The Lekki report – By Sam Omatseye

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He moved in the night as the news dawned. The BOS of Lagos wanted facts, not in the mockery of Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times. He wanted to be sure he did not mix the dead among the living or the living among the dead.
This is in respect of the Lekki incident that some social commentators or media outlets sensationally called massacre in a macabre abuse of the word “massacre.”
The matter rose from its smouldering stove last week when the United States expressed ambiguity over the story that many people died. The report expressed the position of the BOS of Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, that noted that two lives were confirmed dead. Even at that the connection of one of the dead to the scene was tenuous. The US report noted that the army was there as an ignoble presence. The governor as much as acknowledged that at the point of the controversy.
What strikes this writer is the contrast between the report of the US government and the CNN, the country’s most vocal outlet in the world. The CNN reported killings. It verified none. The human rights body, Human Rights International, said 10 people died. It did not prove their names.
Since the infamous night, we have seen claims, encountered ghosts, a certain D.J. Switch with apparitions of the dead on social media, mothers have materialised with the rage of a puffadder only to ebb out like puffs of smoke.
Other than the two mentioned, we are yet to ascertain if there are any more dead. Even one death is a tragedy. No life is worth the insanity of an army.
Amnesty International with their Nigerian researchers jumped into conclusion. Its hubris will not let it flag to facts. Rather it challenged the US report without facts.
The US, just like the Lagos governor, say they are open to facts. If there are more dead, let us see them. That is the reason he set up a panel that includes the EndSars representatives. So far, we have seen no hard evidence. Somehow Amnesty wants us to believe 10 died at least.
If the Nigerian staff of the august body wants to justify their pay, they are welcome to it. But they should not sacrifice the facts. As this writer has noted in the past, corpses are no ghosts. If they are dead, they should have found brothers; if not brothers, sisters. If not siblings, parents. If not parents, co-workers. If not that, they should have neighbours. Amnesty International cannot say that because there were shootings, it must result in massacres.
To be clear, the army acted like a leopard in ambush. It had no right to fire bullets. Its acts had no place in a democracy or in civilised place. It was barbarism even if it shot the bullets in the air. The army brass contradicted itself first by denying it was there and later confirming its presence with defiance. Up till today, no one has been queried for that night.
CNN has, for its storied record, goofed. It will be interesting to see the executives of the network go back to the story in humility. It is not reporting to turn social media mirage into facts, to elevate a fleeing DJ Switch into a heroine, and make professional cockiness into a virtue.
The US position was a responsible one. It wanted to speak with evidence, not sentiment. CNN wanted sensation as driver for revelation. Because they saw rage on Facebook and Instagram, some media leaders and so-called influencers marshalled facts to match the fire of the hour. It was a leap of Imagination, fantasy over facts.
Media gets away with a lot, especially when it does not face scrutiny. But when it comes to body count, it has often been a guess game. Media leaders must learn to be sure of their facts when disasters strike.
Headlines about incidents often differ. Reporters ought to leave matters not provable on the level of speculation. They tend to get away with it. Now, they have to collide with the truth. The main point here is that facts are sacred, as they teach all historians and journalists. But opinions are free.
The advent of social media has complicated the business of facts and the power of truth.
Ambiguity is a better virtue than leap to facts. Facts are a sober business. Biases can colour what we seem to see into what we deceive ourselves to have seen. Hence reporters delve into several checks before delivery as consumables. Once the words are in the public space, they contaminate the society.
The business of reporting is not a flawless enterprise. But its integrity lies in the humility of admitting errors when they occur. It is because of professional hubris that some people like Donald Trump have lashed on to the fake news mantra. News gathering is a human effort. It has done a great job for civilisation but that is why it must be humble.
For all the lack of grace of the former US president, he forced the media to look inwards and recast its certainties. It is an irony that the US reporting on the Lekki Shooting played down CNN and that should tell them that it is better to err on the side of caution than jump headlong into falsehoods.
It is interesting that those who call it a massacre have not eaten the humble pie of apology. It is because even in the news business, we exercise the same impunity that we accuse the army of performing. Bad news can be as harmful as stray bullets. Wars have erupted because of it. The media helped George W. Bush plunge the world into over a decade of turmoil in the Middle East. It was based on false claims over weapons of mass destruction. When I taught media in the US, I kept urging my students to address the facts. I said no media house had proved it. A year later a student accosted me on the hallway to apologise to me. He said he thought I was anti-American. He had learned a great lessons in news sobriety. The media also inflamed passion that lit the tinder of pogrom that imploded Nigeria in the 1960′. Words are more dangerous than guns. Words made firefights. Wars cannot happen without words. In the beginning was the word. Too many lives end because a bad word started it. Napoleon boasted that pens were not mightier than the sword. It was words, the reporting of his magisterial fireworks that brought him down at Waterloo.
When we hear facts, let us be sober before we soar into anger. It is an irony, that the first words on body counts came from Governor Sanwo-Olu and, up till now, even the US government cannot controvert him.
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