John Igbokwe  (EMAIL)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Spindoctoring a blunder

"A distinction should be made between the substance and the indiscreet style (Adelaja) employed to pass her message. She is right to some extent on the substance of the issue at hand. Those who were recruited during the war by the defunct Biafra certainly are not entitled to pension. The Nigerian government did not employ them and logically do not owe them any obligation of pension which an employer owes the employees."
- ThisDay Editorial

ublic commentators have the responsibility to point their searchlight on misinformation in the media. Even on the littlest of them. Public commentators cannot belabour an issue for as long they bring fresh perspective to its discussion. They become remiss in their duty when they fail to issue corrections that benefit intercourse and public enlightenment.

But how does one feel when a person one admires takes a view or position that clashes with one's better judgement? Does one keep quiet and brush the disagreeable view aside as one that would become unimportant with time? Does one try to point one's friend out right and possibly risk the appearance of offensiveness? And how would one react if this "friend" is an admired institution of public dialogue? Does one join issues with it to further public education or mum oneself up to the detriment of the lesser informed in society. Does silence really ever serve any issue effectively in the long haul?

This cacophony of thoughts has raged in my head since I read the recent editorial of ThisDay on the controversy generated by Adelaja's follies. Since I have written strongly on Adelaja's savage denigration of pardoned former Nigerian soldiers, I felt tempted to ignore the little part of ThisDay's editorial opinion that I consider misleading to its public. You see, ThisDay happens to be one of my favourite dailies in the country. It is certainly also one of the more respected newspapers in the nation, its editors recognized for their soberly piercing and independent views. In great measure too, I found agreement with the larger thrust of the editorial piece which made for interesting reading, save for the quotation above from it. Further to its broad misapplication of the phrase, "ex-Biafran soldiers", ThisDay believes that Minister Adelaja's comments constituted mere indiscretion for which she should simply apologise and get back to her work. ThisDay's purpose appears to be to craftily play down the offensive import of the comments.

Not so, my dear editors of ThisDay! Whilst I have never had any fondness for replying to the editorials of publications, I wish to take very strong exception to ThisDay's obviously calculated effort to spin doctor this Minister's indecency into a momentary lapse in discretion for which a mere apology would suffice.

This editorial judgment implicitly informs us the Minister's comments referred in blanket to all the former soldiers of Biafra! For this, Mrs Adelaja "is right to some extent on the substance of the issue at hand", since all the soldiers demanding the payment of pension could not possibly have been ex-servicemen of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Following ThisDay's logic, Minister Adelaja is perhaps the only National Defence Official totally clueless about the difference between "ex-Biafran" soldiers and "former Nigerian soldiers", who had fought on the side of Biafra. Following still the same logic, Adelaja is perhaps the only Nigerian to wallow in such ignorance for even her favourite "buy and sell" Igbo trader understands that pension inextricably associates with past service.

Any person with understanding of realpolitik would appreciate Officialdom's often-consuming need for cover and deniability in using irresponsible junior mouthpieces to propagate unpopular policy. This was exactly what has happened in Adelaja's case. Does any Nigerian seriously believe this woman did not understand the twin ramifications of "ex-Biafran soldiers"? For that matter, has any compatriot, seen, heard or read that among these pensionable former soldiers are those who never served in the Armed Forces of our country? Never! Just as Mrs. Adelaja does, our people understand this distinction in the same clear manner as does Alfred Obiora Uzokwe, who in a recent article on the subject wrote, "…I lost a teenage brother in the..War. He was not a former Nigerian soldier but. ..just a 17-year-old boy…appalled by the pogrom, ...appalled by the killings,... appalled by the genocide and so… enlisted and fought so Ndigbo would not be annihilated.."

And were her comments really the result of some momentary lapse in judgement?

To answer this question, our people need to consider the Minister and her government's actions since the remarks were issued. If hers were indeed simple misjudged utterances, as ThisDay believes, a decent Minister would have, without any prodding issued a retraction and an apology. She would not wait to be begged to apologise! Her President would have publicly distanced himself from her subordinate's misrepresentation of official policy. Pertinent government Ministers, such as her immediate superior, the National Defence Minister, would have also acted appropriately

None of these has happened. And it appears it is now too late that any such action short of firing her would placate our people.

Mrs. Adelaja unmistakably expressed official government position on this issue! And it appals me that a respected organ of public education, like ThisDay, would lend its credibility to a calculated deception of our people and its readership. Organs with some modicum of integrity and independence should be conscious always of their important role in a democracy. They must not corrupt their conscience even in a sectional attempt to shelter a favourite daughter.

Whatever guise it assumes, deception is evil! It is doubly so when it is couched in deceptively harmless language as ThisDay has done. There is absolutely no extent to which Adelaja was right on the substance of the issue of pension for these former soldiers! None whatsoever! She is right only in ThisDay's pigmented imagination. It is not responsible journalism, in a case like this, to assume such fuzzy, multicoloured editorial view. It is not responsible role-playing as a member of the Fourth Estate to employ deft trivialization to defend the indefensible! And it certainly neither advances nor expands the understanding of public issues. Publications should have a lower threshold of tolerance for Adelaja's type of public indecencies, which topple civic cohesion and solidarity. In more civilized societies, a similarly situated public office holder would have voluntarily resigned her position to spare her government and country needless agony.

While the contrary is true, those who seek to minimize the damage done by this hack has described her as a junior Minister whose views do not carry much weight. Well, if this is so, then fire her! This is the demand of Ndigbo! But more than this, and in addition to it, President Obasanjo should come clean and spell out his government's position on the pension status of these former soldiers. It would be wishful thinking of delusional grandiosity for the President to contemplate a re-election in 2003, with the Adelaja albatross hanging around his political neck. In the run up to 2003, we'd ensure that the Igbo voice will continue to resonate on this issue without let up. And come 2003, we vow, notwithstanding the divisiveness, and the sometimes federally-orchestrated fractiousness of Igbo leadership, to throw this government out and elect one which will commit sincerely to healing our country!

The Igbos have been suckered, neglected and manipulated for much too long!

Never again!