High crime rate in Nigeria is a media exaggeration, says Richard Akinnola, a veteran Journalist, human rights activist
By RAZAQ BAMIDELE
Lagos, Dec. 15, 2018 (AltAfrica)-Richard Akinnola is a household name in Nigeria when talking about law reporting and judicial analysis. The 60 year old veteran journalist, who has reported judiciary for over three decades, is also a human rights activist as well as a prolific author with about 18 books to his credit
The gap toothed vocal social commentator is also a philanthropist and Director, Media Centre, where he holds media training and other mentoring activities.
In this interview with Alternativeafrica.com Richard Akinola believes crime situation in Nigeria is media exaggeration, saying Nigeria is not the headquarters of crime in the world as being painted by the media.
He also spoke on other sundry matters like the advent of social media and negative effects of fake news on the security of any society.
AltAfrica: As a veteran in law reporting, how will you assess Judiciary’s performance in Nigeria?
I think things have improved; there is no doubt about it. And I think that Nigerians have not been too fair on Judiciary because the Judiciary is a reflection of Nigeria. Just as we have bad eggs in every profession, the Judiciary too has its own bad eggs. So, we cannot use the misdemeanour of some few ones among them to now describe that the Judiciary is bad and corrupt. No, I don’t subscribe to that.
And again, many judges operate under very difficult conditions. It is only, perhaps with exception of a few of them under the Federal High Court. But if you go to many state High Court Judiciary, many of them have challenges. In the Eastern axis of the country for example, many live in Enugu and drive down several kilometres in that jurisdiction where they normally sit because of lack of accommodation. Or sometimes you get to court and there is no light. Sometimes you sit with the heat of the wigs and gowns. So, you cannot sit for too long. These are some of the issues. The Judiciary will still, with all these see that things work in terms of recording proceedings. Most judges still have to record through longhand which impacts on their health negatively. I think by and large, the Judiciary has tried. I think we must give kudos to Judiciary because even under the Military that we had ouster clauses in various Decrees, a number of judges still had to navigate through and we had a quite number of landmark decisions. I think by and large the Judiciary has tried.
AltAfrica: Who then can we blame for the rising crime rate in the country?
I think that is the reflection of the society itself because there is no society that is crime free. For example, Johannesburg and New York are rivals in terms of crime in the world. They seem to be headquarters of crime in the whole world. But the South Africa media do not celebrate crime the way we celebrate it here. The way we celebrate it here makes it appear as if Nigeria is the headquarters of crime in the whole world. No. I don’t think the level of crime is that high here. Yes, I believe there are different levels of crime apart from violent ones like armed robbery and murder and most recent ones are ritual killings and kidnapping which is a major challenge that has to be faced now. But by and large, I don’t think the level of crime in Nigeria is much more than that of South Africa and New York.
AltAfrica: Can we then blame journalists?
No, no. The blame is not on journalists but, is a reflection of the society. That is number one. But in terms of reportage that we amplify the negative aspects is the issue. You can report and place a particular story inside pages instead as a lead story. The number of deaths in the United State (US) through gun this year seems to be the highest. But you cannot see such things being celebrated there. Yes, they are reported but not celebrated the way we do here. We do it here to look as if Nigeria is the headquarters of crime. It is about the use and placement of stories.
AltAfrica: How comfortable are you with advent of online media vis-a-vis fake news?
Well, online news is inevitable because we are in digital age and we cannot run away from it. And of course, fake news is one of the challenges of the online media. Just like it happened before the advent of the online media, in traditional media, there used to be fake news. I recall that in 1990, I was the Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Lagos Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). And we had to content with a particular magazine, Akapa’s Top Magazine writing all manner of fake news. So, we stepped into it and we came out with our findings and that was the end of that publication. It has all been like that. And now that we have digital online platforms, it is much more pronounced. But a good and reasonable journalist will not involve in all that kind of fake news. But most of those who are purveyors of fake news are not trained journalists. But because it is a free outlet, anybody would just wake up one day and say I am a journalist now and I am breaking news everywhere. And these are people who are not even registered as members of the Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ). But because the constitution in section 39 says everyone has right of freedom of expression, not just journalists, every one. So, it is like they are trying to manifest their rights under the constitution. That is the challenge we have.
