09 Aug Ahead of Amnesty Declaration, Government Consults Hunter
It was now over 36 months since the first bomb in the Niger Delta was detonated to signal the commencement of militancy. After so much use of force, the various parties were embracing dialogue and it was time for Hunter to put it all in perspective.
He sat quietly at his desk and stretched his fingers in preparation for reading over his long feature story about the Niger Delta crisis. It was so long, it had to be serialised. He loved it that way – for people to wake up the following day with the expectation of something new from him.
His computer was booted up and he was ready to go. He had made a speedy recovery from his three brutal days in captivity. Once he had gotten back home and Lucy helped nurse him back to health, Hunter embarked on a two-week quest to do some last-minute research and then organise his data.
The final moment—the birth of the journalist’s metaphoric child—was now at hand. Hunter’s story would stand the country on its collective ears. But Musa Duke had decided not to run promos of the stories as they usually did to precede a John Hunter’s exposé. He felt Hunter needed some time to recover from the traumatic attacks. As it turned out, Hunter faced even greater risks by delaying the story than Duke ever imagined.
Hunter took another sip of the coffee beside him, and his hands in readiness to pound the keys of his laptop. He was just about to add a rider to the headline when his mobile buzzed. The caller ID showed the call was from Musa Duke’s office.
“Good morning, Editor Duke ,” he said.
“Good morning to you as well, Mr Hunter ,” a woman’s voice replied.
“Oh,” Hunter responded with a laugh. “Hello, Rosa.”
Rosa was Duke’s new secretary. Duke was a hands-on type of editor and Hunter had gotten so used to the boss making his own calls to him that he had to be reminded the man actually had an administrative assistant.
“I’m glad I was able to reach you so quickly,” Rosa said. “Musa Duke would like to see you in his office as soon as possible.”
“Can’t this wait?” Hunter said. “Duke knows I’m wrapping up a big story—and I’m definitely not ready to take on a new assignment.”
“Tell it to the boss,” Rosa said. “To be honest, I don’t know what the he wants to discuss with you. He didn’t say. He just said that the meeting was urgent.”
Hunter pushed his rolling desk chair back away from his computer. “Very well,” he said. “Tell him I’m on my way.”
( ( ( ( (
“How’s your final draft coming on?” Duke asked.
“I should have it ready for press tomorrow,” Hunter told him. “I could have had it ready tonight, but you called me away from it.”
Duke shrugged. “I’m sure it won’t be out-dated after one more day,” he said. “But first, congratulations. The old fisherman made it at the London hospital.”
Hunter sighed. “Thank God,” he said. From Port Harcourt where the fisherman was first taken by the chopper, he was flown in an air ambulance to London at the expense of The News Hub.
“But why should the story wait?” Hunter asked.
Editor Duke looked up at him. He said nothing.
Hunter paced around . “If you say so,” he said. “Frankly, I’m not so keen on seeing those high and mighty shysters remain in their cushy jobs with their fancy corner offices for another twenty-four hours.”
“All in good time, my friend,” Duke said with a smile.
Hunter stopped pacing. “I guess,” he said. “So, what’s going on here? You didn’t call me away from my story just to chit-chat, sir . And please don’t tell me that we’re facing down another crisis.”
Duke shook his head. “No,” he said. “There is no new crisis—not yet anyway. We are, however, considering an alternative strategy.” He pulled a piece of paper out of a file folder. “You recall my first story, don’t you, John ?”
Hunter made himself comfortable in the leather chair opposite Duke’s desk. “Certainly,” he said. “You went to the U.S. and broke open a few Pandora’s boxes. As I recall, it was very impressive. It forced the government to implement some serious reforms.”
“It also made me a star,” Duke added in a sly tone.
“It sure did,” Hunter said. “That story was syndicated in newspapers all over the world.” He leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “Is this somehow related to what I’m doing now?” he wondered.
Hunter anxiously drummed his fingers on his desk.
