During the campaigns for the 2015 presidential elections in Nigeria, the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, used state institutions, especially the media, to carry out extensive campaign of calumny against its opponents of the All Progressive Congress, APC.
This shifted public sympathies to the latter. In the last few weeks of electioneering in Edo State for the governorship election, the roles have been reversed seeing the APC leaving substantive matters for cosmetic issues and engaging in hate speeches and defamatory statements. The APC governor, Adams Oshiomhole has gone a step further to castigate anyone, including non-partisan critics of his policies and conduct.
This writer has been at the receiving end of the unwholesome political posture. The Governor is in error because the posture contradicts his oath of office to adhere to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution. Bearing in mind that Section 22 of the said Constitution specifically mandates the media to hold government accountable to the people, it is improper for the Governor, or indeed any political leader, to malign any journalist that criticises government policies and projects. It is worse that the Governor’s reactions or those of his officials to criticisms are more often than not coloured with untrue statements as this piece shows hereunder.
Naming of NTA Benin main building
Whereas Governor Oshiomhole stated publicly that Tonnie Iredia as Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, named what he called the dilapidated NTA Benin building after himself; the naming was done by my successor in office in line with NTA tradition. In my time, I had named the organisation’s main building in Lagos after Vincent Maduka, the station’s pioneer DG, just as I constructed and named a building in the Port Harcourt station after Shyngle Wigwe and another in the Kaduna station after Mohammed Ibrahim who both served at different times as NTA’s Chief Executives. The charge that I named NTA Benin building after myself is an obvious lie. Those who chose to do it, did so to honour me by merely following the convention in the organisation
Service to Edo State
The charge that I did nothing for Edo State when I was DG, NTA is misplaced as I did not have an Edo but a federal mandate. Even at that, Edo did not gain less than others during my tenure. When I restructured the network system, the Benin Station became a viable centre just as I did to the other centres in Ibadan, Enugu, Kaduna, Sokoto and Maiduguri. While commissioning community stations like those in Zaria, Oyo, Amukpe/Sapele, etc, I did not leave out NTA Iruekpen. The present NTA transmitting station at Aduwawa also owes its coming on board to me. But for my intervention, the NTA Jattu in Oshiomhole’s locality would not have seen the light of the day. In spite of all these, it is irrational for anyone to use extra broadcasting issues like the widening and rehabilitation of some Edo roads to assess my performance as DG of a federal television station. To choose to localise my mandate cannot hold as all I did reflected a broad based horizon. I inherited 21 stations in 2003 which I raised to 68 before I left office. I built 10 Network Centres, instituted LIVE coverage of events from any location whatsoever which included the LIVE transmission of the installation of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006 as President of Liberia. I elevated the NTA TV College Jos to a degree awarding institution and set up NTA International to redress media imperialism and reposition Nigeria in the map of the new world information order.
Edo State Government says that my anger against the ruling party is based on what it called the rejection of my alleged ambition to become governor. Unfortunately, it did not say which party carried out the said rejection. I hold no party card and therefore I am not a partisan politician. If so, why would I seek to be governor with such a transparent legal disability? Perhaps, the government based its statement on a newspaper report that both the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin, Prof O. G. Oshodin and I were reportedly among other Edo persons screened by a group which calls itself the Benin Leaders of Thought, BLT. Neither Oshodin nor Iredia belongs to the group and none of us, according to the newspaper report, appeared before the group. Bearing in mind that the group is not a recognised political party which is authorised to undertake party primaries, anyone who adduces gubernatorial ambition to any of us on account of what is credited to the BLT does so under a dose of hallucination.