AltAfrica: What effect could that have on the society if not checked?
It has to be checked because fake news can cause a major catastrophe in the country. It has very devious consequences if not checked. And fortunately, we have enough laws in our statutory book to deal with fake news. I have delivered a lecture on fake news and I relayed all the various provisions in the criminal code on fake news. So, we don’t need to promulgate fresh laws. Even the Cyber Crime law of 2015 which was promulgated before President Goodluck Jonathan left, section 24 has dealt with all these fake news and Cyber stuff and the rest of them. These are issues which if one or two persons can be dealt with as purveyors of fake news; I think that would make other people to sit up.
AltAfrica: Can you compare journalism during your time and now?
Journalism then was more serious, more research oriented and there was more commitment than now. Today, I think most journalists are more concerned with money than professional outputs and how they can build the legacy.
In those days, you see a story in different newspaper that you had even missed. You would do a follow up and do a better story than the original one. But these days, nobody even does the follow up. They would just move on to the next political news. How do you take your time to do research and do background work? Today you see many stories that are very light because the person who is reading a particular story today may not have read the previous one.
So, how do you tie it down? You have to tie it because we need to know the background of this story. But many stories today lack depth because there are no background stories to it. So, that is the major challenge. They are more money oriented nowadays.
AltAfrica: Can we blame that attitude on publishers who are not paying their staff?
I think it is a criminal thing if you are making money and you refuse to pay workers. I know that media operators are operating under very difficult environment. All the components of publishing are imported. Inks, news prints and others are imported. The prices don’t go down. They keep rising up. And publishers cannot afford to keep on increasing the newspaper cover prices. Advertisements have gone down considerably because people are into another things like online than traditional ones. And again, if you place adverts, four, six months you have not been paid. So, now that we are in political era, I mean it is going to be cash and carry. There is no reason newspapers or media houses would renege in their financial obligation to the staff now that there would be more income.
I know to some extent it has negative impact on the input of journalists because of lack of salary and other things. That should not be a yard stick that you cannot even increase yourself professionally in terms of your output. Eventually tomorrow, it is your by-line that you would see and be very proud about it. How many stories have you written and you can feel proud about?
AltAfrica: If I may ask, what motivated you into book writing?
I started my Law Column in The Vanguard in 1985, a weekly law column. So, there was this particular case, there was a fire incident at the NET during Sheu Shakari’s administration and the issue entered General Muhammadu Buhari regime. There was this serious fire fighter, Saidu Garba. He was interdicted over the incident and he went to court. Gani Fewehinmi was his lawyer. And court said that he should be reinstated. The Ministry of Internal Affairs that was the supervisory ministry refused to reinstate him. The Permanent Secretary then was John Oyegun who is now the former Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Buhari was the Head of State. The case became a kind of roforofo fight between the Judiciary and the government. And after sometimes the Chief Judge of Nigeria Sowemimo, Adefarasin and Chief Judge of Lagos became involved in the whole of roforofo fight. The Judge, Justice Jinadu was asked to apologise to a government lawyer who he disciplined. And the man said never. He said my order has been flouted and instead of obeying me you are asking me to apologise to the government lawyer. I would not be part of that kind of conduct to destroy the Judiciary. So, the man resigned.
I did a two part of the case in my column. Gani now called me and said this issue is too important to be left just in two part column. He said I needed to develop it into a book form. So, he commissioned the Nigerian Laws Publication of his company to publish the book in 1998. I published the book in 1999. That is the beginning of the journey into book publishing that I have 18 books.
Gani was somebody who kept record and that was part of his influence on me. There was nothing too small for Gani to document in a book. And that has been a major thing that has impart on me. I document things because you need it as references in future.
AltAfrica: How lucrative is book writing?
Well, it depends on what you write about. I feel fulfilled. I don’t write fiction. I write about real things. I look at historical perspectives. I recall at the launching of my book in 2009 and Professor Yemi Osinbajo came in. He was then the Attorney General of Lagos State. He made mention of something in his speech that many of the books I write don’t attract money. They attract wealth in terms of knowledge. It is because many people unborn will still have reference to some of these books. He said it may not attract money now, but it is going to attract in future.