“I published that story eleven years ago,” he said, “and in the years since, while serving as The News Hub’s editor-in-chief, I have learned that some things don’t change the way and at the speed we want them to.”
“Such as?” Hunter said. “We are not publishing the stories anymore?”
“What are you insinuating, Hunter?” Musa Duke asked. “This paper thrives on standing by the truth and the courage to report stories, so nobody is killing your story.”
Hunter sighed. “I’m relieved to hear that, anyway,” he said.
Duke looked Hunter in the eye. “Based on your feedback, it is obvious that the Niger Delta’s problems have basically been self-inflicted by a nation that has refused to take care of its valuable milk cow. This certainly doesn’t justify the level of criminality involved, but I think that may actually be the effect of a cause. It is a known fact of life that one must wear a shoe to know where and how it pinches.”
“Agreed,” Hunter said with a nod.
“The News Hub is also aware of the likelihood that the government has no potential to win the war unless it resorts to indiscriminate killing of its own people.”
“Yes,” agreed Hunter , “and that choice of action could very well lead to allegations or even charges of war crimes.”
Duke nodded sternly. “This is true,” he said. “As we agreed the other day, the government must think outside the box to find a long-term solution to its problem. We should not give them the opportunity to resort to grandstanding.”
Hunter held out his hands. “Yes, sir, I think that goes without saying.”
Duke slipped the paper across the desk toward Hunter. “I have made a list of the important qualities of a good newspaper. Read them all and then tell me which ones we here at The Hub do not do.”
Hunter held the paper before his eyes and read aloud. “Newspapers inform and educate people. They serve as the critics of an administration. They work toward justice and proper enforcement of the law. They inspire social reform. They advocate for liberty, equality, and fraternity. They enforce the right and redress the wrong. They enact the roles of custodians of public interest. They broaden the people’s outlook and change views. They understand the power they hold and do not abuse it. A former U.S. President once said that four hostile newspapers should be more greatly feared than a thousand bayonets.”
He glanced up at Duke and then looked back down to read the rest quietly to himself.
“Can you cite any of those functions that The News Hub, the leading newspaper in the country, does not provide?” Duke asked.
Hunter shook his head, desperately trying to get a sense of where he was being led.
“John,” Duke finally said, “In my opinion, The Hub does not play an advisory role.”
Hunter shrugged. “I don’t know what you mean, sir. But I think we do that in our editorials.”
“Yes, we do, but Hunter this is where I’m going.”
“I have been waiting for it, sir”.
“The President-elect has set up a team to look at all possibilities to resolve the crisis and I want us to talk to the team because they know you have been investigating the crisis more deeply than the sensational stories we have been reading in the media over the months.”
The Chief’s words hit Hunter hard. “What?” he said loudly, in total disbelief. “C’mon, Boss! We are custodians of public trust and interest!”
Duke held up his hands. “Calm down, will you, John?” he said quietly. “They want an independent, unbiased view and they trust us to provide that. I believe this is in the overall interest of the nation.”
Hunter shook his head adamantly. “No, sir,” he insisted. “That is not how The News Hub was built. People will think we have sold out our integrity and become a government mouthpiece. The competition will take us to the cleaners, and before you know it, the paper will be completely dead.”
“Most of the stakeholders in the region are already doing this,” Duke said. “The oil companies, the U.S. and U.K. governments, and some prominent Nigerians are quietly making the case for the country to think outside the box.”
“With all due respect, sir, they do so in their own selfish interest,” Hunter said.
Duke let out a long sigh. “All the more reason they want our views!,” he said, “I honestly believe that our doing this is in the national interest, and our uniqueness gives us the leverage to do what may appear to some people as novel or absurd.”
“Boss, please don’t do this,” Hunter pleaded…
“Okay, John,” Duke said, “let’s back off for a moment. You take the rest of the day and give my words some thought. Once you’ve done that, we will meet up and talk again. The options we present to the administration include the right to do an editorial regarding our position and the right to publish the full report. Trust me.”
