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
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
the fines slammed on Bwala, a 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.
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
“Deliberate distortion is never permissible”.
In the United States of America, USA where freedom of expression
advocates hold the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech as
‘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
“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