The Plateau Killings: Is The Media Guilty? By Rasheed Abubakar | The Precision


The last couple of days have been a turbulent period for Nigeria as a country, going by the gory killings that erupted in Riyom, Barkin Ladi Local Government, Plateau State on Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25. The unfortunate clashes between the Birom youth and herdsmen led to the death of 86, 100, 120 or up to 150 persons,according to different media reports. The Nigerian police source later confirmed the tolls to be 86 dead, 6 injured, 50 houses burnt, 15 motorcycles burnt and 2 vehicles burnt.
As usual, the Nigerian media immediately went to press with the usual rhetoric, as their various headlines suggested, blaming the senseless killings only on the Fulani herdsmen, whereas some innocent Fulanis lost their lives in the crisis, based on victims’ families, friends’ and associates’ accounts. 

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See some of the newspapers which carelessly used HERDSMEN in their headlines, below:

– Herdsmen attack 11 Plateau villages, kill 86, torch 50 houses – The Punch 

– Curfew in Plateau as herdsmen kill 86 – The Nation

– 150 killed as herdsmen attack Barkin Ladi LGA in Plateau – New Telegraph 

However, some played safe. They used “gunmen” instead of “herdsmen”, as seen below:

– Massacre in Plateau as GUNMEN kill over 100 – ThisDay 

– Over 100 killed, houses burnt in a midnight raid by GUNMEN – Tribune

– Scores killed as GUNMEN attack Plateau villages – The Guardian

While the Nigerian police and government continue investigations into the killings with the intention of bringing peace to the region, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) reportedly justified the killings, claiming it was a retaliatory attack for the killing of 300 of its cows.

The controversial statement, said to have been made by Mallam Danladi Ciroma, Chairman, North-Central zone of the Cattle Breeders Association, was published by virtually all the Nigerian media. The news went viral, quickly spreading like wildfire. Both mainstream and social media were awash with the news, with different screaming headlines.

At that point, it was difficult for Nigerians to discredit the report purportedly attributed to Mallam Ciroma. Hence, the Miyetti Allah was strongly condemned and criticised by angry Nigerians, including some of their sympathisers, who had earlier argued that the media have not been fair to the Fulanis in their reportage. 

It became a serious debate and many Nigerians suddenly turned jurists, calling for the Buhari-led government to immediately arrest Ciroma and label the group as a terrorist group.

In a shocking and surprising twist, the National Secretary of the group, Mr Othman Ngelzarma dissociated the MACBAN group from the senseless justification, insisting that it was a personal opinion of the North Central Chairman, and that is if he truly said so.

While appearing on a live program on Tuesday on a popular TV channel, Mr Ngelzarma didn’t only fault the statement, he also condemned the killings in Jos, saying: “We don’t condone it, we do not like it. It is really unfortunate and we sympathise with the communities in that area.”

Just when Nigerians thought the controversy over the issue was over, the man at the centre of the storm, Mallam Ciroma came out publicly to deny linking the killings in Plateau state to reprisal attacks. He also insisted he never made the statement. In the course of the interview, he said; “I did not issue a statement. No, we talked on phone. Sincerely speaking, what that boy wrote was not what I told him. We did not speak on reprisal attacks.”

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“I didn’t speak on reprisal attacks – MACBAN Scribe” – Leadership newspaper

Unfortunately, his disclaimer didn’t reach out as far as the blatantly false statement earlier published. Many people were disappointed about the development. In fact, a social media influencer, Tolu Ogunlesi made a series of tweets, where he said, partly: “2 days ago, virtually every Nigerian paper reported that Miyetti Allah N/C Chairman issued a statement justifying the Plateau killings. Now, he says he never issued a statement, and never spoke about reprisals. Serious matter. Can the Guild of Editors help uncover the truth here?”

Neither the Guild of Editors nor the media houses have countered Mallam Ciroma’s denial as at the time of writing this report on Thursday. However, a newspaper editor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, advised him to take the appropriate steps if he has his facts that he did not make the statement. “We have enough laws to deal with forgery”, the editor said.

Verification of News

Irrespective of their positions on issues, journalists’ first assignment is to “get it right” and “be sure” of what they want to publish, which can be achieved through verification and accuracy. Some of the verification processes identified by Ibrahim Altay in his article: “The verification process: A principal tool of journalism” are: 

“Never add anything that was not there. Do not add things that did not take place. Never guess, invent or make things up. Never rearrange time, place, or characters in an event in order to fit them to the narrative, and never hide anything”, most of which some sections of the Nigerian media are guilty of.

Doing all these acts all in the name of journalism is tantamount to lying and deceiving innocent people (readers). The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) affirmed in an authentic hadith: “Should I tell you what is a blatant lie? It is a rumour circulating among people” (Muslim). 

That is why Allah (SWT) warns: “O you who believe! If a Faasiq (liar – evil person) comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done.” (Q 49:6)

Lying in whatever guise is a significant sin. According to Islamic belief, it can transform a believer – including a journalist whose preoccupation is to spread lies, biased and subjective news reporting – into a hypocrite. In fact, Allah described lying along with idol worshipping in the Noble Qur’an. As such, we should save ourselves from the evils of idol worshipping and lying. 

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Spreading lies and unverified news will no doubt make people question how reliable and trustworthy many Nigerian media are. Sadly, when the three suspects linked to the Riyom, Barkin Ladi attack were paraded, some media mischievously wrote: “Soldiers Arrest ‘Two Fulani Herdsmen’, One Other Involved in Plateau Killings”. That “one other” is of course a Birom, the antagonist ethnic group in Plateau state with which the Fulanis are warring, but some sections of the Nigerian media hid its identity in their headlines. Is this what journalism is all about?

The Nigerian security agencies also arrested 14 others in connection with the unrest recently experienced in the state, but their identities (whether Fulanis or Birom) were not disclosed. However, they will remain in custody while investigations continue. Yet, all these suspects remain innocent until proven guilty by a competent court.

In conclusion, one of the best ways Nigerian media can be instrumental towards finding lasting solutions to the incessant killings is to exhibit the highest level of professionalism, through objective reporting, without the intent to criminalise or favour any of the rival groups –be it herdsmen, farmers, violent Birom youth, or armed militias – for whatever gain. The fact is, there are some criminal elements within all the feuding groups, but that should not be a justification to criminalise the entire Fulani community. Justice, fairness and objectivity must be established.

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Allah (SWT) says: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” – Qur’an 4: 135

Above all, the media should know that they are Nigerians first before being journalists. Hence, they must always have the interest of the country at heart while discharging their professional responsibilities. If they fail to do justice, like the saying goes: “If heaven falls, it falls on everyone”. That is why Allah (SWT) warns: “And fear Fitnah (tumult, affliction and trial etc.) which will strike, not only those (trouble makers) who committed wrong among you, and know that Allah is severe in penalty” (Qur’an 8: 25).

Rasheed Abubakar is a journalist and the author of “Hijab and the Nigerian Press.” Email: | Twitter: @rawshield123

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