Fresh from allegations of homophobic attack and the use of offensive language against a fellow journalist on Twitter, Ruona Meyer, a Nigerian media freelancer recently nominated for an International Emmy Award for her “thought-provoking” BBC documentary on the Nigerian Codeine epidemic is still in the eye of the storm.
On April 30 2018, the BBC released a multimedia report about how codeine was contributing to health and social hazards for young Nigerians in the north.
The next day, May 1 , the Ministry of Health announced a ban on codeine. Ruona Meyer, a former BBC reporter contributed to the story about Lagos’ black market trade in codeine after her brother became addicted to cough syrup.
She then quickly claimed credits for the codeine ban, saying it was because of her story. Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife, was amongst those who condemned the cases of drug abuse across the country. She lamented that the abuse of drugs especially by women and youths has led to the destruction of the lives of millions of victims. She then urged pharmacists to play their part in controlling the spread of drug abuse in the country.
Ruona shocked friends and fans when she launched into a foul-mouthed tirade against award-winning Nigerian satirical writer Elnathan John, over the former’s criticism of journalists who attended a literary festival KADAFEST, hosted by the intolerant governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Elrufai, who during the 2019 elections in Nigeria threatened foreign observers with body-bags, and has also used the coercive instrument of power to harass and detain several journalists. Ruona is a friend and fan of the governor.
It was a surprising ill-advised attack that shocked many observers, when she went on an explicit rant and launched a vicious homophobic attack on Elnathan, calling him, among other things, a “d*ck refugee” and an alleged sexual blackmailer. Recall that Kevin Hart stepped down as the host of the Oscars after homophobic jokes he had tweeted years ago re-surfaced online.
However, the Ministry of Health quickly debunked Ruona’s claim that her story led to the codeine ban. Because of her desperation to file the story for awards, she remained married to the false claim, parading it wherever she goes to amplify her faux journalistic achievement. Unsuspecting local and international journalism think-tanks are also buying Ruona’s false claim that her story compelled the government to impose the codeine ban.
Nonetheless, the false claim is not the only fraud Ruona perpetrated with her codeine story, which was actually a collaboration with several BBC reporters and team of graphics and text editors. While the story itself is genuine and revealing enough, Ruona committed journalistic fraud with its impact, which the BBC learnt of and became part of the reason they eased her out of their organisation, according to inside sources. “She is toxic. Too toxic,” one of his BBC colleagues said.
Hours before BBC ran the story on April 30 in conjunction with the NTA, senior officials at the Ministry of Health adopted the recommendations of a health working group that had been constituted to look into drugs menace in Nigeria.
The committee had submitted its report on April 12 and recommended that codeine should be banned.
It was shortly after the meeting held and a conclusion reached that codeine and similar substances should be banned that a male official of the ministry reached out to Ruona and informed her about the decision, according to people familiar with this development at the BBC and health ministry.
“She had been interacting with the man while they were trying to get comments and data from the ministry for our story,” a BBC insider said. Ruona then quickly alerted his people at the BBC and they decided to rush the story ahead of the press statement from the ministry so they could claim credits.
That’s why, even months after the ministry told the BBC, and Premium Times at separate times that the claim that the documentary forced suspension of the codeine, Rouna could still be seen in late October 2018 making claims that it was her story that triggered ban of codeine “within 24 hours.”
In her mischievous campaign to be recognised, she pretended as if she was the first to investigate codeine abuse in Nigeria. She ignored the tremendous 2016 investigation by ICIR, which, if anything, should be credited for triggering the constitution of the working panel that recommended banning codeine.
It was also after the ICIR report that the National Assembly in 2017 found that three million bottles of codeine are consumed daily in Kano and Jigawa. Lawmakers had tasked NAFDAC and the then health minister, Isaac Folorunso Adewole to give the matter the urgency it deserves.
Ruona knew that her story was not the reason codeine was banned. Anyone familiar with how the system works in Nigeria would know this could not have been possible. A naïve ministry insider gave her a heads up without knowing she would exploit it for her own insatiable ambition. That is tantamount to fraud, or journalistic fraud in Ruona’s case.
No overdraft in the bank of nature……