IN THE NEWS: CLETUS UKPONG’S UNFORTUNATE INDISCRETION
By John Akpaideh
…………Premium Times debuted first as a colourless online publication with just din. But it was to morph into a respectable and people oriented publication building its reputation through ethical practice and the investigative caveat which defined it. All those are disappearing gradually with the sort of practice that one of its reporters, Mr. Cletus Ukpong has resorted to. Whether Ukpong is paid for the hatchet work that is currently his preoccupation remains a conjecture. But suffice it to say that he has taken that publication which was enjoying ascendancy and confidence of a class of discerning people and reading public to a cul-de-sac.
Apart from informing, analyzing issues for the understanding of the reading public is a forte that journalism has carved for itself as a niche. Outside school systems and perhaps churches, no other institution can boast of bringing insights and deep perspectives to help the appreciation of issues like journalism. When a journalist therefore conveys the impression that a report has been investigated, the believability quotient increases and the report becomes highly rated. Latching on one of its sacred tenets which upholds facts as sacrosanct, the public believe information emanating from the stable of journalism reverently just as they do to issues from the Pulpit. Sadly, many have abused and betrayed this public trust because of a practice style which weighs oddly on the side of a mercantilism and pecuniary consideration. When these ills have prejudice, hate, greed, and cynicism as added elements, then the fine qualities which ought to elevate journalism are willfully sacrificed in the pursuit of interest that can hardly be called altruistic.
This is the likely scenario in the case of Mr. Cletus Ukpong of Premium Times who recently published an article with an overly labored caption entitled: Investigation: Inside The Akwa Ibom Top Science College Where Students Are Raised In Squalor, “Like Animals”. Ukpong seems to have known that the use of the word “investigation” would easily hoodwink and deceive the unsuspecting public. He smuggled in the lexical item for that duplicitous purpose and went to town with the intent to mislead and raise false alarm. Ukpong’s skewed report has not hidden its determination to malign and impugn the Udom administration and reduce its esteem in the eyes of right thinking people. Unfortunately for him, the malicious and malevolent publication came on the heels of the commissioning of a surfeit of projects by the administration and reports of intervention by way of construction and renovation of 62 school blocks across the State including the same St. Mary’s Science College.
Ukpong’s prejudiced report did not only set out to toll alarm bells and cause panic among parents and guardians who have their children/wards in that prestigious 31 year old institution, it also unwittingly brought journalism into utter disrepute by representing it as a platform for the dissemination of falsehood. He started the jaundiced piece thus: “Almost everything – everything that makes a school a school – is in a state of decay at St. Mary’s Science College, Ediene Abak, in an oil rich Akwa Ibom.” Malicious and inciting. He proceeded to use hyperboles to describe what he claimed to be the condition of the school. Hear him: “Empty cans, dirty plates and papers littered everywhere inside the Cottages. The mattresses, as dirty and stinking as they are, have no bedcovers. The pillows too were terribly dirty and nauseating”. To cast credence to his conjured story, Ukpong introduced spurious characters one of whom he conferred with a name as UbongAbasi Okon, according to him, an alumnus of the college. He claims that the alumnus was his tour guide to the school. Eye witnesses argue that his claim negates what is actually obtained in the school which they assert as a disciplined institution.
The submissions above are so specious that ordinary elementary questions would expose the many pitfalls that replete the report. St. Mary’s Science College was established as a Teacher’s Training College 65 years ago before its conversion to Science College in 1989. There is no controversy in the fact that buildings erected decades ago could wear looks that may not appear befitting for the contemporary time with some even in ruins but not in the overly exaggerated manner Ukpong wants the public to believe. Yes, some of the buildings are in desolate state of disuse but Ukpong willfully trivialized the renovation effort of government that he physically saw. He refused to provide explicit details on the on-going renovation works involving the Assembly Hall, Computer Lab, Physics Lab, the Library and 4 classroom blocks. Rather he misinformed the public that the students live in squalor like animals. That is preposterous and an egregious falsehood. It is obvious that Ukpong set out for a predetermined report. Whether he visited the school at all is between him and his God but the truth is that the picture he painted does not represent the state of the school. How can Ukpong claim that his tour guide was an alumnus of the school, not a teacher or a student? Is an alumnus a member of the school community? Does attending a particular school in the past entitle one to know about a school more than a teacher or a student of the school? Is it moral to confer an alumnus with the authority to volunteer opinion about a school he had long left? The deduction here is simple to reach – Mr. Ukpong perhaps did not visit the school. He may have written his prejudiced piece from the comfort of a cozy hotel with a bottle of cognac by his side and all expenses paid for by the sponsor of the vile report whose motive is apparently selfish politics. But what shall it profit a man who subjects his profession to indignity for the convenience of the unrighteous. When we allow pecuniary consideration to overwhelm us and begin to dictate our professional operations, it would certainly lead to ruin that Ukpong is inviting upon himself and the profession that has so far served and made him.
The position of many is that if Ukpong loved his home state, he would not have done that outlandish report and put his state in bad light before a global audience which internet covers, whereas deep inside him, he knows that the report is deficient and deficit of truth. The analogy of our politics which compare war and politics and uphold that all undercurrents that underline them are fair is grossly disagreeable and an anathema in the face of the realization of trailing consequences. Let us not always think that all is fair in politics even the risk of self-immolation.
Governor Emmanuel’s love for education need not be re-orchestrated. His notable achievements in the area are obvious for all to see. The administration’s intervention and partnership with the Federal Government in the founding of Model College, Ikot-Ekong in Abak Local Government Area and Navy College, Ikot Ntuen in Oruk-Anam Local Government Area are testimonials that propaganda cannot drown and deceit cannot overcome or overtake. His passion for education can therefore not allow him as a father of children to watch them learn under the kind of condition painted by Ukpong. The intervention efforts of the State Government must be appreciated in the face of paucity of funds and understanding that all schools cannot enjoy intervention at the same time. Ukpong should acknowledge and take cognizance of an essential complement of journalism which is the protection of national interest and collective good. These are values he jettisoned in that concocted report.