Your friends are not exempt from rules
In April this year, a local council (i.e local government) decision from Bolton made headlines around the UK.
According to the council, 5 luxury mansions each worth over £1 million to be demolished after inspectors found that they had been built up to a third bigger and in a slightly different location than what was in their approved building plans.
Inconceivable as the thought may be in Nigeria, a government decision was taken to knock down 5 buildings worth over N720 million each because their building plans were not adhered to.
While this made headlines in the UK, it only did so in the tabloid media, where it was presented as an “Odd World” type of story – the kind that readers generally do not consider to be “hard” news. While the price tag on the houses to be demolished would have raised an eyebrow, the council order itself (which was duly enforced) is prosaic and par-for-the-course in that part of the world. In that environment, it is expected that everyone should understand the rules and follow them or face appropriate consequences.
Over here in Buhari-land, however, the situation is a bit different. It isn’t that rules do not exist, or that people are not generally aware of what they should and should not do.
It is in the absence of a proper system of reward and censure, people have developed a survival mechanism that ensures that words like “accountability” are only present in the dictionary once one has a certain amount of financial or social capital.
Your sacred cow is not sacred
The vast majority of the heat I have taken over the past few days following Monday’s long-read expose into extreme managerial malfeasance at BBC Africa has not come from those who believe that my story is false, or that not enough evidence was presented.
Much to the contrary, I have heard on a number of occasions, a variation of the following: “Even if a story is true, it is not every story you should tell.” Typically, before the speaker can finish uttering such a sentence to me, I rapidly make myself scarce because you know, please don’t kill my vibe, as the youngsters say.
Not even the heartfelt video explanation and plea at the end of the story was enough to convince some that justice, equity, fairness and basic human decency should perhaps take priority over the fact that x person has y relationship with z.
There exists the damaging idea that “goodness” is something which is embodied in certain individuals, as against merely being a set of ideas that anybody can adhere to.
Consequently, it becomes increasingly easy to hero-worship these individuals until the point where they turn into the very monsters they once fought or represented a departure from.
That notwithstanding, I will reiterate that as an independent journalist, it is quite literally my job to tell the exact kind of stories that people may not want to be told. However, that makes them feel on an individual basis, afterward it is not my problem and it is not meant to be my problem.
Whatever anyone does not want printed, the old saying goes, is journalism – and everything else is just Public Relations. I have no problem with PR, having started my post-NYSC career there, but it bears repeating that PR and actual journalism are profoundly different animals. Which is a roundabout way of saying, “Sorry that I offended you bro, but you know, not really.”
We have been here before
Sometime last year, a wealthy high-end property developer ended up in a casket after his newest building caved into its own footprint on top of him. Femi Osibona was the quintessential bubble Nigerian “jolly good fellow” who could do no wrong in his own eyes.
In an interview on national television barely 3 months before he died, he boasted about how he was able to cut corners by using generators with the wrong power rating. The structural engineer, quantity surveyor and electrical contractor, he said, were low-level operators who “only knew about book.” He was the one who knew everything better than everyone.
Of course, how that sordid tale ended is now known by all, but the point I want to draw out of here is that he did not turn his building into an unsafe jenga pile all on his own. He had help, or at the very least, enablers.
There were people in government who took money and gave him clearances and permits he was not remotely qualified for. Suppliers who saw very clearly what he was doing, and who preferred to close their eyes for the promise of a paycheck. At every point in time, he was confronted by people who could have made him put a sock in it. We all saw the results earlier this year even though I try to cover my head’s eyes.
I’m not comparing incompetent journalists to building collapses.
I’m saying it’s actually a lot worse.