On Thursday The Gambia Government spokesman Ebrima Sankareh issued a press statement saying opposition UDP leader Ousainu Darboe made false allegations when he stated at several meetings during the recently concluded 5-Point Agenda Tour that The Gambia lifted millions of barrels of crude oil from Nigeria and refused to tell Gambians.
Sankareh said “the allegation has since been amplified by opposition elements and a section of the news media with reporting styles anathema to all ethical standards of journalism” and that Darboe’s statement “is fatally false, malicious and without a scintilla of truth” in other words, a plain lie.
We are not here to hold brief for Mr Darboe so we cannot answer for him. But his credibility is at stake. He should respond to Mr Sankareh. Mr Darboe was categorical in his statement. Sankareh was equally categorical in his denial. Who is telling the truth? Gambians deserve to know the truth.
We can speak for ourselves. Mr Sankareh did not say which “section of the news media” was amplifying Mr Darboe’s claims in a style “anathema to all ethical standards of journalism” and therefore we cannot say his broadside to the media was aimed at us.
To set the record straight, we got the scoop on 7th October and published an article titled “Gambian Diplomat In Nigeria Rejects Oil Negotiation Allegations”. In the publication, High Commissioner Papa Njie denied leading negotiations for a petroleum deal on behalf of The Gambia and said the allegations “are false and do not add up”. We tried to talk to the Petroleum minister on the evening but he was unavailable for comment.
A week later, during a political rally in Basse on his just-ended countrywide tour, the opposition UDP leader made the following allegations: “This August, Nigeria gave The Gambia crude oil for it to be sold and the money be invested in the country’s economy. But they refused to disclose it. Who heard them saying they have received crude oil from Nigeria? They are quiet because they don’t want to be transparent about it and if I don’t talk now they will use the profit of that oil on things that would not be in the interest of the country.”
It is a matter of public interest and we duly published – amplified ?– it. But we did not stop with the regurgitation. We reached out to the Minister of Petroleum Mr Fafa Sanyang who told us his office was not aware of a deal for The Gambia Government to lift crude oil from Nigeria. Minister Sanyang told us this: “I know if there is any crude oil given to The Gambia it will be in the public domain. As far as my ministry is concerned, we have not signed any crude oil agreement with Nigeria. If we signed anything we will invite the press and make it public.” We duly published this response.
This is exactly what was expected of us. We faithfully reported what Mr Darboe said, elicited a response from the government – in this case the minister with the remit for crude oil matters – and published it. Mr Sankareh is himself a journalist of longstanding and knows that we acted professionally and ethically. Therefore, if anyone practised substandard journalism in this case as Mr Sankareh alluded to, it is not The Standard. We are not in the business of skewing or garnishing the truth. And we refuse to be anyone’s whipping boy!