Abacha and the allegation of southern media bias


By Abdulbasit Kassim

At the end of every week, as a side distraction, I developed the tradition of perusing the primary sources in my personal archive for weekly historical highlights and documented lessons from the past. This week’s highlight is the press advertorial titled ”Enough of the Media Blackmail and Bashing of the Abacha Family” issued in the week of 12-18 November 1999 by 25 signatories from the Fagge Community in Kano. There are significant takeaways from the press advertorial, but the one that stood out for me is the allegation of southern media bias against the north.

Excerpts from the Press Advertorial:

”The people of Fagge Community comprising Fagge A, B, C, D1, D2, and other surrounding hamlets all in Fagge Local Government Area of Kano State have viewed with serious concern the spate of senseless incessant and endless southern press campaign of calumny and blackmail against the Abacha family since the demise of our pragmatic illustrious son, brother, and father, the former Head of State, General Sani Abacha.

In as much as the late General may have committed mistakes in his leadership, the rate, and frequency at which the said southern media are lambasting and castigating the Abacha regime and family, is, to say the least uncharitable, ill-motivated, un-objective, and ethnically oriented.

The people of Fagge community comprising of our experienced politicians, political office holders, academics, civil servants, business tycoons, as well as the masses are of the opinion that the current massive media propaganda against the Abachas is a deliberate and calculated ploy designed and schemed by enemies and detractors to completely wipe out the Abacha family name and contributions in Nigeria.

We must advice that our son, brother and father, the Late General Sani Abacha should not be singled out as an ”aberration” or be blackmailed and punished over what is generally regarded as collective military misdeeds. It is in the record of our history that there are leaders who had been worse than the Late General in all facets of leadership and yet, because those leaders are sacred cows or are still alive they have maneuvered their way back into national recknoning and nobody is raising eyebrows over their nefarious crimes.

As living witnesses of the unfolding Nigeria drama, we all knew that it was not during or after General Abacha’s era that we came to know of leaders who siphoned our money and deposited them in foreign accounts. So why too much noise about Abacha’s foreign accounts? It was also not during Abacha’s leadership that we first knew of political assassinations and human rights abuses. Why was Abacha’s case more pronounced, and his family persecuted for offenses they knew nothing about? (End of Quote)

Despite the production of Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, New Nigerian Newspaper, Triumph newspaper, Albishir, Amana, Kano Mirror, Yancin Dan Adam, Northern Star, Zaruma and Zumunta, et al., the allegation of southern media blackmail against the north has been echoed repeatedly by the leaders and politicians in northern Nigeria from the period of late colonialism and early independence to date. For example, in his 2 October 1998 interview, Alhaji Ahmadu Kurfi, the former Assistant Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defence, reiterated the allegation of

southern media bias:
”Every newspaper I read, I even got tired of them. We get some relief in papers like your own and a few others; otherwise, it is terrible. First of all, to correct this image, we have to have our own voices somehow. Right now, they write all sorts of rubbish, you don’t even care to reply, and if you reply and send it to them, they will not publish. Those that publish (our stories) like your own (i.e., trust newspapers), they don’t circulate very much.

The Guardian Newspaper somebody tells me, the other day sells for about 1 Million Naira per day. Compare that with what you sell, I am sure you are nowhere near. The New Nigerian sometimes sends only a few copies to Katsina; even if we want to buy them, we don’t get them.

If they keep telling lies and lies, it becomes the truth and what worries me most is that historians in the future will just read these papers and consider it the true picture, believing that there is nothing to the contrary. So we will be condemned historically as those who ruined Nigeria. So the first answer is to get a voice to reply to these people.” (End of Quote)

In the era of democratization of the media space, is this allegation of southern media bias still valid? The availability of internet access has cut short the problem of circulation. There has also been a gradual shift from print media to online media. Quite a number of indigenous media agencies have now been established in northern Nigeria, from Daily Trust, to Mallam’s Jaafar Jaafar Daily Nigerian to state-based news platforms like Yerwa Express, Katsina Post, the Caliphate and others including the newly established Sahelian Times.

Northern Nigeria can also boast of having at least six foreign media agencies broadcasting in Hausa including BBC Hausa, DW Hausa, RFI Hausa, VOA Hausa, Pars Hausa, and TRT Hausa. This is in addition to the Hausa division of online media like Sahara Reporters Hausa, Premium Times Hausa , Legit Hausa et al. Yet, it is not uncommon to hear of southern media bias. What precisely is this perceived bias in media representation? Why has the proliferation of media agencies in the north not remedied this perceived bias?

Although there is an element of exaggeration in this allegation, it is tangible to a more considerable extent. The woes and travails bewildering northern Nigeria hardly get national or global attention unless the news is circulated in the southern media. #EndSars and #SecureNorth are the latest examples for testing the north to south divide in media coverage. The allegation of southern media bias is as old as history, and it will probably endure for the next three decades or more.

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