the subject, the spurious claim of corruption would be presented to the office holder with hints that publication of same would tarnish their image in the court of public opinion and that there is need to settle those that are in the know of the facts. Should the subject decide to “settle” the publisher then they have signed up for a long period of being extorted as these criminal publishers or “managing editors” will always come back for more and possibly with “new scoops”.
Where the subject refuses to play ball then the so-called damaging story is published to rubbish their person and office. Oftentimes the resulting exclusive story would be so banal that no anti-graft agency would find it worthy of review not to talk of investigation. Even the blog sites are unable to go beyond whatever shallow sensational headline the story was first published with. This trend persists because such publications are certain that their victims rarely seek legal redress but would rather silently lick the wounds inflicted on them in the court of public opinion, which tragically is skewed against anyone holding public office.
This perhaps was the incentive for Mr Ogundipe to grossly malign the person of Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Republic of Togo, Ambassador Tukur Yusuf Buratai, who has meritoriously served Nigeria as Chief of Army Staff with performance that saw him being made an envoy in recognition of what he has to offer the country. Ogundipe was part of the posse that ran the libelous fake news that N1.85 billion was discovered in a residence and office belonging to Ambassador Buratai, which the former Army Chief denied, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) firmly refuted.
Buratai’s legal team has served Peoples Gazette’s co-traveler on this nefarious journey, Sahara Reporters with a pre-action notice, which means it has huge litigation coming against it. This should have tipped Ogundipe off that the person targeted with the libelous story has nothing to hide and Peoples Gazette would fare well to do the needful. His view of Buratai is myopic and that is what now haunts him. He never realized that Buratai had nothing to hide.
Unfortunately, the Managing Editor and his publication appear to be out of touch with the reality of their situation. They took their attack a notch higher with an opinion piece, passed off as a news story, with the headline, “Police release Peoples Gazette’s editor, admin officer held on Tukur Buratai’s orders.” He failed to ask himself if the police would act without facts. Additionally, when publishers of blog sites are arrested over the publication of fake news, they tend to whip public opinion into a frenzy about how libel is a civil matter in which the police have no jurisdiction forgetting that cybercrime and blackmail component of their activities are criminal components that warrant the intervention of law enforcement agencies.
One must therefore assert that Mr. Ogundipe and Peoples Gazette blackmailing Ambassador Buratai is unbecoming of a national online news platform. It besmears citizen journalism in Nigeria and ridicules Nigeria’s online publications in other climes. It raises worrying questions about the kind of person Ogundipe has suddenly turned out to be at a time that the nation was expecting him to have turned a new leaf after he went on the run from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which investigated him for blackmailing the chairman of Air Peace airlines, Allen Onyema into paying him $300,000.
In Onyema’s case, Peoples Gazette’s accountant, Oluwafisayo Fadesire, was arrested and detained while trying to represent Ogundipe at a meeting in Ikeja GRA office of the Air Peace chairman. This goes to say the police raid on the Utako, Abuja office of the publication is not unconnected with Ogundipe’s latest attempt at blackmail, which he seems addicted to. The five personnel affected in the police raid, John Adenekan – assistant managing editor, Grace Oke, Ameedat Adeyemi, Justina Tayani, and Samuel Ogbu would do well to disclose to Nigerians their roles in Ogundipe’s latest blackmail and stories for payoff racket as their situation does not look different from that of the accountant, Fadesire. Hiding their misadventure under the blanket lie of media repression would not do them or the country any good.
It bears mentioning that many of us are Ogundipe’s seniors in the business of this online newspaper and we are excelling despite the harsh conditions under which the industry operates, especially at a time when the audience would rather pay attention to skit makers hence the advertising revenue is no longer the sole preserve of online news sites. However, resorting to surviving by ambushing and blackmailing prominent persons is a low to which he never should have sunken.
It will therefore be good to educate Ogundipe on the true personality of TY Buratai as one of the best generals that our country has ever produced. His attempt on Buratai’s reputation is therefore unacceptable and should be stopped. He should instead reply to inquiries made to him and not even allow anyone to go as far as invoking the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to get information from him. Ogundipe must also take to heart Okoronkwo’s worry that “One does not feel safe, any longer, consuming any media item.” This is what his ilk have reduced citizen and online journalism to.
Prince is an editor and wrote this piece from Abuja.