Tobore Ovuorie’s story: Premium Times of Nigeria responds to Ikhide

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Dear Ikhide:

I notice you have been doing quite some heavy lifting in the library, drilling holes in the recent PREMIUM TIMES coverage of the nefarious human trafficking trade, another blight on our problematic national image profile.

I have been on a drenching road fatigue for a while and just got some wiggle room to respond to you. First let me say that this is something important to do. If we insist that a decent democracy cannot exist without a decent press, it goes without saying that we who work on this side of the aisle must be ready to subject our practice to attentive scrutiny.

At any rate, because PREMIUM TIMES defines its practice strictly in the ambience of investigative reporting, it will be hypocritical to expect that its work will not attract strict inquiry from friends and foes.  We welcome this.

After your review, I notice also that a number of comments have followed in its tow, some insightful, and a whole lot flippant.  I shall try to offer insight and responses to some of your now famous seven questions in the hope that those who share vision with the issues you raised will find some retort here too.

Many of the concerns about our report, in so far as they deal exclusively with the form rather than the content of the article, announces for me the moral texture and internal coherence of a new generation of Nigerian citizenry, and the challenge this poses for us in building a society of justice, where the human rights and dignity of the Nigerian are paramount.

Quite frankly, one cannot but feel mystified, that such massive real estate of print space, and time, was lavishly devoted to when, how, where, and why a cell phone got used or was not used in a story that speaks essentially to the moral decay of a nation where the best of our youth have no future outside a new wave of slave trade.

This immediately recalls for me the dilemma of Robert Jordan in Hemingway’s masterpiece For Whom The Bell Tolls, when the idealistic republican, at that great moment in history where the larger human community faces its greatest existential threat, suddenly comes to awareness that in the campaign against the radical evil of fascism, there is an uneven level of preparedness among the anti-Falangist forces.

In amusement, I notice the ambivalence in your review as you tried to challenge the veracity of the story.  This is how you put it: “How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cell phones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world? There are so many tracking devices on a cell phone, you wonder if and why the game plan of the reporter did not include these free tools.”

Let’s cut to the chase. The logic in your question is erected on the assumption of the implausibility of infiltrating a syndicate and still use a cell phone.  Thus, on account of your logic, if one gets to operate a cell phone in the environment of the syndicate, then the story automatically becomes false. Seriously? Sorry, this is either empty or dubious.

Perhaps you understand the operations of syndicates better, but we had no one to share the operating manual of syndicates with us while we were planning this investigation. So this construction of the watertight processes of the syndicate is your own construction, which cannot be imposed on the story. When Tobore was to report to boot camp, all they asked her to bring was “a lot of clothes” but when she got to camp she found to her surprise that some of them came with no more than a few days wardrobe.  What do you make of this?

One reasonable conclusion is that there are no standard rules. Would this explain the use of phones and other facilities? Would Tobore who is undercover, a fact unknown to all but her, act logically in every instance?

Since this is the basis of your logic of believability let me comment a little further on the question regarding the sophisticated level of the syndicate, and the ease of entry and growth within the gang.

Why is it difficult for you to understand that any syndicate in the world can be penetrated, and that ones growth path within the syndicate ultimately depends on ones ability to assimilate its orientation and, so to say, to domesticate that new environment?

Are the pleasures of exile hindering an appreciation of a simple puzzle? Certainly this can’t be too difficult for any serious reporter, and Tobore, a 33-year old doctoral candidate in psychology, who, by the way, you relentlessly, and paternalistically, characterize as a baby that cannot take responsibility for her choices, is the last person in the class who does not know how to domesticate her environment.

Let me refer you to something in your adopted country when talking of breaching sophisticated syndicates. Perhaps you have read how, eighteen months ago, [July 28, 2012], the walls of the United States Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), where more than 10,000 nuclear bombs are stored, were breached, at Oak Ridge, in the State of Tennessee.

As it turned out, this breach of the world’s most secured facility was not the work of terrorists, but that of a group of three elderly peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, Bible, and who, by the way scaled three perimeter fences, including an eight-foot fence. There is a lesson here not to mystify reality.  Please search and read the details of this story in motherjones.com.

At Premium Times, the central core of our mission is seeking and reporting the truth, and in doing this we insist on acting independently. Which is why I will ask that you direct your other questions to the appropriate law enforcement or statutory agencies. We have done our work and others will interpret where their own mandate starts.

One thing is sure, no one can fault this story on the grounds of truth, accuracy, and the principle of fairness that form the normative frame of our work. There are those who, genuinely, seek completeness beyond what we have offered here. Our response is simple. Investigative reporting takes time, it’s expensive, it’s risky, and it’s continuous.

I am however amused when you claimed that the article built “skepticism” in some Nigerians. As evidence, you even hyperlinked the drivel of the gentleman [obviously some school boy ineptly memorizing his lecture notes backward] who describes the article as “trash, full of fictions and poorly constructed…[and that] it lacks basic pragmatic and discourse qualities (i.e cohesion, coherent, intertextuality, acceptability, intentionality and informativeness).”

I think this is taking literary theory too trivial. What really was the gentleman saying in those lines? Are you sure you understood him?

Tobore’s report, for instance, was commissioned in May last year, taking her through five states in the country, a country in far Asia, and a neighbouring West African country. It was only completed in November.  What is included or excluded in the final report is a matter of pure editorial judgment.

We salute her staying power, incredible courage, and resolute will and those of our partners and staff who played different roles in bringing this important story to light. We pay tribute to the motivation that drove Tobore to the assignment, the expression of genuine humanity through which we get to appreciate the deficiency of compassion, and the depth of horror of what man can do to another man for the sake of money in our country today. Nigerian journalism is the richer for her sacrifices.

Our challenge to those who think that infiltrating and reporting about this sex slavery mafia, or any mafia for that matter, is a simple mouthing con game, the type you said your son tried to play with his Galaxy cell phone is, give it a shot. Nigerian journalism, after all, can only be the better for this.

Those who are familiar with our work know that we have never, and shall never take our readers for granted.  Recall that when you embarked on a campaign to rubbish one of our investigative reports last year, our editor counseled you to tread carefully and not side with peddlers of falsehoods and haters of good journalism. How do you feel now that the story remains substantially unchallenged till date?

Thus, those who think they have holes to drill in the human trafficking story and our other reports are warmly welcome provided they are ready to deal beyond the mere form of the stories and engage the substantive contents.

We have no appetite to deal with the range of cheap gossip that leads to no progress for our much-abused country, and the elevation of the highest ideals of the profession of journalism.

I hope you can accommodate this response in your justly famous blog.

Be well, my brother.

Dapo Olorunyomi

Editor-in-chief/Managing Director, Premium Times, Nigeria