The Federal Government’s warning to punish the BBC for airing a video featuring interviews with bandit warlords in Zamfara state in the Northwest, The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara, did not come as a surprise. The Federal Government has never hidden how much it despises unfavorable press coverage and scathing criticisms of its failings. This is especially true of the government’s responses to bad international news coverage, such the CNN report on the shootings at Lekki Gate during the #ENDSARS demonstration, and international indices, including those released annually by the Corruption Perception Index and the Fragile States Index. Another instance is Twitter’s repeated banning and unbanning for disseminating false information.
The Federal Government’s warning to punish the BBC for airing a video featuring interviews with bandit leaders in the northwest state of Zamfara, The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara, was expected. The Federal Government has never concealed its contempt for unfavorable news coverage and pointed exposés of its flaws. This is especially true of how the government responds to negative international news coverage, like the CNN report on the shootings at Lekki Gate during the #ENDSARS protest, and international indices, like the Corruption Perception Index and the Fragile States Index, which are both yearly publications. Another example is the repeated banning and unbanning of Twitter for disseminating false information.
The BBC Africa Eye documentary under debate, however, differs a little from these instances. For starters, the film, which is widely shared on social media, notably YouTube, tackles the most pressing societal issue facing Nigeria at the moment: insecurity, which in many regions of the nation is a matter of life and death. The upcoming presidential election, set for February 2023, only makes this issue worse. If the current trend continues, the rising level of fear has led some analysts to question the validity of the election. The recent attacks on the presidential fleet, which resulted in deaths, might only make the situation worse.
The problem’s existential importance necessitates that its coverage be handled with extreme caution. There is no doubt that the public has a right to know, which inspires any media outlet to report on any incident. That right must, however, be balanced against the government’s duty to address the issue without excessive media intrusion that could make issues more difficult. Criticizing the government for not doing enough to combat terrorism is one thing; giving voice to those terrorists in the name of fulfilling journalism’s obligation to inform the people and sate their need for knowledge is quite another.
By displaying sights and words of bandit warlords, the BBC failed to achieve correct balance, imprinting the fear of banditry in the viewers’ minds. Can the relatives of the victims or survivors of banditry find solace in such images? Without a doubt. Even worse, the bandit confirms the feared subject of ransom in the film, confirming a significant sum that he claimed to have seen with his own eyes.
Although the movie may have given the government some tips on how to combat banditry, its overall effects are detrimental to the government’s efforts.