Friday, 7 February 2014

Tobore's story, PREMIUM TIMES, ZAM CHRONICLES, and the Truth-seeking Warriors

*Tobore's story, PREMIUM TIMES, ZAM CHRONICLES, and the Truth-seeking Warriors
(* Long Read)

By Semiu A. Akanmu


On February 6, 2014, PREMIUM TIMES (PT) published a 'ground-shattering' investigative report covering human trafficking syndicate in Nigeria. The report was exclusively unleashed by one of the investigative journalists of PT -Tobore Ovuorie by name, with ZAM CHRONICLES (ZC) as an international partner.

Just as many PT readers, I was not comfortable with the story. On the other hand, I could not conclude that the story was framed up, but I was convinced it has not caved any niche of 'investigative journalism' for itself. In this said story, nothing is outstanding, no fact, no figure, no input to the already-obsessed public knowledge about human trafficking. I took to my primary domain; technology-leaned research.

Surprisingly, the next time I visited our cyber space, I was greeted with torrent of queries, dissect and dialectics of the Tobore's story. The lead voice of this need for further information is Ikhide Ikheloa; that fiery literary critic, who has self-branded himself 'noisy reader'.

[ Inset.. Ikhide's inconvenience can be read here, Dapo Olorunyomi; Editor-in-chief/Managing Director of PT responds to Ikhide; click here, and one of the devastated Nigerians as a result of this alleged under cover story also vets his venom, click here ].

I joined this vanguard of truth-seeking warriors, not because I am doubting the integrity of PT, but because of a needed sensitivity to sham dealers who hawk fraud as an award-seeking professional practice. The PT's statement that Tobore is on the verge of being awarded for her risk-laden investigative journalism quickly reminded me of Philip Emeagwali. I will be uncomfortable if a potential Caine award winner for fiction writing is shortchanged as Investigative journalist. This is my apprehension. So, I took to twitter, and started sending tweets to PT, asking questions, demanding more information.

 Musikilu Mojeed (PT Managing Editor) responds...

In acknowledgment of my tweets, Mr. Musikilu Mojeed; the PT Managing Editor responds. The captioned below is his words:

"My brother, Good morning. My name is Musikilu Mojeed, managing editor at PREMIUM TIMES. A colleague just informed me you are tweeting at us, asking questions about our recent trafficking investigation. Kindly feel free to send me your questions. There is no truth in all Ikhide is saying. Not a single truth. He is merely engaged in a campaign of calumny. Feel free to contact me on +23480XXXXXXXX (I'm constraint to release his personal number, since I was not given the permission to do so) if you like to talk on phone"

Dear PT, this is my reservation... 

 To take my words to PT's leadership, I therefore sent my inquiries...

"You are welcome Mr. Musikilu. Thanks for this response. In short, these are my observations and reservations as it may be. 

1. Just as I have maintained, the story as it was published can neither be proved nor disproved. It cannot be proved because the investigation did not deliver facts and figures that are yet to be in public knowledge. It merely reminded us of what we hear from victims (many of the videos are on YouTube), watch in Nollywood movies. If you compare the content of this story with what is obtainable in your Sanusi's story, you will gladly see the difference. This brought the question of: what is the contribution of this risk-laden investigative journey? Why can't it be regarded as a fiction? Are there other deliverable of this investigation that are yet to be published? How do we get to know Mama Caro? Is the police man mentioned traceable? On the other hand, it cannot be disproved because the story is possible based on our precedent knowledge. Its missing gaps is also possible based on unforeseen constraints in investigation journey. Whoever wants to explicitly disprove the story must be ready to embark on another counter-investigation. But, how do PREMIUM TIMES moves from story possibility to plausibility is the main reason I opine we need to hear more from you. 

2. I read Mr. Dapo's response to Ikhide, and his argument that PREMIUM TIMES cannot impose public convenience on the story is logical. But at the same time, that questions are asked should be taken with kindred spirit of building ethical national image. In the same vein, I think alleging Ikhide is of ulterior motive will suggest PREMIUM TIMES cannot deal with questions raised. 

3. Some commentators have raised the possibility of Tobore fine-tuning stories heard in the last (or thereof) anti-human trafficking event held in Makurdi. The award-trailing scene thus created a suspicion that something is fishy -coupled with points raised in 1 above. How do we deal with this? 

4. Zam Chronicle -the Int'l partner of this investigation- has also cast more doubt on the story with her emotional outburst. Instead of treating issues, the organization went on insult-hurling rampage. Her investigation editor; Evenlyn did not act responsibly either. Another observed disgust of ZAM CHRONICLE is her logo. Both the blog banner image and the favicon depict a map of Africa turned in an upside direction. 

A picture they say is more than one thousand words! How will a media coy based in Netherland, owned by non-Africa decided to infographically insult Africa? This tends to suggest that Zam Chronicle is on the path of ridiculing Africa -with make-believe or half truth stories. This, with what is raised in 3 above suggest the possibility of Zam employing Tobore to carry out xenophobic attacks on Africa through the well-known human trafficking menace. 

This is the inter-connections of my observations, and why I was sending tweets to PREMIUM TIMES in view of asking the fore-listed questions and making these observations. I will be glad to hear from you soon"

Musikilu Mojeed (PT Managing Editor) answers my inquiries...

