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NEMA Scandal: Analysing the divergent media coverage

Gidado Yushau Shuaib

Recent media reports indicate the growing uproar over financial scandals rocking the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) which led to the suspension of some directors by the current Director General of the agency, Engr. Mustapha Maihaja.

As a reporter of an emerging news platform (News Digest) who follows and tracks stories of events as they unfold, I observe the divergent media coverage of the saga from two different perspectives, especially as being reported by the traditional (print) and online media.

With interest in investigative reporting, I am aware of the importance of primary and secondary sources for credible information. I therefore, rely on two major news distribution agencies in Nigeria, the News Agency of Nigeria(NAN), a government owned organisation and PRNigeria, an independent Press Release platform for mostly security outfits.

However, in analysing the media coverage of NEMA, I have noticed to my amazement that the news reports from traditional media seem to defend the positions of the Director General of the agency, while the online media are more concerned about addressing the plights of the staff, including those suspended.

For instance, when the staffs of NEMA embarked on the nationwide strike last year, most of the online media, reported the protest from the perspectives of Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) and Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) of NEMA Unit.

On the other hand, the traditional print media reported the efforts of the embattled NEMA boss, Mustapha Maihaja to sanitize the agency with his appeal to the National Assembly to pass the bill seeking to amend the act establishing the Agency.

With different reports on the protest, it is evident that the online media platforms provide timely, speedy, sometimes not fully edited reports on the saga, especially from the public hearing at the National Assembly. I realise too that the mainstream or the traditional media, delay their reports and sometimes provide different perspectives from the initial online reports. I also observe that journalists, especially in the print media, tend to engage in more in-depth research before publications in the limited spaces.

A further scrutiny indicates that two major media seem to be the arrowheads in reporting the NEMA scandal from different, if not opposing perspectives. The Nation Newspaper has a pattern in promoting the activities of the current management of NEMA under Maihaja, while PRNigeria Online News Release platform provides contrary views which protect the interest of the staff of the agency. For instance, it was the Nation that broke the news on the investigation of NEMA staff with a story captioned “EFCC indicts ex-NEMA DG, six directors for N2.5b ‘fraud’” and followed with another report the following day that “Alleged N2.5b fraud: NEMA board suspends six directors.”

After the report, the House of Representatives Committee on Disaster Management called for a continuation of a public hearing on abuse of trust by the DG NEMA which was widely covered with PRNigeria syndicating and publishing a story titled: “How NEMA Boss, Maihaja Blows N1.6bn Flood Victims Fund on Fake Firms… House Panel Summons Suspended Directors.”

On the second day of the public hearing, after the testimonies by the suspended directors, the Nation Newspaper merely reported that “NEMA has complied with Procurement Act, says DG” while PRNigeria published two reports titled: “House of Rep Orders Recall of Suspended NEMA Directors” and another “House Uncovers Another N3.1bn Contract Scandal in NEMA, Maihaja Pays N400mn Demmurage on Chinese Rice”

Surprisingly, a day later the Nation published another exclusive report with a title: “Alleged N2.5bn fraud: EFCC invites 13 more top officers of NEMA,” while PRNigeria deliberately twisted the story with an appropriate attribution to the Nation with an alarming headline: “NEMA DG Maihaja Disobeys National Assembly… Sends Fresh list of staff to EFCC.”

The following day again, the Nation published two news stories: “Group uncovers attempt by indicted directors to scuttle EFCC investigation on NEMA” and “Osinbajo, House at war over N2.5b fraud.” The PRNigeria on the same day published an exclusive report citing an official letter from office of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and captioned the story: “N5bn NEMA Fraud: Petition Trails NEMA DG Maihaja on Monumental Corruption.”

While the nation reported the response of House Committee at a press briefing with an harmless but seeming ambiguous headline: “We Won’t Abandoned NEMA N23bn Fraud Probe- Rep,” PRNigeria was blunt and categorical with its screaming headline: “Maihaja Must Account for N22bn NEMA Allocation in One Year– Reps.”

At the hearing on April 19th, the Nation published a report with a title: “Suspension of NEMA directors, others in order, says HOS.”  The PRNigeria on the same day titled its report: “Lawmakers insist on reinstatement of NEMA officials.”

At the last public hearing on April 24, 2018, the Nation reported that: “N2.4b rice donated by Chinese govt intact, says NEMA DG,”  while PRNigeria published an exclusive report with a scandalous headline titled: “SCANDAL: How NEMA DG, Maihaja paid N400mn Demurrage for N414mn Chinese donated rice (Picture of Evidence).”

The varying viewpoints between various media phenomenon is always in existence but one needs to consider the integrity of the platform in believing its content. Online news platforms are becoming more domineering in the dispensation of news reporting as observers’ countdown to a no distant future when 95% of the world’s population will prefer reading news online.

It is necessary to state from the outset that, the traditional media observes a lot of process of authentication, verification and editorial approval before publication, Online media is speedy and timely with on the spot news delivery. While print media is reader friendly, the online media is viewer friendly.

While I am learning on the field of news reporting and investigative journalism, I discover that the two main masquerades behind the divergent storylines on NEMA are divided by their professional calling: a journalist and a Public Relations Person. They merely provide editorial contents from their strong perspectives.

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Gidado Yushau Shuaib is a Masters Graduate of Media Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster London

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Tokunbo David

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