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Oyigbo Saga: Premium Times And The Burden Of Objective Journalism

Our attention has been drawn to a viral social media post ostensibly put up by Premium Times on several of its verified social media handles including Twitter titled: Cooking, Oyigbo Investigations: Like Sanwo-Olu, like Wike https://twitter.com/ Premium Timesng/status/ 1330578311823626243?s=08

Our attention has been drawn to a viral social media post ostensibly put up by Premium Times on several of its verified social media handles including Twitter titled: Cooking, Oyigbo Investigations: Like Sanwo-Olu, like Wike https://twitter.com/ Premium Timesng/status/ 1330578311823626243?s=08

The post reads thus: "ALERT: PREMIUM TIMES will publish an investigative report on Oyigbo, revealing evidence of war-grade violence on defenceless and innocent people, extrajudicial killings, destructions and human rights abuses.

"This investigation by @Hazzanjustice (Taiwo Hassan Adebayo) is based on on-the-ground reporting, interviews with multiple sources, including witnesses, families of victims, military, mortuary and hospital sources and review of verified pictures."

Without meaning to cast aspersions on the Premium Times brand, we are a bit surprised that they would first proceed to advertise this investigative report in a sensational manner that sends disturbing professional and ethical signals about its intent and purpose.

This is quite uncharacteristic of the identified style of Premium Times but then we recognise that sometimes, there could be exceptions to the rule.

The case of exception with this purported investigative report therefore further reinforces our suspicion that there could be more to it that goes beyond ethical and professional Journalistic service.

Again, the promotional blurb unambiguously presumes that the investigation has already been done and dusted with a judgemental conclusion.

This blurb reeks of highly opinionated, subjective and biased partiality against a particular party. Otherwise, how does one explain the meaning contained in this statement: " ALERT: PREMIUM TIMES will publish an investigative report on Oyigbo, revealing evidence of war-grade violence on defenceless and innocent people, extrajudicial killings, destructions and human rights abuses."

Again, we find the obviously robust attempt to promote this investigation rather curious, especially coming in the wake of the expose by the Cable News Network, CNN on the #EndSARS peaceful protests and attendant events of October 20, 2020 at Lekki Tollgate.

This purported investigation by Premium Times, couched in the promotional phrase: "Cooking, Oyigbo Investigations: Like Sanwo-Olu, like Wike", when placed pari-pasu with the trending CNN report, betrays the intention of the investigation and lends strong credence to the suspicion that Premium Times may have been contracted by some interests, to create a diversion from Lagos State and Lekki Tollgate to Rivers and Oyigbo.

Of course, we are not unaware of the reports of some shadowy organizations masquerading as civil society groups, which have been throwing out humongous figures of casualties in Oyigbo and painting gory pictures or unsubstantiated massacres and unproven extrajudicial killings.

This is no doubt a concerted effort to redirect national attention from Lagos to Rivers State and inserting Governor Wike's name in their stories to give them some dubious relevance.

While this observatory article is definitely not an attempt in anyway to preempt whatever Premium Times is 'cooking' or has 'cooked', it is important to state the facts clearly as they relate to Governor Wike, Rivers State and Oyigbo Local Government Area.

First of all, Governor Wike is the duly elected Governor of Rivers State and Oyigbo Local Government Area is one of the local government councils in the State, which gives him the sole constitutional authority to ensure that peace, security and harmonious coexistence of indigenes and residents are  maintained at all times.

The importance of this point is premised on Premium Times own admission that: "This investigation by @Hazzanjustice (Taiwo Hassan Adebayo) is based on on-the-ground reporting, interviews with multiple sources, including witnesses, families of victims, military, mortuary and hospital sources and review of verified pictures."

We are therefore eager to know if in the course of its investigation, it also interviewed and interacted with the Chief Security officer of the State or any of his delegated officials to also get a first hand report of their side of the story. Any investigation that does not include this is completely null and void, misleading and made up of contrived falsehoods.

Let us state clearly too that in the aftermath of the gruesome events of arson and destruction that tainted what had been a very peaceful and nationally endorsed #EndSARS protests by Nigerian youths, all the states of the federation had been mandated by President Muhammadu Buhari to set up their independent Judicial Panels of Inquiry which had been one of the key demands of the protesters.

We are glad to note that not only did Rivers State set up its own Judicial Panel of Inquiry, but that Premium Times itself reported it copiously in its story by Cletus Ukpong, published on October 23, 2020, titled: "Wike tasks panel to probe if govt officials sponsor police brutality" and also in its November 9, 2020 report titled: #EndSARS: See the states that have set up panels of inquiry so far (in which Rivers State is number 26).

It would therefore be quite interesting to see if the Premium Times investigation also contains comprehensive reports and interviews from the Rivers State #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry, as Nigerians have already seen from what is transpiring with the Lagos Judicial panel.

Once again, while the penchant for mischief makers and truth twisters to whip up overblown sentiments and propaganda is very much at play, the clear facts of the #EndSARS protests in Oyigbo must continue to be stated clearly and unequivocally for the records and for posterity.

