Premium Times’ decision to retract a fake News it published which claimed that Miyetti Allah described the Plateau attacks as retaliatory has been met with criticism and praises, both for the wrong reasons.
In a June 25 report by Andrew Ajijah, Premium Times used a screaming headline “Killing of nearly 100 people ‘retaliatory’ – Miyetti Allah”. The fake News report claimed that the cattle herders group had said the killings was for revenge. It went on to say “residents blamed the attack on Fulani herdsmen, a group represented by the Miyetti Allah.”
The report quotes the North Central Chapter of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), Danladi Ciroma, as saying
“These attacks are retaliatory. As much as I don’t support the killing of human being, the truth must be told that those who carried out the attacks must be on revenge mission,”
It has now come to be known that the reporter copied it from The Nation Newspaper which copied it from a WhatsApp group. Mr. Ciroma has vehemently denied ever saying this and has said he told the reporter the exact opposite of what was published.
Yet the fake quote was taken as the summary of the crisis.
It was received by millions of Nigerians as Miyetti Allah claiming responsibility and the government, led by a Fulani man, refusing to bring them to justice. Even worse Nigerians were reminded of how notable Northern Emirs are Patrons, articles were written and calls for the splitting of the country and the arming of civilians against the government were made, all based on this single quote.
A Scape Goat
A look at the Premium Times report reveals that the reporter who felt a quote from WhatsApp was good enough, was not the only problem with the report and this is understood through understanding some background to the issue.
Miyetti Allah did not start denying the lies that they claimed responsibility today. ETN24 constantly refuted the lies against this group but the mainstream media kept reaching more people with its lies and deception.
In January, ETN24 did a story titled “Benue Killings: Why is everyone misquoting Miyetti Allah“. The story outlined the many times the group denounced violence. The report cited various instances in May 2015, January 2017, March 2017, and July 2018 among other times when Miyetti Allah had come out to denounce violence. Yet in all these times most media houses report these with headlines such as “Fulani herdsmen revealed why they attacked Benue Communities”, “Why we attacked Benue Communities – Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders”.
The usual practice was to take any reference to Cattle or disagreement and make it seem as though the group was using it to justify the killing of people.
This trick was alive and well in the Premium Times’ report, even as it tries to reduce it to a quote and hang a scapegoat.
The headline of the report was sensational even had it been that the quote was from Ciroma. Sensationalism is to report stories in a way that is intended to provoke public interest or excitement, at the expense of accuracy. The Editors had three pieces of information from the fake Ciroma quote; the first was that it was retaliatory, the second was that he condemns the act, while the third was that Miyetti Allah was not involved. Considering that Ciroma was called because he was in the group, it was more important to headline the News with what he says about his group rather than the speculation he made. But the hunt for traffic dictates otherwise.
The writer’s clear attempt to link the killers to Miyetti Allah as he says “Residents blame the attacks on Fulani herdsmen, a group represented by the Miyetti Allah.” was also not flagged down by the Editors who the paper’s retraction statement say were deceived.
Beyond a Quote, a Media Culture
In January, a robbery incident in Ekiti, during which pregnant TIV woman was killed, was reported by TheCable as herdsmen attack. But in the same report, the same media house said Lere Olayinka, the Media Aide to the Governor, said it was a suspected robbery attack. Punch, Sahara Reporters, and Vanguard joined TheCable in this misleading report. ETN24 also did a report to refute this claim and to expose this trick.
This was however just one of the click-bait incident with which most mainstream media houses threaten the peace of the Nation.
In a January 14 report, ETN24 again warned of where the reporting of the crisis is heading with a piece titled Benue Killings: TheSun and Dailypost endangering lives for traffic when a simple suggestion by Miyetti Allah on the way forward was reported by TheSun Newspaper as“Expect more bloodshed in Benue, Bosso, Miyetti Allah leader warns” and by Dailypost as “Miyetti Allah defends killer herdsmen, says local security caused trouble”.
Even Governors bought these lies as in March, ETN24 was again forced to do a piece on how Governor Samuel Ortom was misled by fake news into asking,
“how can a group claim responsibility for the killings that happened and are going about scot free?”
This website showed that Miyetti Allah never claimed responsibility for any attack. Rather it only promised to contest the law against open grazing in Court.
“We want to state here that we reject that repressive and oppressive law and will deploy all the necessary legal means as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution to challenge it.” it had said.
It, however, decided to accept the law in March. Even better, the Conference in which it was decided that ranching is accepted by Miyetti Allah was Chaired by the same Chiroma whose became the victim of fake WhatsApp quotes.
Governor Ortom praised the group, yet after thus there were also clashes. A situation which goes further to make the group’s argument that it had nothing to do with the attacks.
Femi Fani Kayode also appeared, over the months, to be a victim of this media sensational, almost willingly. When President Buhari said in April that the herdsmen-farmers situation has become worse because of the arms some herdsmen find available as a result of the Libyan crisis, a lot of media houses reported this statement as “Buhari blame Ghadaffi for killings in Nigeria”. From Premium Times to Sahara Reporters, Pulse, Guardian, and DailyPost, the same sensational headline was used. Mr. Kayode tweeted,
“Have you no shame? None of those you are blaming are Fulani and none is a member of Miyetti Allah. The herdsmen are your boys.Blame Yourself!.”
Even though in an opinion article in 2012 the same Kayode referenced the death of the late Libyan leader as one of the factors responsible for the carnage in Northern Nigeria.
In the piece titled “Can Obama be trusted”, Fani-Kayode wrote,
“Had it not been for the fall-out of the mess in Libya and the brutal way in which Muammar Ghadaffi, the Libyan leader, was murdered in cold blood one year ago, his Taureg friends and allies in North Africa would not have been inspired and driven to take over Northern Mali and create a Taliban-style Islamic fundamentalist state there and Northern Nigeriawould not have been flooded with jihadist foot-soldiers and all manner of sophisticated arms and bombing devices for usage by Boko Haram.”
Again, ETN24 did an extensive Fact Check on these matters and revealed the truth.
Online media houses make huge sums of money from the number of people who visit their site.
A check on Premiumtimesng.com shows that Premium Times still has the story it retracted up there with the writer’s name, sensational title and the quote which has been debunked and discovered to be a WhatsApp message.
The post has over three thousand shares on Facebook alone, and counting.
Premium Times also published the denial by Miyetti Allah as a separate story while its “retraction” and sack of the reporter is serving a massive positive public relations presenting the company as accountable and credible.
Almost 24 hours later, its retraction of the story cannot be found on the homepage of its website even as it has gone viral.