Vice President Yemi Osinbajo expressed sadness over the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen, on allegations of false and non-asset declarations.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) had scheduled Jan. 14 for the arraignment of the CJN.
However, the process was stalled as the CJN failed to appear before the CCT; and a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja also ordered the CCT to halt proceedings.
Osinbajo, who spoke at the 2019 Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN) conference on Wednesday in Abuja, said that President Muhammadu Buhari had no prior knowledge of the arraignment.
The theme of the conference is “Free Press and Objective Reporting in the 2019 Election Year.’’
According to Osinbajo, Buhari’s approach is that institutions should do their work.
“ I can tell you for a fact that he did not even know about this until Saturday evening. He did not even know that there will be any kind of arraignment until Saturday evening.
“He has said categorically, do not interfere with whatever institutions are doing; sometimes, it has consequences such as we have today; such that people say how can such an important person be subjected to a trial without the Federal Government?
“But I can tell you without any equivocation whatsoever that he was not even in the know because it is a specific instruction that he gave.
“So , even where somebody else calls a public officer such as Ibrahim Magu of EFCC and says something or the other, he will say `no, no, no, Mr president has said I can do my work.
“My take is that I would rather not have a situation where senior members of my profession are being tried for an offence; certainly, I will rather not have that kind of situation.
“ So, I do not feel particularly good about it; as a matter of fact, I feel very sad; that it is going on at all, that is my position.’’’
Osinbajo tasked online publishers to go after details and check the facts before publishing; warning that online news was losing credibility.
The vice president said that elections had heightened ethnic and religious tensions and tended to threaten and challenge Nigeria’s unity and security.
“So, it is even more so, the case today that we just must be more responsive because anybody on their beds can launch a website, post images from anywhere in the world and tell whatever story he wishes.
“So, the online publisher is essentially in a poorly regulated space and can publish practically anything, even outright falsehoods.
“Perhaps because the worst that can happen is a libel action if your publication tarnishes a person’s reputation.
“The problem with the current situation is that online news may lose credibility; and that is a very bad situation because the loss of credibility is bad for everybody, bad for business and weakens an important social tool of public communication.’’
He suggested the encouragement and promotion of forums for online practitioners to engage and develop by interaction with others.
“As for elections, I think it affords an opportunity for an online publication to become well established as a credible and speedy source of news and information.
“News on election results will be so sought after that anyone who can provide them accurately and in a timely fashion will be the go-to-site, even in the future.
“The point to bear in mind is that integrity pays. Being the first to break the news, especially when it is unverified, might bring in some traffic initially, but it does not take that long to lose reputation.
“And once the credibility of the publication is damaged, people will not take the news seriously,’’ he said.
Earlier in a remark, OPAN President, Mr Austin Ogannah, said that the association as founded in 2011.
According to him, the idea is to have an association that self regulates practitioners in the online news media; so that members can hold one another accountable.
Ogannah said that the essence of the conference was to understand objective reporting in an election as captured in the theme.