So, I feel fulfilled. It may not be extremely rich in terms of finance but the major challenge is the job of marketing. The major challenge in Nigeria is marketing books. We have various bookshops that would sell but would not remit money. But now that there is e-books, things are changing. Instead of spending millions of money on printing, you can upload your arts works PDF. And people buy e books. You don’t need to engage in sending books across the country by courier. Unlike overseas where Amazon buys books. And here, if Amazon buys your book, you still have to send to them. But if you print abroad, it is easier and cheaper in the cost of postage to send those copies to them. And if you use foreign Post Office, it is sure that the person will receive it. But, like here, you have to make use of courier companies which is too expensive. How many people would want to spend another extra N3,000 to N4,000 on courier apart from the cost of the books? That is the major challenge we have which we are trying to overcome by way of e publishing.
AltAfrica: You have not touched the issue of piracy…. (cuts in)
Of course that one is another great challenge. My book on Fellow Country Men was well pirated. It is one of the most successful in the books I published, I mean commercially. I printed about four editions and it is always pirated and there is nothing anybody can do about it. It is unfortunate.
AltAfrica: What then can be done to stop piracy?
When former President Goodluck was complaining about his book being pirated, I said, but you were in government and it didn’t concern you then because you were not an author and you didn’t feel the pinch. Now that you are an author and out of office, you now feel the pinch. I think if the government is actually serious about dealing with piracy, it should make examples of some criminals.
It is not all about books alone. Same thing for CDs and videos, films and music being pirated like books. Almost all books are being pirated. But the government has not shown serious commitment in dealing with this thing. Maybe now that a person like Jonathan is feeling the pain maybe subsequently, whoever comes into government would know that I would not be in power for ever and I may be a victim of piracy. Maybe that would make him show serious commitment in terms of dealing with the menace.
An average Nigerian, when he sees cheap thing he goes for it. For instance if you see a CD that just came out of a film, before you knew it, Alaba people had dubbed it and people are buying it for N500 when the real price is about N2,000.
I think Chinua Achebe’s book, There Was a Country to me, it was the most pirated book in Nigeria because there are different versions of the book. Everybody is just printing his own version. And the pirated ones are cheap. Piracy crashes the prices. So, bookshops lose money. Publishers lose money. Authors lose money. When pirates push out their copies, they reduce the price. I have seen my own book being sold to me on the street. And I knew the copy was pirated. And I said what am I going to do? I had to buy it. I bought it at Owerri, Imo State airport. As soon as I saw the book from afar I knew it was pirated. I told the woman, I am the owner of this book but I am not the one that printed this one. She said it was supplied to her from Aba (Abia State) or wherever. So, I bought a copy to keep it as evidence.
It is a major challenge because it crashes the prices and authors lose money, bookshops lose money. So, government needs to show commitment to deal with piracy. But they are not showing any commitment. And now that Jonathan’s book is being pirated maybe that would show the government that it is not taking this issue serious.
AltAfrica: Have been mentoring journalists into book writing?
I have done that a couple of times. But not everyone has that kind of drives. So, I told them it needs patience. Then you need to focus on what actually is the focus of what you are writing about. What you are writing about must have a niche. So, don’t look at any other person. You must have your own area of focus.
AltAfrica: Why are Nigerian activists sleeping now? Is it because the country is in democracy?
Not exactly. It is just that the rule of engagement has changed. During the military, we had a common enemy to fight. Now, under democracy, we have to engage those in government. But unfortunately now, in the past few years, a number of activists have now been subbed in and we are now having political parties’ wings of civil societies. So, that is the challenge we have now. And that is why many activists would not speak out when something is going wrong.
But speaking out against the political party when things go wrong does not mean that you are not loyal to that party. I subscribe to any person in government to have someone in his cabinet that can look you straight at the face and can tell you that something is wrong. But an average office holder wants to be deceitful by saying everything is alright, don’t mind the critics. No, you need somebody that can tell you that, Oga, this thing is not right. That is how to help the person you are serving. We need that kind of person in government.
When some activists become Nigerian politicians, they remove the toga of activism which I think is not proper. And that is why I feel disappointed in some of them. I won’t mention names.