Work at the Edo Broadcasting Service
To say that I am anti-Edo government because my request to help restructure the Edo Broadcasting Service, EBS, was rejected is childish. The Governor should have told the state the better candidate for the job that he preferred to me and why the EBS is the way it is throughout his tenure as governor. If he had relied on any peer review mechanism on the subject, he would have found that governors of three other states invited me to contribute to their efforts at revamping their broadcast systems ahead of the digitization of broadcasting. He probably does not also know that I have been involved with two West African countries on the same subject. Could it be his lack of knowledge on the issue that made him declare me a poor man on national television the other day? Well, in his piece titled “Tonnie Iredia’s many Gaffes” at page 35 of the Vanguard of August 26, 2016, Edo State Information Commissioner, Kassim Afegbua stated that the same Iredia, described as poor by his governor has a house in Benin, Abuja and London. Do both officials ever find a few minutes to compare notes on information management?
If what the Edo State government specialises in is information dissemination, another word for parroting, instead of information management, then it is likely to always mix up basic facts and figures. One of the things that such a communication posture has done to me in particular in the last one month is that it has confused many people about where, when and how my father and mother died as well as their respective villages and the roads leading to them. The truth however is that when my father died in 1998, Oshiomhole was certainly not our state governor; he was probably a junior worker at a textile mill or something else. There is therefore no way I could have asked him at that time to help me build the road to any village for that purpose. Again when my mother died in 2007, four state governors, including Governor Osunbor of Edo State, were in attendance. What would have made me to leave Governors to contact Oshiomhole a private citizen to help me build any road? Clearly the facts were muddled up because government was working to a predetermined answer which was to malign me.
What really happened was that in 2009, when my in-laws at home and abroad decided to organise a remembrance in honour of their late mother who had died some 50 years earlier, Governor Oshiomhole purporting to be my friend at that time helped to grade the road to the village-Eguaholor to ease movement. He also sent a representative to the event. About a year later, he tarred the road. In 2016, when I wrote critical articles on his unwholesome imposition of a candidate on his party members and his refusal to allow a level playing ground to all candidates, government designed a machinery to identify my so-called village which poor record keeping had stopped them from doing. What was the event? Was it in respect of my father or my mother? Which village and which roads were involved? Commercial politicians took advantage of government’s information lethargy to offer sundry answers. The advertorial in the Vanguard which was informed by one of them said it was Azagba village. The most ridiculous of the muddle was the notion that I was angry because the road may have been abandoned whereas it was beautifully done many years back. How could I have been angry over such assistance when for its sake I tried to offer free assistance to the state’s broadcasting service? Besides, until the electioneering period of the last two months, the Comrade Governor was usually warm towards me as he always personally carried my hand luggage each time we were on the same flight to Benin from Abuja. What then can be the basis of the inexplicable bitterness?
How the Governor handled my criticism of his neglect of roads in the GRA in Benin aptly tells a story of the criminalisation of political dissent. I did not quarrel over the subject. My objection remains that it was poor leadership for the Governor to have told the media that he neglected the area because it is inhabited by the rich. That is discriminating. It would have been a different thing if he had said he chose to begin from the congested areas of the state. In any case, he did not neglect the roads leading to Government House or where his deputy resides which are all in the same GRA. Talking about roads, the argument that I failed to appreciate the beautiful roads especially the Airport Road in Benin is not a strong point. When the Governor began his beautification of the ring road, I commended him for making the place wear the look of an oversea location until I realised that typically, no one ever gets to know the cost of Oshiomhole’s projects. So I will clap over the Airport Road project, if whenever its cost is disclosed; it does not turn out to be one of the costliest roads in the universe.
Having established that my critical articles are not personal because Akwa Ibom, Enugu and Ondo governors in similar circumstances were also criticised, I wish to state that my disapproval of the Iyamho University was not as a result of its location. This is because whether Iyamho is the Governor’s village or not, it is an Edo location which also deserves to be developed. My objection remains that with five different universities in the state, Iyamho should have been made to play host to another major development project.
It is therefore wrong for government to project me as a political opponent rather than as a media professional who in line with the mandate of section 22 of our constitution is merely compelling government to be accountable to the people. I rest my case.