Op-ed – Simon Ateba: The price of speaking truth to power

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I was wondering why we do not get a lot of adverts on TODAY NEWS AFRICA USA despite thousands and thousands of readers from across the world. And I seem to now know why.

The other day at the United Nations in New York where I had gone to cover the United Nations General Assembly, I joined other journalists from Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari had just arrived after a long flight from Abuja.

As we stood there, after the president passed us without greeting anyone, including his own officials who had come ahead of him, the spokesman of the Nigerian President Femi Adesina, came to address us.

Some journalists there were independent journalists while others had been flown from Nigeria by the government or worked for government media houses. Such interviews often are not serious interviews. They are meant to promote the President and show how amazing he is.

While journalists were asking those questions about how he would wow the world with the amazing, superior Nigerian agenda at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September, I asked Femi Adesina about political prisoners in Nigeria, and the detention of New York-based publisher, Omoyele Sowore.

He flared up, refused to answer, asked for the next question, “next, next, next,” he shouted, and the interviews ended abruptly.

After that, some Nigerian journalists who felt I spoilt their “business” began to avoid me. One person would attack me from Plateau state after I asked another question to his Governor Simon Lalong on the killings of Christians there and whether Buhari was doing enough to bring to book the perpetrators of those massacres.

The attack on me became physical. After that, other journalists began to hide venues of other interviews from me, including when they went to interview the governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and I would be ejected from the Nigerian house in New York by a Nigerian guy who would trick me and apologize to others that he didn’t know how I got in.

That’s not just in New York. At the World Bank and IMF Meetings the other day in Washington D.C., some Nigerian journalists warned those close to the Nigerian Minister of Finance to distance themselves from me, and officials from the Central Bank pretended to be close to me only to yank my name off their mailing list and hide other activities from me.

Speaking truth to power means you will make many enemies. There are people who like them either because they are from the same tribe, religion, state or because they like their performance or are protecting their interests, those people will target you and will not give your company ads to make it bigger, fearing you may launch even bigger attacks against the persons they like.

There are public relations officers whose job is to clean the mess of big men and women who would put you on a black list. Their job is to show how great, amazing and powerful the big men and women are, using the press.

Certainly, those ones and their friends in the marketing and advertising agencies would not recommend your newspaper for ads. In fact, if they can kill it, they won’t hesitate to do so.

Some people who like you and like what you are doing won’t give your company ads also, fearing that they may be targeted when the government discovers attacks against them are followed by ads from them.

You’re in a box, trapped between a world that wants strong men and women to rise and do the right thing and speak for millions of people who do not have the chance to confront a bad president, and the people who have means to advertise with interests to protect.

The only way you can make money is through independent ads and subscriptions, but there are no independent ads anywhere in the world. Everything is connected.

Here in the United States, a $10 billion cloud contract that was expected to go to Amazon went to Microsoft because Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and is critical of President Trump. He has gone to court, and no one knows what would happen there. The courts can also be very corrupt. Everything is connected, the President appoints the judges and judges sometimes reward the President with friendly judgments.

And subscriptions do not come every day, many people are already broke and struggling to survive and the people who have the financial power have interests and a legion of the people to make them look good and are determined to fight those who are telling them, c’mon man why do you arrest and keep people in jail for no reason?

Doing this job can be hard but in the end, history vindicates us.

What Femi Adesina did not want to discuss in New York is becoming a big issue and Buhari is being seen now in the world as a bloody dictator and the world is thinking about someone else, about how to get rid of him. He would soon know.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: [email protected]

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