They are as follows:

On Tuesday 21st October 2020, an orgy of violence and destruction was inflicted on Oyigbo Local Government Area and some parts of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area under the guise of the #EndSARS protests. This evil, wicked and audacious action resulted in the unnecessary loss of scores of lives, including soldiers and police officers, and the destruction of police stations, court buildings and business premises.

Comprehensive security reports, corroborated by live radio broadcasts by their fugitive leader, applauding the mayhem and urging more destruction, revealed that it was the proscribed separatist group, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra(IPOB) that carried out these attacks

Not done with Oyigbo, they also visited physical violence on members of some targeted communities which, but, for the quick intervention of the State Government and the security agencies, would have resulted in some form of internecine bloodbath.

The State Government, in a statewide broadcast by Governor Wike, promptly imposed a 24 hours curfew in Oyigbo and the other affected areas.

If the curfew had not been imposed comprehensively and in the nick of time, it would have exploded into a full blown ethnic war in the community and across Rivers State.

As a matter of fact, all over Rivers State, Oyigbo town has practically become known as IPOB's main operational base in which they have attempted to rename and from where they have become notorious for launching premeditated violence and terror.

The fact also  remains that as a stranger element with strange political ideology, IPOB, which had already been proscribed and declared a terrorist organization by the Federal Government has no legal or moral right to invade Rivers State or any part therefore at its behest and hoist its sepratist flag; disturb public peace; and subject lives and property to violence or threat of destruction under any guise.

It is also germane to place on record, for the avoidance of doubt, that the IPOB attack was against the Police and the Nigerian Army.

Governor  Wike responded by reinforcing the proscription of IPOB and its activities in the State through a legitimate Executive order and imposing a curfew on the community to save lives and secure more state property from being destroyed by IPOB.

Unfortunately for IPOB however, its attack was against the Nigerian Army, which constitutionally reports only to the Chief of Army Staff and the President of Nigeria who is the Commander in Chef of the Armed Forces and head of the Federal Government that proscribed it.

Not only was it confirmed that the IPOB hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest, killed some soldiers, it was also reported that they stole some military rifles too and the leadership of the Nigerian Army, acting independently, instructed and directed the response and recovery operation of its stolen arms on its own mandate and authority.

Let us also state that Rivers State was the most peaceful State, amongst all the States and in spite of the various social media provocation, during the #EndSARS protests. Governor Wike in collaboration with security agencies ensured that the protesters peaceful until IPOB and its hoodlums hijacked the peacefulness of the process.

We would therefore expect and even demand that the Premium Times investigation, whose promotional intro does not even reflect the primary agent, instigator and perpetrator of the shedding of the innocent blood of 10 soldiers and policemen and the burning of courts and police stations, should squarely apportion blame to the necessary culprit in this matter, for a balanced and impartial representation of the real situation.

Any report which deliberately refuses to call out and chastise the real troublemakers in our society, will be totally unprofessional and an unfortunate disservice to the noble ethics of investigative Journalism.

It is thus in recognition of this professional demand that we recall the highly competent and comprehensive work done by the doyen of modern Nigerian Journalism, Chief Dele Momodu on the Oyigbo situation. He not only robustly interviewed the key figures in the story, including Governor  Wike, for which he received great praise and commendation from all quarters, he also bravely undertook an on the spot, fact finding mission to Oyigbo.

Like the seasoned veteran investigative journalist he is, he even broadcast his fact finding tour to Oyigbo live, for the avoidance of doubt and the findings of that mission, which may not be agreeable to some sepratist refuseniks, speaks volumes to counter the misinformation about Oyigbo and Governor Wike, which has been making the rounds.

Lastly and very critical to whatever investigation or report that may come out from Oyigbo is the fact that several key figures who are central to the matter, have already spoken and given their verdict on the situation.

On Sunday, November 8, 2020, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike held a historic meeting with South-East Governors, the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo and the Igbo Community in the State at Government House, Port Harcourt.

The backdrop of the meeting was the rife propaganda proclaiming an unsubstantiated massive extra-judicial response to the recent carnage, destruction and killings unleashed on Oyigbo by IPOB.

Chairman of South East Governors Forum, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, who led the delegation said that the visit was not at the instance of Governor Wike but was initiated by the South East leaders to find out the truth of what transpired in Oyigbo.

He said: "We are here to interact with you. We saw a number of things in the social media about Igbos in Oyigbo and as leaders, we put heads together and requested to meet with Governor Wike. We can claim here from your own accounts and as your leaders back home, that all what we read in the social media are all lies.

“I find it nauseating that IPOB could go to Benue and Rivers States to hoist its flag and claim the territories belong to the Igbo people. Igbo leadership are opposed to this stance by IPOB.

"I have lived in Rivers State for quite sometime. My children were born in Rivers State and I can tell you that in all these years there has never been any form of discrimination against us in Rivers State.

"Let us call a spade a spade. Ndi-Igbo have massive investment and infrastructure all over the country and somebody wants to start a war for us so that Igbos will be slaughtered again. Who brings war upon himself?

