Many people love to be associated with a relative that is good.  If it is the other way round and a relative is bad, such connection is often loathed although nothing can be done against it because one does not choose his relative. How about if a non-relative is bad and people construct a connection to one just because both share surnames? That is the misfortune House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, is facing right now.

A man, Suleimon Gbajabiamila, on trial in a Lagos court for defrauding a United Kingdom-based Nigerian, Lateef Adeyemo, of N31million, has been reported in some news outlets as being the brother of the Speaker. One of the foremost culprits, Sahara Reporters, ran with the headline: ‘Brother Of House Of Reps Speaker, Gbajabiamila Arraigned In Court For Defrauding UK-based Nigerian Of N31 million.’

According to the story, Suleimon acted under the pretence of buying a two-bedroom flat for Adeyemo between September and October 2021. However, Sahara Reporters linked the Speaker and reported: “The plaintiff (Lateef Adeyemo) further revealed that the men that introduced the suspect appealed to him not to worry, because his brother, Femi Gbajabiamila would intervene in the matter.”

The report further said: “In an effort to recover his money, Adeyemo said he wrote a letter of appeal to House of Representatives Speaker but all moves in that direction proved abortive as no response was got from him.”

Reacting, the Speaker’s Media Office rebutted the report. Lanre Lasisi, special adviser to the Speaker on Media and Publicity, issued a statement: ‘Gbajabiamila Name Semblance Doesn’t Translate to Family, Says Reps Speaker…Advises the Public to be Wary of Name-Dropping and Misrepresentation.’

The statement read: “It has come to the attention of the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, that one Suleimon, on trial in a court of law in Lagos State is erroneously described as a brother to the Speaker.

“Speaker Gbajabiamila wishes to state that he has no relationship whatsoever with the said Suleimon and the Gbajabiamila name semblance does not and should not translate to being a family member.

“The Gbajabiamila family is a big one with many branches like many other families do have. Therefore, it is not everyone that bears the surname, Gbajabiamila, that is related to Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.

“The public is, hereby notified that the said Suleimon is not a brother to Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila as erroneously reported by some sections of the media. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila advises the public not to fall for persons thriving on name-dropping and misrepresentation.

“This press statement is to also urge the media to desist from linking the said Suleimon to Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila.”

To say that social media is the main conduct of fake news would be stretching the obvious. Some people with the aid of smartphones and blogs have become overnight journalists and publish stories with disregard to media ethics, one of which is never to publish stories one is unsure of. The lingo goes, ‘if in doubt, leave out.’ This begs the question – was Sahara Reporters sure that Suleimon Gbajabiamila is the Speaker’s brother?

All over the world, people bear similar names. In Nigeria, the late Abba Kyari was President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff and when Mele Kyari was appointed NNPC GMD, some reports floated that Mele is the COS’ younger brother. It was not true. Though they’re both from Borno State, Mele is Kanuri while Abba was Shuwa. The COS also had a namesake in the person of estranged super cop, Abba Kyari. But if you think they were related, you’ll be surprised to learn that the policeman hails from Yobe State. Other notable examples of namesakes include Yusuf Alli – one is an Olympian from Edo State and the other is an Abuja-based editor who hails from Kwara. There is also Victor Akande – one is a Lagos State lawmaker and another is an entertainment journalist. Across the country, there are people bearing similar surnames that are not in related. They may even be from different regions, states and even have different religions. It would be mischievous to extrapolate relationships between them solely on the fact that they share names. Journalists owe the populace to ensure identities and facts are not muddled up. And when an error is made, responsible journalists know how to edit  and subsequently apologise as facts are sacred.

While some journalists use clickbaits to sell their stories, this should be distinguished from pure falsehood. A few years ago, a major Nigerian newspaper report screamed with the headline, ‘Olusegun Obasanjo held for selling marijuana’. Naturally, that the former president was selling weed attracted my attention. I was, however, disappointed to read inside the report that it was just a local gangster that bore the same name as the former president. While that headline was mischievous, the story was indeed truthful. But that is not the case with the story linking an alleged fraudster as the Speaker’s brother.

The way I see it, it is either that the accused passed himself off as related to the Speaker or in the course of reporting the news, some reporters were malicious and intent on publishing falsehood. Either way, the error is that of the journalists as it is  their job to verify whatever is to be published.

For Gbajabiamila who recently turned 60, the importance of upholding a family name is not lost on him. While one may bear the indiscretions of family members, being tarred for the indiscretions of a namesake should be a no-no.

The report by Sahara Reporters and others that maligned the Speaker is in sour taste because it did not confirm the authenticity of the relationship between the accused and the Speaker. With the power of publishing also comes the responsibility of facts. Now that the Speaker has come to denounce the relationship with the accused, the onus now lies on the news outlets to either prove the Speaker is lying or own up to their error and consequently apologise.

While it is commendable that the Office of the Speaker put out a rebuttal, this sort of actions should attract punishment to serve as deterrent. Not everyone has the capacity of a media office to respond to such infringement. Perhaps, a lawsuit be instituted against them by the Speaker. But above that, media watchdogs as Nigerian Press Council should ensure that reputations of persons must be respected.

The case against Suleimon Gbajabiamila is before Chief Magistrate Adeola Olatunbosun, with the next adjournment on Monday.  And in continuation of reporting the matter, it is advisable that the implicated news outlets desist from repeating the error.

In these days that anyone can be a reporter with the advent of the Internet, more checks are going to be needed to sanitise our media space. Surely, it’s  time the Nigerian Press Council began to weed out recalcitrant media outlets.