Despite the wide media reportage of Tuesday violence outbreak at the All Progressives Congress campaign rally, held at the Skypower Ground, in Lagos, the media office of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the party’s governorship candidate, would rather indulge itself in half-lie.
Guns fired by party thugs, as a result of which three journalists were hit by stray bullets, forced the event to an abrupt halt. The affected journalists who sustained gun injuries in the line of duty were the Group Political Editor of the Nation Newspaper, Emmanuel Oladesu; New Telegraph correspondent, Temitope Ogunbanke, and Ibile Television cameraman, Abiodun Yusuf.
Also, scores of party faithful sustained injuries, while one of the belligerents, Azeez Ismail, was shot dead in the fratricidal strife ignited by two factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW.
The simple truth is that the APC in Lagos and the NURTW share familial affinity and it should surprise no one that the latter chose to prosecute its supremacy battle on the rally ground.
My concern, and I believe that of many others, is the press statement issued by Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s media centre following the violence. The statement, signed by Mr. Gboyega Akosile, was in response to the release by the International Press Centre, IPC, which like the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, condemned the horrific attack and asked for special protection for journalists covering political campaigns.
Sadly, Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s media centre chose to downplay the incident, stating that the IPC’s release was replete with “inaccuracies” and “not a representation of what happened”.
“At no point was any member of the media harassed, threatened or molested …Some three journalists (naming the affected journalists) were caught in the melee …they sustained injuries and were rushed to the hospital for treatment,” said the centre.
The media centre’s bungled attempt to make light of the grotesque incident, in which a life was lost and innocent citizens attacked, smack of insensitivity and devoid of the littlest empathy for the victims.
The statement also didn’t demonstrate any sobriety by the governorship candidate. Instead, Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s media statement would have us believe that what was seen at the rally was an action scene from a Hollywood blockbuster.
Not real. Also, it is laughable that the media centre in the said statement described the volley of bullets which ricocheted at the venue as “sounds suspected to be gunshots”.
Haba! Since Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s media ensemble were unable to distinctly identify the sound of a fired gun, I am tempted to recommend them for medical testing for possible Auditory Processing Disorder. Am I surprised at the media team’s defence? Not at all. And my reason is simple.
Last December, Felicity Ezekwuike, a reporter with Plus TV Africa, purported that some supporters of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu attacked her.
According to Ezekwuike, she had bumped into a protest by some Togolese nationals, holding around Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos, and decided to record the incident on her mobile phone.
As she further said, some men dressed in campaign vests bearing Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s image were seen disagreeing among themselves over money.
They huddled not far from the protest scene, according to the victim. She further stated that the men, who obviously believed Ezekwuike was recording them pounced on her.
She claimed an intervention by a police team saved her from possible death at the hands of the rampaging men. She said: “If the police were not there, I would probably be dead right now. They almost killed me. They threatened me …they forced me to delete the video that I had.”
Some online newspapers culled the Ezekwuike’s tweets and reported the incident. One of the news sites, TheCable said it sought a comment from Mr. Akosile for the story.
Shockingly, Mr. Akosile’s response was that of disbelief for Ezekwuike’s claim. Mr. Akosile, according to the report, said: “We need to ascertain the veracity of the claim, first and foremost. I am a journalist and I understand her – he who alleges must prove – after that we will know the next step.”
Rather than disprove Ezekwuike’s claim, Mr. Akosile should first have investigated it before offering a comment. The haste at which Mr. Sanwo-Olu’s media centre dishes out off-the-wall remarks at the slightest opportunity will only cause the candidate a reputational crisis.
From what I have come to know of the governorship candidate, it is inadvertent disservice by his media handlers to create a toga of intolerance about him.
His media team ought to know that stories relating to their principal, whether true or not, are not unexpected at a period like this. And when such is written, an accurate, conciliatory, innocuous and benign response is required.
Folarin Ademosu, a journalist, writes from Lagos. You can reach him via email: email@example.com