"Thank you very much my brother. Let me answer your question one after another. 

1. I can tell you categorically that the story is not fiction. It was well reported by the reporter. It is cruel that Ikhide and others are casting aspersion on a reporter who risked her life to tell us an important story. I agree the story could have been better done, but it was such a dangerous assignment. We warned her against pushing too hard. Her safety was more important to us. And even as it is now, there are leads for law enforcement agencies. Our job is to tell stories. It is left for investigators to go in search of members of the syndicate and we have offered to cooperate fully with them in their investigation. 

2. See Ikhide knows Dapo and I. If he has any query or doubt, he should have contacted us. At least we deserved to be heard. But he didn't do that. He simply went on the offensive, without basis. We knew what our organization and the reporter went through to tell that story. So, for anyone to declare, without any shred of evidence, that the story was a fabrication is simply cruel and annoying. It's an injustice to us and the woman who risked her life and dignity to tell us this story. But this is not the first time Ikhide has mounted a campaign to discredit our work. When we did the the Sanusi Lamido story, he suggested it was false and that it was a hatchet job. That we were paid to write (find attachment). That story has remained unchallenged till date. Yet the same man keeps saying our leaders must be accountable. We are a tolerant bunch here. We engage our readers perhaps more than any other paper here. We take correction and apologize when we are wrong. But we also appreciate a little bit of compassion from our readers. 

3. This is complete falsehood. Tobore completed her investigation and submitted her copies to PREMIUM TIMES and our partners in November. She then attended the human trafficking event in December. Her hair was shaved by herbalists during the investigation. She attended the human trafficking event with her hair shaven. 

4. The allegation against Zam Chronicle is false. The Investigative Editor at ZAM is a friend I have known for close more than 8 years. Before ZAM, she was Executive Director at the Johannesburg-based Forum for African Investigative Reporters of which I was board member. ZAM did not dictate the narrative at all. The reporting was done almost entirely by our reporter. Kindly check us out, we are not people that can be manipulated by anyone. --------------------------- There is no single truth, not even one, in all Ikhide is saying. I tried to engage him on one of his numerous Facebook threads, but he was far too gone in his campaign of calumny to see any good in my explanations. 

 So, I let him be. He alleged that Tobore tweeted throughout and that there was no break in her tweets. I pointed out to him that was untrue because the reporter did not tweet at all in November when she camped with the syndicate. Some of the other questions Ikhide raised are as follows: 1. That Tobore twitted while undercover; that there was no break in her tweet [ Ikhide himself knows this is untrue. Tobore was undercover for several months but she only checked in with the syndicate for less than a week in November. She did not tweet for the whole of November. I pointed this out to Ikhide but he is far too gone in his campaign of calumny to back down] 2. That she was in Malaysia while on the investigation. He then went to the reporter's Instagram account to extract a photograph showing her interviewing the then minister of state for health at the Malaysia event. [ Yes, she was in Malaysia for a health event. She used the opportunity to gather reports for her trafficking story. So, what's bad in a reporter interviewing a minister of health when she had the opportunity. Should any sane person use that to discredit her story?] 3. That the syndicate could not have allowed the girls use telephones in camp. [The story indicated Tobore's telephone and that of another girl were confiscated once the syndicate found out they had phones. Tobore was undercover and she said she hid her phone in a private part of her body. So, is this a strong enough premise to discredit her story?] 

Kindly feel free to contact me if you have further questions.
Best regards

 ZAM String

ZAM is the international partner that commissioned this controversial story with PT. One side is the issue attached to the credibility in the story run jointly by these media outfits, the other side is an observed racist and xenophobic posturing of ZAM. As I stated in my inquiry to Musilkilu, what is the message ZAM is trying to pass with this image (map of Africa turned upside down): 


I am sorry if this protest looks inconsequential, I might have been affected by my research path; Visualization. I am yet to be convinced that ZAM is real. This is the flow of our exchanges on twitter

 I only sincerely hope PT calls ZAM to this insensitivity. It speaks volume of the genuineness (or lack thereof) of ZAM's interest in Africa.
Before the Last....

PT has been able to wake NAPTIP up. This is an excerpt from the PT's publication informing Nigerians of their Government's intervention:  

"At a meeting with the newspaper’s editors and lawyer in Lagos, Thursday, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters, NAPTIP, said it would collaborate with PREMIUM TIMES and other relevant agencies to bring the culprits to book"
The hot waves of protest that greeted the Tobore's story has also made PT to move an inch farther.

'Human Trafficking Expose: Reporter’s diary reveals difficult challenge of scrutinizing the underworld' is the latest publication aimed at clearing the dust brought by the under cover's story.

The Last...

Musikilu did admit that the story might not be the best in its content but insisted it is real. Disproving this story outrightly or classifying it explicitly as a fabrication demands processes that are more than content analysis of the said story. Also, if any story is worthy of being given award , certainly this is not one. We cannot contend its possibility, but we can contend its plausibility. On the note, both sides of the coin is possible, until one side overwhelms the other. I will implore Pa Ikhide to disclose facts -and not extrapolation- as a potent tool of establishing the implausibility of the Tobore's story. Till then, it is 50-50.

ZAM remains the biggest SHAM and RIDICULE on earth until she adjusts her racist infographic.

To all the truth-seeking warriors, Nigeria will be great again!!

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