Perhaps Africa’s and indeed Nigeria’s biggest enemy with regards to negative and biased reporting is Michael Peel, I have indeed tried to contain myself and to be patient with this voyeur cum journalist but I can not hold myself anymore. Not after his last damning report and one-sided take on fraud and scams purportedly emanating out of Nigeria which he claims costs the United Kingdom billions annually.
As we say in Nigeria, enough is enough. How long should we stand by and watch this fellow dehumanise Africans and indeed Nigerians with his negative take on the African continent? This past week, most of the United Kingdom newspapers have been awash with Mr Peel’s story, conversations on tubes and buses and in offices have been ignited once again with the story of Nigerians and their financial invention – the 419 scam. But this is not all that Nigerians are good at; unfortunately it is the only one that Michael Peel chose to tell the world.
For people like me who speak the English language flavoured with a thick Nigerian accent, and who bear flag-waving African names, there is no escaping the scorn, ‘sympathies’ and jeers. As the West African correspondent of the Financial Times Newspaper, Michael Peel has never found anything good and positive in the whole sub-region worth reporting, his reports are usually couched in cynicism, threads of decay, death and backwardness knit them together, just like the news reports of his fellow western media journalists stationed in Africa whose only mandate is to report the bad and ugly. For Michael Peel and his associates, there is nothing good coming out of Africa; Africa is still a dark continent and its people savages and criminals.
I often wonder, when they go to bed at night, do they calmly shut their eyes with the satisfaction that they have done their best through their many warped and negative reports to improve the lives of the Africans whom they constantly denigrate, or does the thought that they may be contributing to Africa’s backwardness linger somewhere on their minds?
As an associate fellow of Chatham House, does Michael Peel not realise that the documents he authors and which are endorsed by Chatham House in a way influences policies including the decisions taken by governments and global investors concerning Africa, and that such parochial take on issues is at cross purposes with Africa, and indeed Nigeria’s march towards national re-birth, and its current drive to attract foreign direct investments (FDIs)?
Where has the journalistic objectivity he learnt in journalism school gone to? In telling his readers how much the United Kingdom loses annually to fraud emanating from Nigeria, he conveniently ignored the fact that his fellow citizens (the ‘innocent’ victims) are also co-perpetrators in the crime, and that their ‘misfortune’ only came about because of their greed and immoral inclination to rape Africa and rob it of its resources. A disposition that dates centuries and continues to be witnessed in Africa’s many mines and oil wells.
So who is smiling last now? The poor Africans that he so much detests and derides constantly, subjecting them to constant ridicule in the western media, and elevating them to favourite dinner table topics, and ballroom party conversations in Westminster through his negative reports, or is it the greedy white men and women who planned to reap where they did not sow and got done in the process?
Maybe Michael Peel should take a cue from John Simpson, BBC’s former Africa correspondent and world affairs editor who reports Africa just like a partner in Africa’s progress and development should; praising and critiquing it when necessary while at the same time savouring, celebrating and immersing himself in the culture of the people; their food, music, art, and lifestyle. In one of Mr Simpson’s many introspective essays published sometime in 2000, in an edition of High Life, the British Airways in-flight magazine; John Simpson wrote what I consider to be one of the most beautiful articles about Nigeria ever written by a non-Nigerian. In the said article, he bared his soul while declaring his love for a country that he said was probably one of the best countries in the world to live in despite the odds and challenges. Surely there are things Mr Simpson must have seen or experienced to have made him arrive at such a conclusion. Such an endorsement coming from a widely travelled man and writer obviously beats the many battering at the keyboards of the Michael Peels of this world who may have overstayed their welcome, and should now be thinking of packing their bags and leaving the beautiful continent; the land of the great rivers and the rising sun.
I guess it is only Michael Peel that can produce the statistical formula he used to arrive at the alleged amount of money the United Kingdom loses annually to Nigerian fraudsters, if his billion pounds calculations were true, would there have still been a need for Nigeria and the rest of Africa to be asking for debt cancellation? Would such gigantic proceeds of crime not have been visible on the ground? Would all the roads and pavements in Nigeria not be tarred and paved with gold, and would the economy of the United Kingdom not have seriously felt the impact of such illegal capital flights moving out of the economy to Nigeria?
Michael Peel should please get another vocation and leave Nigeria and Nigerians alone. Scare mongering is hardly what the world needs at this stage, particularly the United Kingdom which currently grapples with a myriad of issues including large scale corporate fraud (post – Enron, Andersen, WorldCom, Tyco etc), organized crime, poverty, anti-social behaviours, teenage pregnancy, threat of terrorism and rising unemployment etc. If he is so much concerned, he should be trawling the studios of the BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 as well as Sky exhorting his people and advising them not to give away their ‘billions of pounds’ to Nigerians.
Africans and their governments share part of the blame for not fighting their own battles themselves. They have repeatedly failed to invest in their own media systems and infrastructures with which to tell their own stories. It may be along this line though that the Nigerian government-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) recently started broadcasting internationally. Worthy of note also is the reported plans by Nigeria’s News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) to begin a 24-hour transmission from January 2007, just like other global news wires. These are all positive moves which if sustained in the longer term would give Nigeria a voice on the global arena, in addition to the little efforts of privately owned terrestrial channels such as Africa Independent Television (AIT), Bright Entertainment Network (BEN) Television, and OBE etc.
The attempt by Mr Peel to palm off his guestimates as research in order to support his position and those of his paymasters is indeed appalling; if only he was sincere, a casual probe would have told him that most of the scam emails do not originate from Nigeria, agreed some unscrupulous Nigerians may have popularised the scams but other citizens of the world including citizens of the United Kingdom have since perfected it. Mr Peel can not argue for sure that the daily ‘Euro Millions Prize Monies’ and such similar scam emails which bombard our email boxes daily all originate from Nigeria, or does he not watch the BBC Watchdog programme? How many Nigerians have been featured in that programme? Are the usual suspects not his fellow countrymen and women who get caught in the act while attempting to fleece other law abiding citizens including pensioners of their hard earned money?
The age-old reliance by African countries on western media such as the BBC, Financial Times, CNN, VOA etc for information has not really done Africa much good. The time has come for Africa and Africans to start telling their own stories, and to commit Michael Peel and his co-travellers who feast on Africa’s misfortunes, and are always quick to condemn, judge, blame and criminalise the good people of Africa with their myopic reports to the rubbish bins of history.