"Let me tell you something. We Ndi-Igbos do not support any form of criminality so I urge you not to buy into anyone who is a criminal from our side. We feel so free with our host Communities and have lived happily with them without any form of discrimination"

Umahi who also recalled an incident in his Community a few years ago sounded a note of warning: "Soldiers do not tolerate seeing a civilian handling a gun not to talk of stealing their rifle."

In his own comments, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state, whose boundary with Rivers State is Oyigbo Local Government Area stated that it will be unfortunate if the Igbos wage war in Rivers, because that will be like waging war on itself.

Ikpeazu also warned Igbos to be wary of the Information they get from the social media and recalled how Aba would have been set ablaze a few years ago when some miscreants posted in the social media that people from a particular ethnic group had invaded the State and if not for Divine intervention, the fake information would have resulted into an ethnic war.

Spokesperson and Eze Ndigbo in Rivers and Bayelsa, Eze Maduagu Ajaele and Lady Regina Uwakwe, in their reactions, commended Governor Wike for his wide spread  infrastructural development in the State, noting that he had created an enabling environment for Igbo businesses and families to thrive.

Also speaking, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, showered encomiums on Governor Nyesom Wike, describing him as a champion of restructuring of Nigeria and a man who loves justice.

He also warned that the leadership of Igbos cannot remain aloof while some misguided few who did not experience the brutal reality of the last civil war continue to fan the ember of disunity.

Indeed, any investigation on Oyigbo that does not capture the views of the traditional rulers, who are the custodians of the communities, will be erroneous and incomplete. This is because the Chiefs themselves, contrary to the misleading propaganda in the public space, have begged the Defence Headquarters not to withdraw soldiers deployed to Oyigbo   in order to prevent remnants of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), from regrouping.

The chiefs under the aegis of Ogbakor Oyigbo, made the appeal to the military when the Publisher of the Ovation International Magazine, Chief Dele Momodu, visited Oyigbo, to assess the situation in the area, and also urged all those who deserted Oyigbo to return as normalcy has been restored.

A high chief, Eze Ukwu III, Louis Okorie said that the community chiefs do not approve the withdrawal of soldiers from Oyigbo and expressed serious concern that if soldiers are withdrawn from Oyigbo, IPOB anarchists would unleash violence in the area.

"The Ogbakor Oyigbo General held a meeting and said they will not allow the removal of soldiers from Oyigbo. We thank Governor Wike for imposing the curfew which has calmed down the situation in Oyigbo.”

Another Chief, High Chief, Lisbery Onyegorom said: "We were surprised by the level of destruction by the IPOB. We are Rivers State and Niger Delta people. Our people are not members of IPOB. I am not aware of any Oyigbo indigene who is a member. We don't allow that.

“Now, that the IPOB have killed some soldiers, all of them have ran away. The Army is investigating  and fishing them out. Most of the IPOB members arrested have given vital information about the remnants.  We are in support of the Governor's ban on IPOB activities.”

Chief Onyegorom also frowned at the allegation of extrajudicial killings levelled against Nigerian Army by some persons working for some extraneous forces playing petty politics with the Oyigbo issue.

"We are solidly behind our Governor's effort to maintain peace in Oyigbo. The Governor did not say, go and kill people. The Army came on a rescue mission . That's what they came for. It is the deployment of the Army that gives us comfort to remain here. Let the Army stay until we are sure of peace in Oyigbo.

On his part, the Chairman of Oyigbo Local Government Area, Prince Gerald Oforji said most of the negative information peddled in the media on the situation in the area are unfounded.

“Today, I am very happy for the visit by the Ovation family to assess the wanton destruction carried out by the IPOB. Today, they have come to assess and see things for themselves based on lopsided information they have been getting concerning Oyigbo. I believe with what they have seen today, the world, can confirm that most of those negative information posted against Oyigbo, against Rivers State, are unfounded

No doubt, the last word on any investigation on Oyigbo must go to the indefatigable Chief Dele Momodu, who has contributed so much to expand the frontiers of journalism in Nigeria, while maintaining the noble ethics of the profession in its finest investigative and reportorial tradition.

He said: "The way they describe Oyigbo as if there is massacre, there is no massacre going on.  I believe, we have moved round extensively, nobody has told me not to move to anywhere. A lot of people have challenged me that I cannot come to Rivers and visit Oyigbo.

“So, I am here. For me, it is a mixture of sadness and joy. Joy, that I'm able to come here in peace, because the impression I got was that nobody could come here at all; that everywhere has been taken over by  the military and people are been massacred. I have gone round. I went to the market, I have gone to the police headquarters that was allegedly burnt down."

Indeed, we magnanimously refer Premium Times and @Hazzanjustice (Taiwo Hassan Adebayo), to his seminal article titled: "As Peace Returns to Oyigbo, My Candid Observations" published in his PENDULUM BY DELE MOMODU, column on November 21, 2020 edition, of This day Newspaper.

This is highly recommended before concluding any 'cooking' investigation on Oyigbo.

As an international brand, Premium Times has the social responsibility to be factual, honest and dispassionate instead of allowing itself to be sucked into cheap propaganda and misleading falsehoods.

Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State