Some days ago, two major national newspapers led in the publication of total falsehood against the Government and People of Rivers State. The Nation and Daily Trust Newspapers. The Reporters of the two newspapers reported that the Rivers State Government through the Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning had demolished the Trans-Amadi Mosque. This was the worst form of falsehood, with the capacity to inflame tensions.
Daily Trust , a pro-North Newspaper and The Nation, a Pro- APC Newspaper quoted one Alhaji Abdullahi Musa Tobaco, as claiming that the Rivers State Government demolished the Trans Amadi Central Mosque. It was this premeditated and mischievous falsehood that several misinformed groups latched onto.
The falsehood by The Nation and Daily Trust which almost misled the entire country exposes the fundamental challenge facing journalism in the country today.
For a matter as sensitive as religion, these reporters made no attempt to cross check their facts. As senior journalists covering Port Harcourt, the country's headquarters of oil and gas, they refused to go to the site of the demolition. Their editors never requested for pictorial evidence of the said demolished Mosque.
Instead, both newspapers concocted photographs to illustrate the falsehood. They set the online space on fire and waited patiently for the country to burn. The truth frustrated their deadly scheme.
If you ask me, this was not a mere error of judgment on the part of the Reporters and their Newspapers. If it was, they would have apologised since the truth came to light.
None of the originators of this false report has been called to order by their Newspapers . They will be encouraged to carry out this line of false journalism next time.
The location of the disputed land is accessible by well constructed Road. Yet they displayed journalistic laziness and relied on the words of one Alhaji Tobacco. They rushed to break a sensitive news without caring to investigate the facts.
Governor Wike personally took some journalists to the location and they saw that no Mosque existed there. The video evidence has been widely circulated, both online and on national television.
Of course, reactions to this falsehood by these Newspapers have come in various forms. But some politicians with waning careers have seen this misinformation as a means of attracting cheap attention.
The bone of contention was the definition of the status of land title that the illegal developers claimed to have. The Court ruled that the title in the possession of the illegal developers cannot be superior to the State Government title on the said land.
Despite not having any approval, they started petty fencing and digging up of trenches, but there was no Mosque at the said location. Those claiming the existence of a Mosque should provide the pictorial and video evidence of the Mosque before the Rivers State Government intervened.
The decision to stop work on the site was taken, officials of the Rivers State Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning met with those illegally excavating a foundation on the said land and directed them to stop work in line with earlier notices served on them.
The issue of trying to get an approval to construct a Mosque on the said land started in 2012. There was no approval given for the construction of a Mosque.
Justice G.O Omereji of the Rivers State High Court ruled that the disputed land belongs to the Rivers State Government. This was in 2018. The judgment followed a suit filed by the Registered Trustees of Trans-Amadi Mosque, Port Harcourt. They had approached the Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt in February 2012, after the then Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi Administration through the Rivers State Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning stopped them from erecting a structure on the disputed Government land without approval.
Justice Omereji held that: "The Statement of Defence and the evidence of the defendants two witnesses show that the land, the subject matter of this suit is State Land acquired for public purpose by the Eastern Region of Nigeria in 1959 under the Public Acquisition law as evidenced by the Certificate of Title dated 27th Day of June, 1961 Registered as Number 26 on Page 26 in Volume 2 of the Land Registry, Enugu, now in Port Harcourt and whose assets the Rivers State Government inherited which is Exhibit K.
"The evidence also show that the claimants had no approval from the Rivers State Government to make use of the said land, prior to the use of the land for any religious or other purposes and that the defendants did not destroy any property belonging to the claimants.
"The said area where the claimants uses for religious activities falls within the area acquired by the Rivers State Government as in the Exhibit K. The evidence shows that the claimants acquired nothing from Chief Dr Edward S. Amadi since Chief Edward S. Amadi cannot give what he does not have because the land in dispute has been acquired and has been State land since 1959".
It is rather disheartening that major national newspapers would be involved in deliberate falsehood evidently sponsored by political mischief makers masquerading as religious leaders.
One thread of propaganda has been heightened in the entire chain of misinformation. Why did Governor Wike declare Rivers, a Christian State? It appears this was the reason behind the planting of this report in The Nation and Daily Trust. These politicians challenging Governor Wike's declaration forget that there are Muslim States in the country that officially practice Sharia.
Like every plot, this one has failed. Those who sponsored these journalistic misfits to generate the false report should hide their heads in shame. Rivers State will continue to make progress under the leadership of Governor Wike.
Even as the media holds Government to account, so should newspapers hold their reporters to account. When senior reporters sweep ethics of journalism under the carpet, the society bears the brunt.