Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun state is angry at journalists covering his government. And he bared his fangs at a recent public meeting in Abeokuta, the state capital. It was a meeting of state leaders of the opposition APC party and its members in the National Assembly over membership registration at Gateway Hotel. Meeting over, the local journalists walked up to the governor’s car as he was about to take his leave. They had wanted to find out its outcome. It was at that point that the governor almost literally flew off the handle.
Speaking in Yoruba, Gov. Amosun said the journalists were not his friends because they were “fabricating” stories about his government – stories of events they did not see. “You journalists have been writing fabricated stories”, he shouted.“You only write what you don’t see. You all know that you have been fabricating stories. You are not my friends, go and write it that I said you have been fabricating stories”.
Then he let drop a veiled threat: he could deal with them. “I just decided not to take any action. All the fabricated stories, I’m only looking at you. Go on and keep fabricating stories. I can see you keep fabricating the stories, keep doing that,” the outburst continued. Surprise is that the governor got himself this worked up if we recall that not long before that incident, the same Amosun advised his politician colleagues to treat journalists with “honour and respect”. He spoke after the brutalization of journalists who had turned up to cover a failed meeting of the governor’s APC party.
The governor said journalists were not his friends. He was right, but only not in the sense we understand media/government relations to be. Being friends with government officials does not mean turning a deaf ear to the lies they tell the public or a blind eye to their misdeeds in public life. Journalists are beholden to only the general society of which they are the watchdogs. An elected government such as Amosun heads in Ogun state is accountable to the electorate that puts it in office through the ballot box. The journalist exercises that power of making government accountable on behalf of the people. But the moment he lets his friendship with political officeholders get in the way the journalist ceases to be a watchdog and becomes a lapdog. Amosun should have known this.
Now to his veiled threat that he had the power to “take action” against the unfriendly journalists. We wonder what action he could possibly take other than to send suicide squads against them. We call on the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Guild of Editors as well as NPAN to take Amosun’s words seriously. He should be told that he will be personally held responsible for any harm that comes to a journalist in his Ogun state.
Journalists in this country are working under the most difficult conditions imaginable already. They can do without governors who, under a rush of adrenalin, speak vilely including issuing threats.