By Abdullahi Bego
Through the many years that it regularly collided with the truth, Saharareporters, that online, anything-goes echo-chamber that passes as a news medium, has earned a reputation of publishing just about anything it wants to often without recourse to the basic journalistic tenets of fact-checking, verification, and balance.
There are two reasons why this is possibly so. First, as a shadowy news organisation based in New York in the United States, Saharareporters does not maintain offices and operational bases in Nigeria. At a time that online journalism was rapidly becoming the most dominant genre in Nigerian journalism, Saharareporters wanted to appear to lead the Nigerian diasporic media space by becoming the number one go-to website on Nigerian news. But without the resources for full editorial presence, without the hard work and rigor to “get it right” as against the need to “get it first”, Saharareporters has repeatedly failed to tower above the petty, remaining entrapped in its motion without movement.
Second, Saharareporters is deeply troubled by its waning relevance. In the past, people could screen-shoot bits of information from SR and then haul them over the internet. Nowadays, there are far more credible, far more authoritative websites that people regularly visit. To try to grab back attention, SR often resorts to deliberate falsehoods and hyperbole.
SR’s craze for fame and for “getting it first” also meant that the website continues to rely on sources that are often conflicted, non-verifiable and downright mischievous. And since they assume that they are legally beyond reproach, being in far-away United States, they see nothing wrong in the ignoble path to disreputable journalism that they sometimes seemed to have chosen.
Before SR’s most recent falsehood about the Yobe State Government, Saharareporters had reported, in the twilight of the Gaidam administration in early 2019, that an amount of six billion naira approved by the state executive council for the continuation of the Damaturu Cargo Airport Project was just money siphoned away, as the administration was ending its tenure.
At that time, as Gaidam’s spokesperson, I wrote a rejoinder and personally contacted Mr Sowore, SR publisher, to publish it as a right of reply. The rejoinder, which was never published despite Mr Sowore promise, sought to correct the litany of errors contained in the initial report that Saharareporters did.
Now, what becomes of the right of reply? Is someone impacted by a report from a news medium not empowered to state their own side of the story?
Here is the bottom-line: Mr Sowore and his fellow-travellers at SR never cared about any truth or verification or ethics or even journalism itself. They cared about nothing like that. They are just a bunch of unprofessional scribblers who have found a way to make a name out of a profession they should have nothing to do with in the first place.
Just recently, for instance, SaharaReporters shamelessly published a story about the Yobe State Government providing official logistical support to its traditional rulers. The story was spun and muddled up to show that the gesture was a waste of public resources when in fact that was not the case.
In Yobe State, as in many places in the North, the traditional institutions are the linchpins that bind the society together. They play incredibly significant roles in community relations, and in the promotion of peace and stability. Therefore, providing logistical support to help them carry on with their defined roles as royal fathers is something that the people of the state understand and support. And it does not detract from other services and obligations that the government discharges on a regular basis.
The argument that providing those vehicles to the emirs somehow pushed the pendulum of our education back stretches credulity. It flies in the face of the unprecedented effort of the Buni administration to retrofit the education sector through massive construction of new infrastructure across the 17 local government areas of the state. The argument falls into irrelevance with the work that is ongoing – from the state of emergency that has been declared in the education sector – to reboot primary and secondary education in Yobe State.
There is no question that primary and secondary education is in a different place in Yobe today as a result of those efforts. And these are things that anyone can see on the ground – from Dapchi to Dokshi, Potiskum to Gashu’a.
Saharareporters’ latest lie that people in their hundreds were dying and being buried in Gashu’a and Potiskum as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates therefore segues with what we know about the medium. It is a way to grab attention, even though they can never vouch for their sources. If SR knows what Gashu’a and Potiskum are as communities, they would not even have made the attempt to write what they wrote.
These are cosmopolitan communities that would surely raise the alarm if a thing like that was happening. But there was nothing like that. And yet without any verifiable sources, SR went ahead to mislead, as usual.
Isn’t it reckless and totally unprofessional that SR would speak about deaths without citing any sources or a coroner’s report? Is that how they do it in the US or in New York where SR is based?
The claim that Gov. Mai Mala Buni was out of the state at the time of the COVID-19 crisis is also a shameless, disgusting stunt. SaharaReporters should be ashamed of itself. Anyone who knows even a scintilla about Yobe State knows that Governor Buni is very much on the ground chaperoning the affairs of the state, especially at this time of great challenges.
The governor went to Abuja only once last week – and that too for just a few days – to consult with President Muhammadu Buhari over security and other important issues.
It is time that SR learns to separate opinion from facts and news from conjecture. It is long past the time that a news medium, wherever it is based, would take its readers or audiences for granted. And the idea that Saharareporters is somehow beyond the law because it is based in the United States is false comfort. As Dr King once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends towards justice”.
Bego is Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture Yobe State.