Due to several calls and enquiries on why the former Kaduna Bureau Chief of Vanguard Newspapers, Luka Binniyat, has continued to be an unwilling guest of the Kaduna Prison for nearly three months over alleged publication of false report, I am compelled to shed light on why the journalists is still without hope of regaining freedom soonest. No thanks to stringent bail conditions imposed by Justice Bashir Sukola of the Kaduna High Court.
On January 22, 2017, the reporter had filed a report to the Lagos Head office of Vanguard Newspaper that five students of the Kaduna College of Education, Gidan Waya, Kafanchan, were allegedly murdered by suspected herdsmen. In those days, unlike now, the hair-rising killings in the southern Kaduna axis had turned the area into a global cynosure of barbaric killing field. Like every reporter desiring to be the first to break the story, he quickly filed the report.
Less than two hours after, Binniyat, discovering the report was unsubstantiated, quickly reached out to his Editor to jettison the story. The Editor later directed him through a text message to send a text as he was in a meeting. Quickly, Binniyat sent the text message requesting the story should not be published having been discovered as false. As an experienced reporter, who then had put in over 10 years of dedicated service to the Vanguard, he also reached out to his News Editor on the same matter. The News Editor said he was not in the office, but promised to get in touch with the Editor. That was about 5:00pm of January 22, 2017. Still determined to ensure the story did not see the light of day, Binniyat around 8:00pm of same date tried to reach his Editor, but his calls were not responded to. He later re-sent the text he had sent to him earlier in the day. All Binniyat’s efforts to stop the publication of the report failed to yield fruit as the story was curiously published on January 23, 2017 edition of the Vanguard newspaper.
With the false report on print, the professional way to handle the issue was a simple rebuttal and apology to readers by the newspaper. That was not done by the editors despite the obvious slip-up on their part. Few months later, operatives of Department of State Security Services (DSS) invited the reporter for a chat. On arrival at the DSS office in Kaduna, the case was transferred to the police for prosecution.
Around April 2017 or thereabout, Binniyat was arraigned before a Magistrate court where he had no qualms getting a bail after spending a night in jail. Many had wondered and are still wondering why the reporter was sued without the medium that published the contentious story. Again, on July 12, 2017, Binniyat was arraigned before a Kaduna High Court where he spent nine days before the judge could entertain his bail application. Interestingly, all the brilliant submissions by Binniyat’s lawyer, Barrister James Kanyip, to attract sympathy for his client, who had appeared before the court on crutches, fell on deaf ears as Justice Sukola insisted that he was only favourably disposed to hear the bail argument on July 21, 2017.
When finally the bail application was heard, the court granted the bail, but with such conditions too stringent to be met by the defendant. Two sureties were required to produce N10 million bond each, and should be prepared to review the bond after every six months. What sounds as a death knell on the bail condition is the requirement that the sureties should surrender their international passports throughout the duration of the case.
Efforts to have the judge review the bail conditions have become a mirage; to be pursued but never realised. When the case again came up on August 31, 2017, it was strangely adjourned to October 9, 2017. Reason: the Kaduna State Government has brought in a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to take over the case and he needed time to study the case file. Not a few are expressing fears that the incessant adjournments now trailing this case has already cast a pall on the possibility of resolving the case immediately.
Despite serving Vanguard Newspapers meritoriously for over 10 years, many are in a confused state of mind why the media organisation has bizarrely decided to abandon one of its best reporters when he needed them the most. The mind-boggling question on the lips of many remains: ‘Are there pecuniary and selfish interests being pursued by Vanguard Editors that make it impossible for them to speak up for Binniyat?’
For now, all discerning minds are worried that Binniyat may have become a victim of ethical compromise in the course of carrying out his professional duties. I have been privileged to work as reporter in various newspapers in Nigeria. I am aware of the tremendous challenges facing media practitioners reporting on conflicts. The professional disposition Binniyat brought to bear on his handling of the report in question, which is now being used to perpetually detain him, should have attracted commendation, instead of cold abandonment by his former employers. In an ideal situation and saner environment, the Editor and other news gate keepers, who allowed such contentious report despite Binniyat’s efforts in stopping the publication of the story, should be facing disciplinary committee for violation of ethics. Considering the persistent efforts deployed by the reporter to ensure the story was not published, such an editor and other news gate keepers should have lost their jobs by now.
The media prides itself in “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.” Sadly, when it comes to healing the inner injustice that ravages the profession, media practitioners embrace a despicable form of hypocrisy. I am at great pains in rationalizing the disposition of Vanguard in the manner it is handling Binnniyat’s travails. Yes, granted the fact that there has been no love lost between the Kaduna State Government and the reporter, what evil did Binniyat commit to warrant this shuddering treatment from his employers? Binniyat’s dilemma should serve as a wake-up call not just to the practitioners, but also owners of media outfits. As I ponder on the reporter’s travails, so many questions come to mind: “What was the offence of Binniyat? Did he do anything wrong by requesting his editor and news editor not to publish the story he filed and later discovered was false? Was someone after him and wanted to use the story to do him in? Has the NUJ at the state level and national done enough to end Binniyat’s dilemma in the hands of his enemies who think they have got him where they always wanted? Can’t the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) do something to rescue reporters from editors?”
Though tormented by the injustice unleashed on the former Vanguard reporter, I am emboldened by the submission of late Dele Giwa, who said: “Any injustice done by man to man will be addressed. If not now, then, certainly later. If not by men, then by God, for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary.”
Giwa’s assertion on the ultimate defeat of injustice has sustained me in surviving the rattling mental agony over the depressing fate of the former Vanguard Bureau Chief. Without any form of doubt, as far as this case is concerned, Binniyat has been “most sinned against than sinning.” Let those who cherish truth and justice rise up and condemn Vanguard newspapers in the manner they have treated Binniyat who gave full measures while in their active service. Let the hypocrisy of Vanguard finds its tomb in the way it treats Binniyat. If the press is for the defence of the powerless, allowing one of its own to remain a victim on account of unprofessional conduct of news gate keepers should be seen as great disservice and dishonor.
It is not too late for the NUJ, NGE and all men and women of goodwill to mobilise support to end Binniyat’s dilemma. Every day Binniyat spends in Kaduna Prison is a dark cloud on what the Nigerian media stands for.
Musa Simon Reef is a media professional and can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org