Arc Sunny Echono, TETFund and yellow journalism
By Onjefu Okidu
Since 2011, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has been playing a key role in infrastructural development and stimulating knowledge production in Nigeria’s public tertiary education institutions. The organization has been scaling up various forms of infrastructures and offering support to lecturers in public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education through two awards namely, the National Research Fund (NRF) and Institution Based Research (IBR). Like most Nigerian parastatals the creation of TETFund saw the infiltration of elements whose activities within the Fund had served as a barrier to its institutional and constitutional essence of national development.
Arc Sunny Echono assumed the leadership of the Fund a year ago – precisely, on March 21, 2022, with strong and resolute conviction to purge it of the elements and reposition it for greater efficiency and quality service. Apart from his urge to drastically cut the sharpness within, he was apparently predisposed to work with persons who were morally rich, innovative and ready to add sustained value to the Fund. In a certain measure, he was imbued with a sense of mission, regarding his appointment as a divine duty to provide good leadership and a new kind of order that would benefit all Nigerians.
While it remains a matter of journalistic rigor and truth to ascertain whether Sunny Echono has stood close or far from the world of leadership he has created for himself on his inauguration day, most thoughtful, credible and capable journalists would want to indulge in an honest appraisal by professionally and truthfully investigating his activities. Undoubtedly, in a society like Nigeria where moral values have become moribund and where leadership has become ethically bankrupt at all levels, journalists definitely have a crusading role. But, that role is expected to be played with responsibility. This means that, in addition to taking advantage of his professional and personal freedom, it is imperative that the journalist respects the tenets and ethics of his profession.
Accordingly, one cannot readily overlook the professional ferity of SaharaReporters as exemplified in its report of the Fund barely four months after Sunny Echono’s inauguration. The report which was published on July 20, 2022 with the headline, “Disquiet in TETFUND over Contract Fraud, Procurement Racketeering, Others Under New Head, Sonny Echono,” set the agenda for the ongoing campaign of calumny against Arc Echono and the Fund. For the avoidance of doubt, the story in question makes a great deal of malicious reference to Sunny Echono’s stint as a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education which suggests a clear bad intent. Furthermore, beyond the screaming sensational negative headline and the sharp upping of fiction, the sides of Sunny Echono and TETFund are never captured in the story. Invariably, the practice of journalism in Nigeria has been poorer without recognizing the harm this kind of journalism is doing to individuals, institutions and the country.
While some journalism critics and analysts agree that online papers like SaharaReporters are loose ethically, they however argue that their several blunders do not undermine the argument for responsible journalism. That is quite true! To err is human! Journalism is inclined to error, generally without memory, and almost always lacking in perspective. The journalist too reflects reality imperfectly. But, when mistakes have become a daily occurrence, when journalistic error is difficult to set right, when journalists are resistant to change and stories are traditionally based on dishonest intent or freebies then it is no longer erring. It would amount to a clear case of irresponsibility!
Even to the most genuine and sincere practitioner, the reality they must face today is that journalism practice in Nigeria has so progressively lost its respect and honor. Catchy headlines can be great as long as they are accurate. Most often than not, whenever you encounter a sensationalized headline the story content would usually be yellow as is the case with the present SaharaReporter’s story. It is apparent that the Nigerian public has become heavily sick of misleading headlines and inaccurate contents.
Actaually, SaharaReporters are not alone. Yellow journalism is at its peak in Nigeria, grossly occasioned by an epidemic of sensationalized headlines pointing to contents that are often fake. As acknowledged by the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in their code of ethics, “Journalism entails a high degree of public trust. To earn and maintain this trust, it is morally imperative for every journalist and every news medium to observe the highest professional and ethical standards…”
To be sure, there is only good and bad journalism. Good journalists will always be attempting the same thing; intelligent, fact-based journalism, honest in intent and effect, serving no cause but the discernible truth and written clearly for all to see. In this sense, it is clear that journalism is not for everybody in the same way that monastery is not for everybody. The commitment is special. Hence, by pandering to the love for yellow journalism, journalists lose their relevance. Sadly, the NUJ as a regulating body have been swimming against the tide of what one can refer to as neglect of oversight. Not much has been heard about sanction of erring journalists. Little is also heard about getting rid of quacks from the profession.
The basic argument that runs through this piece is that yellow journalism is posing a great threat to the Nigerian society, and a great damage has been done and is still being done. The failure to recognize truth as the center of journalism moral responsibility, and recognize that the journalist must bear this responsibility is to deny that there is a difference between journalism and blackmail. It seems clear that in the exercise of their journalistic duties regarding the leadership of Sunny Echono at the TETfund, SaharaReporters have only succeeded in stretching the limits of Yellow Journalism. The ideal journalist is an epitome of virtue and truth!
Dr Okidu writes from Ilorin.
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