Why Sheriff’s Aide, Bwala, Was Convicted By Court

* Bwala 
By Tony Icheku, Abuja

If Inuwa Bwala was to belong to profession like medicine or law where practitioners are registered before they can practice, he would have been struck off the register of practitioners for unprofessional conduct and criminality. But in Nigeria, the practice of journalism is not strictly regimented, thus when Bwala was caught with his fingers literarily in the soup pot, he was let off with a light tap on his itchy           fingers. It was indeed a  case of ‘everyday for the thief, one day for the owner’

That day of reckoning came for Bwala on November 14, 2016, when Justice M. T. Salihu of Federal High Court, Maiduguri fined him over N5 million for false publication,  and authoring a false  petition.

Bwala, sacked as  Commissioner for Information in Borno State under controversial circumstances is also the publisher of National Trail newspaper. He was dragged to the Federal High Court, Maiduguri by Yusuf Dikko. Amongst other reliefs, Dikko sought a declaration that the purported publication made in the April 27 - May 3, 2016  edition of the newspaper  by Bwala, his newspaper, the National Trail and his reporter, Dauda Mbaya was false.

He further sought a declaration that a 2-page petition
against the Borno Commissioner of Police, CP allegedly authored by him was false.

In the course of the trial which also had the Borno State Commissioner of Police as 4th respondent, it emerged that Bwala concocted a fictitious petition to the CP signing  Yusuf  Dikko as the author. He then published the fictitious petition in National Trail. This caused the arrest, detention and unquantifiable suffering to Dikko,

Justice Salihu delivering judgment, granted Dikko his relief, specifically that the purported publication made in the April 27 - May 3, 2016 edition of  the National Trail was false. He further declared as false the   2-page petition against the Borno Commissioner of Police, CP allegedly  authored by Dikko. He restrained Bwala and his agents from further publication of false stories against Dikko.

Justice Salihu also ordered Bwala,  to tender unreserved apology to him in any national daily newspaper widely read in the North-east, particularly in Maiduguri. Bwala and his newspaper company, Trail Publications Limited are also to pay  N5 million jointly as damages for authoring the false publication which led to the arrest, detention of Dikko and causing him ridicule, embarrassment and suffering. 

The 4th respondent, the CP was fined N1 million for illegal arrest and detention of Dikko without any complaint or having any reasonable justification to do so. The respondents were equally jointly and severally fined N600,000 as costs of litigation.

There were reports that some quarters in Borno State were elated at  Bwala's conviction. Certainly a black spot for  the journalist with years of practice behind him and currently the Media aide to Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff, the factional National chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

In  Maiduguri, widespread views hold  that since he was eased off the cabinet of Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, Bwala had wielded his pen rather unprofessionally and mercenarily, hacking  perceived political opponents.

Indeed, the Borno State Government had instituted several suits on libel against him, but such cases had suffered hiccoughs here and there. Bwala often offers a stout defense of him being victim of  political victimisation, even when his reports drips with falsehood, unconfirmed allegations and outright concortion

Nigeria’s  loose laws governing the practice of journalism had allowed villians like  Bwala to severally, deliberately publish one-sided, distorted and alarmist stories against opponents for selfish, personal agenda and mercantile interests.

Though advocates of freedom of speech and freedom of expression are vehemently opposed against laws regulating the practice of journalism. Nonetheless, they maintain that transparency, integrity and accountability should serve as ethical standards. The international body, Society of Professional Journalists insists in their ethical standards that  "Deliberate distortion is never permissible".

In the United States of America, USA where freedom of expression advocates canvass that  the First Amendment guaranteeing   free speech is 'untouchable', some 17 States had made it a criminal offence to lie in politics, for instance,  the law in West Virginia states: "Any person who shall, knowingly, make or publish, or cause to be made or published, any false statement in regard to any candidate, which statement is  intended or tends to affect any voting at any election whatever is guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than ten thousand dollars, or confined in jail for not more than one year, or, in the discretion of the court, shall be subject to both such fine and imprisonment."

By implication, if a scamp like Inuwa Bwala committed the offence for which he had been convicted in West Virgina, USA, he would be cooling his heels in prison. Unfortunately, even if he pays the fine, he will still continue to use his rag-tag newspaper to concort falsehood, extort  and blackmail for his greed and mercantilist agenda.

Bwala's conviction indeed lends credence to arguments in the past by the Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy to Gov. Shettima, Malam Isa Gusau, that  Bwala is  part of the cabal that is telling all manner of lies against his principal.

In an interview, Gusau has described the  cabal as "very desperate politicians struggling for power" and engaging in the fabrication of all manner of reports published online and in  newspapers against the Borno governor.

“A cabal whose thuggish wing is led by a cruel and hurt sacked commissioner is behind all the blackmail. The members want power at all cost but have lost out in the APC and are not being welcomed in the PDP in Borno, so they are politically homeless and would stop at nothing to set other homes on fire", Gusau argued.

Perhaps with the conviction of desperados like  Bwala,  time has come to take another look at the laws governing the practice of journalism in Nigeria. A stitch in time saves nine
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