Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Our right to know

I first read the news of Nigeria's double tragedy last Sunday on the CNN website. As the initial reports could not immediately confirm whether there were any survivors from the crashed flight 210 I turned to the BBC website for more information. I had searched through the local online media and could only find This Day Online scrolling it as Breaking News. At this point the BBC was reporting that about 50% of the passengers had survived the crash. It even mentioned a report of a phone call back home by an ECOWAS official, to confirm that he had been on the flight but had survived the crash. As is usual with the BBC website, it also had provided a forum for those who may be affected by the incident to express themselves.

I read through the many hopes expressed by respondents who had prayed that their loved ones on that fated flight would be alright. By the following morning when the truth of the situation emerged and it became clear that there were no survivors, this page was withdrawn from the website. It was replaced with an article titled: Nigeria - where the truth is hard to find, by Anna Borzello. This article tried to clear the confusion surrounding the conflicting reports, blaming the Nigerian situation for the mix up. The disappointment and frustration that must have followed this development is inestimable, especially for those who may be directly affected by this incident, and who may be without alternative sources of information. It's easy to point fingers elsewhere but the BBC should've provided another forum for readers to express their disappointment or vent their angst.

I was further alarmed when I read that the AIT and Ray Power FM stations were shut down by the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission, for what they termed "unprofessional coverage" of the scene of the ill-fated flight. Part of their reasons was that the said stations had announced on location, that there were no survivors, before competent authorities had fully assessed the situation; or before the families of the victims had been informed. Haba!

This plane had disappeared from the radar for at least fifteen hours before these announcements were made. Nobody could account for the whereabouts of the aircraft all this while. Two helicopters were scrambled and a frantic search and rescue operation was mounted by the Nigerian authorities. The entire world media was focused on Nigeria and the missing jetliner. Everybody wanted news. AIT happened to be the first to find and reach the crash site; and what the NBC did was to shut the station down for making public its findings. This action underscores the military mentality and ignorance that still rules the Nigerian stage. It is disgusting!

What is wrong with this country, Nigeria? Why must only irrational and ignorant people have access to decision making positions here. Or, is this power-play a deliberate attempt to punish the owners of these stations for getting the birthdate of the tragic first Lady wrong? In fact, Chief Gani Fawehinmi's call for immediate payment of compensations to DAAR Communications Limited is much in order. I also think that the NBC is a useless commission and should be scrapped. The people have a right to know.

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