By Bassey Akpan
For an organization or platform that prides itself as a new outlet, the only thing worse than being unprofessional is when the unprofessionalism is driven by an obsession to settle scores, which could be made even more sickening when such score settling is escalated into a proxy war.
Sahara Reporters, a news platform that is hardly different from the persona of its publisher, Omoyele Sowore, is on this slippery slope and in a rapid slide into infamy owing to the way its unprofessionalism has been made worse in its obsession to settle scores with President Muhammadu Buhari. The sick dimension to it is that one of the ways the publication has decided to prosecute its “destroy Buhari” war is to persistently demonize the Nigerian military, particularly the Nigerian Army. The criminal dimension of this warped enterprise is the series of crimes that Sahara Reporters has committed in the strident bid to cast aspersion on the Army in order to tarnish the record of President Buhari.
Its laughable escapades are limitless, and instances abound. For example, it published the falsehood of the death of Ghali Umar Na’Abba, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and that of Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau, the National President of Jama’atul Izalatul Bid’a Wa Ikamatus Sunnah (JIBWIS) while the man was busy conducting virtual preaching in Yola. In the desperation to validate its lies as the truth, the website went as far as locating the revered cleric’s death in Jos with photographs of a phantom funeral thrown in to make the inaccurate and false stories look respectable.
Granted that things had not always been the way they presently are between Sahara Reporters and President Buhari, there is no way to make excuses for its pure criminality garnished with a penchant for blackmail. At the height of the Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) era, while President Buhari and a host of other then opposition figures were pointing out the failings of that government, Sahara Reporters was on the standby to air these voices. The arrangement served its purpose; a news platform that was then considered several layers below a news rag had the opportunity to report contents that were authentic and backed by reputable names as opposed to the diet of hogwash and leaks from embittered Jonathan cabinet members that it was feeding its readers. It has gone back to that junk status or below the rating of a news rag, only that it actually got worse.
Upon Jonathan’s sack by the electorates, Sahara Reporters, which in reality is a pseudonym for Sowore, perhaps thought that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was spoil of war to be shared among just anyone that made haranguing Jonathan a past time. He was reportedly angling to be named the Minister of Information by President Buhari in his first term. Such pipe dreams. What he failed to realize, which Sahara Reporters is yet to appreciate till date, is that President Buhari is not in the mold of “your enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Mr. President, rather than embrace burning coal to his bosom, for that is what giving Sowore any appointment would have amounted to, settled for professionals and upright Nigerians to populate his government. The result of that is the crop of military chiefs that have met Mr. President’s expectations in many areas such that he has retained them even in the face of the campaign of calumny that has been sustained against them by the likes of Sahara Reporters.
Sowore responded to his failure to make the cabinet, and indeed any government appointment, by drawing an imaginary battle line against the government by launching a sustained campaign of misinformation and disinformation against the Army. Perhaps thinking that he has gained a cult following that will enable him leverage his anti-government rants to make a populist hijack of power, Sowore ran as a presidential candidate in the 2019 General Elections and the 33,953 votes he scored in a country of over 198 million and with 82,344,107 registered voters is confirmation that Sahara Reporters’ readership base is overhyped, consisting mainly of persons with questionable intellect and suspicious mental health.
This explains why none of such gullible readers ever challenged or questioned the trail of hatchet jobs that Sahara Reporters is doing against the military. This was the platform that started, sustained and perpetuated the account that the Army killed harmless Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) militant members even though that group was to be later procedurally declared a terrorist organization. Sahara Reporters ran a similar racket for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), another group that deservedly earned the label of a terrorist organization, it helped IPOB attribute mass graves from its atrocities to the Army and Nigeria Police Force after gory sights of hurriedly interred bodies were discovered in a forest. Its publisher, Sowore, was to later team up with IPOB’s fugitive leader, Nnamdi Kanu. After a meeting with the terrorist-on-the-lam, Sowore launched the #ReviolutionNow protest that was meant to overthrow a democratically elected government through mob action, a clear indication that he was in cahoots with terrorists with the singular agenda of destabilizing Nigeria.
Its anti-military, anti-Army campaign is so profound that Boko Haram recruiters are reportedly printing its webpages as recruitment literature and collaterals to convince prospective terrorists that Boko Haram has the upper hand in a war it is losing to government troops. If this usage of its content for terrorist propaganda is inadvertent, Sahara Reporters never did anything to correct the impression. Rather, it has shown a commitment to running propaganda for Boko Haram.
These foray into terrorists’ supporting propaganda has been explained away by some analysts as part of an elaborate destabilization agenda that is meant to make Nigeria a failed state. The logic is that the bouquet of foreign donor funding that is propping up the online publication are in reality a laundered form of payment for Sahara Reporters’ contribution to promoting terrorism in Nigeria in addition to being an anchor news platform for releasing contents that are meant to undermine the Nigerian state – a site that publishes contents meant to damage Nigerian institutions such that mainstream news organizations are then pressured as a result of competition to run a toned down version of such stories.
The analysts with this projection are not off the mark. What they did not add to their assessment of Sahara Reporters and Sowore is their demonic zealotry to malign the Nigerian Army as a conduit to get at President Buhari. They shop for stories to paint the military bad and have even been known to have funneled money to vulnerable ones among the troops to incite a contrived mutiny. They have in other instances used costumed actors to stage videos of discontent on the war-front in addition to propped interviews with faceless soldiers or alleged ex-soldiers all with a view to paint the government of the day bad and abuse the military for this purpose.
What Nigerians and indeed the world should know is that believing one line of texts in Sahara Reporters’ publications is to fall for a scam. Let no one make any mistake that the selective attack on the Nigerian militray is anything professional or about the competence of the men and women who are in battle with the enemies of Nigeria day and night. Let no one make the mistake that the persistent attack on the military and government is about good governance in Nigeria. Let no one make any mistake that it is about what the government is not doing or has done. The brief Sowore’s Sahara Reporters has is simple. Demonize Buhari. Make Nigeria bad and let the country go up in flames to please the colonizers that this below-rag-status publication works for.
If the past ten years has taught anything about Sahara Reporters, it is that this organization is incapable of the introspection that will prompt a revert to editorial principles, which it never had for one day since inception. For Sahara Reporters, reporting falsehood is a tradition buoyed by the false sense of being able to abuse the ubiquity and limitless reach of the internet to push its misleading contents at Nigerians while remaining beyond the reach of Nigeria’s legal jurisdiction because it is ensconced in New York, United States, a country against which it dare not publish the kind of incendiary contents it publishes against the President of Nigeria, the state and the military.
But it is time to leverage the relevant anti-terrorism legislation, same way the United States would have done, such that whatever presence the publication has in Nigeria could be held liable for the terrorist activities of its parent office in the US. The authorities should also exploit inter-agency cooperation to thwart the ability of this criminal enterprise to raise money for supporting terrorists with propaganda as it is currently doing – all that is required is freezing its banks accounts while placing the accounts of its staffers on a terrorism watchlist.
Sahara Reporters is at liberty to hold grudges against President Buhari just as it is free to nurse its gripe against him and his government, but wittingly or unwittingly supporting the cause of terrorists in an attempt to demonize the military as a way of maligning President Buhari is a red line that few countries in the world will allow a news publication to cross. Why should Nigeria tolerate such?
Akpan is a pan- Africanist and wrote this piece from Uyo.