“C’mon, Boss!” Hunter said. “I don’t think we should—”
“Please go and consider it, but it hurts that you can’t trust me with this.” Duke said.
That broke Hunter’s defenses. “I will go and consider it but you should also be happy to have an uncompromising reporter, Duke…”
( ( ( ( (
The President-elect’s transition team of advisors, led by Dr. Kabir Adamu, listened with rapt attention throughout Hunter’s 90-minute presentation, after which he nodded repeatedly to express his understanding.
“That’s quite a bit of information to digest,” Adamu said. “Let’s take a quick break and then reconvene for a discussion.”
When all of the parties returned from their coffee break, Adamu stood up and addressed the meeting. “Editor Duke,” he began, “I want to thank you very much for the great contribution The News Hub has made toward finding a solution to one of the country’s most intractable problems. It pained me to note that when you asked the stakeholders who they deemed to be the most uncaring, every one of them mentioned the government first.”
Hunter and Duke exchanged glances and nods.
“This is not a simple situation,” Adamu continued, “but if there is one thing I have learned in my life it is not to take people’s circumstances for granted. I honestly believe if the oil-producing communities had been given a stake in the oil companies long ago, we would be looking at a completely different set of circumstances. Times do change, however, and we must also change with them or they change us. We have also noted your concern about some of the militant leaders currently in detention.
The President-elect is already planning some radical changes in the oil and gas industry, and I would like Mr. Hunter l to assist the team that is currently working on it. We are receiving inputs from the U.S. and other countries, as well as local stakeholders.”
Hunter cleared his throat.
Adamu appeared to hear it, but chose to ignore him. “For the oil companies,” Adamu said, “my boss’s plan is to hit the ground running with the Petroleum Industry Bill and the Local Content Bill. These bills are being fine-tuned, and they have the potential to completely reform the oil and gas industry by addressing all the abuses.”
Hunter leaned back in his chair, having difficulty hiding his discomfort.
“Mr. Hunter,” Adamu said, “I know you won’t be willing to take us seriously until you see some action and some progress, but I assure you such action is already underway. Remember that my boss is a top shot of the party in power and works closely with the incumbent. Before dawn tomorrow, Retired Commodore Tinkan and Mr. Godspower will be arrested for questioning. Also, my boss understands that we cannot stop you from publishing your report. The beauty of this occasion is your honest advice, no matter how harsh it has been, for us to explore fresh options at resolving the crisis.”
“Good to hear, sir.” Hunter said. “But please note also that in peace or at war, illegal bunkering of crude and local refining of crude will thrive. Huge business, big, highly connected barons.”
Adamu quickly noted that in his note pad.
Hunter looked at Duke and smiled. Duke nodded his approval.
Adamu approached Duke and offered his hand. “I thank you again, sir,” he said confidently. “My boss will see you after I brief him on the events of this meeting.” Adamu then moved closer to Hunter and said, “As for you, Mr. Hunter I can assure you that the government will always be mindful of your exposés. When is your first story?”
“Tomorrow,” Hunter said triumphantly.
Editor Duke nodded his approval. He knew that having pushed Hunter that far, he ran the risk of losing him if he pushed harder.
Government Amnesty Declared for Niger Delta Militants
(Newspaper Story of January 26, 2009)
In a live press briefing this morning, Nigerian leader, Umar Musa Yar’Adua has declared a 60-day amnesty for militants involved in anti-government activities in the Niger Delta. The President made the declaration in Abuja after a meeting with the Council of States in which the motion was approved. The Council of States is comprised of the 36 state governors and former heads of state, as well as the Chief Justice of the Federation.
Details of the amnesty agreement have not yet been announced. Unconfirmed reports state that the plan will include a presidential pardon and entrance into a rehabilitation programme that provides education and training for those militants willing to accept it. The amnesty proclamation, which has already been signed by the President, will be sent to the Minister of the Interior, who will announce it before it is sent to the National Assembly.