By Innocent Adulugba
The media is universally an undefeatable army. It’s weapon is traditionally the “pen” which, according to British author, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, is perennially mightier than the sword. I view the media as the conscience of the government, state and society. The spinal cord of any democracy is an independent, professional and responsible media. Its major role is to inform, criticise and stimulate debate. I wonder if such a formidable force can be subdued and “roboted” to publicize “one-way” reports.
A professional and responsible media is abhorrent to sycophantic subservience. The reputation and prestige of the media derives from its output. Peter Millett, one time British Ambassador to Libya, said a particular media was always highly regarded because its prizes (that year) went to stories about pesticides in Palestine, sexual abuse in families and the plight of foreign workers in Beirut. The TV prize was won by a Jordanian working for Ro’ya TV for investigating conditions in Al Hashimiya district.
In Nigeria, media houses are tacitly in the competition of wooing politicians with personalities of the year awards and the likes. Sometimes, as much as a dozen media can separately produce equivalent numbers of personalities of the year in a single year! Meanwhile, some of these recipients would perform most woefully in a constituency referendum!
Celebrated author, Mark Twain, once said: “stupid people – who constitute the overwhelming majority – believe and are convinced by what they get out of the media, and there is where the harm lies.”
Whether global or local, complicit media abound. However, under the Buhari administration, I have been asking myself: has the Fourth Estate of the realm – the Nigerian media allowed itself to be partizan, politicised and gagged? Is this a preservation strategy by the media or persons to widen the chasm between themselvese and impecuniosity?
Is the army of integrous journalists thinning out? When the press becomes taciturn, it loses the respect of its readers and the masses. Nowadays, some people view newspapers as labour loss; electronic news as partizan and government programmes as mere dawdles. Well, I believe a college of professional and honourable journalists still exist, albeit in sprinkles!
Severally, I have been asked cogent questions; are the media shy? Why so much selective headlines? Are today’s journalists not sired by their gallant forebears who braved scorching travails to “defeat” the junta of the former head of state, late General Sani Abacha and “restored” democracy? Are the “Post-Abacha” survivors all extinct today?
I recall that Nigeria’s economy flourished under the deceased General despite his abysmal human rights records. There were no records of free ravaging “Boko Haram killers being reabsorbed into the Nigerian army, or unprosecuted killer Fulani herdsmen as is the case under President Buhari. Yet today’s main stream media have reportedly pampered Buhari’s government with intoxicating eulogies while the late Abacha was scathingly demonized, villainized and villified.
Has the media divested it’s protective armour of neutrality to adorn the government with superficial togas of credibility at the expense of the impoverished, uninformed and defenceless masses? Alas! Criticisms from the masses in the face of sky-high unemployment and inflation is seen as orchestrated calumny criminalised as hate speech and punishable by law to the tune of five million Naira. While the government continually communicates its achievements in gigantic grammar, ponderous legalism and staggering statistics – through the media -, the masses are waiting for the government to convince them with tangible pragmatics. Again, Covid19 restrictions have further receded the frontiers of socioeconomic solace hitherto enjoyed by the masses.
At vendors’ stands, The bevy of “Free Readers’ Association of Nigerian” (FRAN) are ebbing. They are disillusioned by the media’s lack of elaborate and sustained mention of a plethora of burning issues. These include the ceaseless killings, kidnapping and bandity in Southern Kaduna, the unprecedented poverty reportedly blamed on government’s clandestine handling/distribution of palliatives during the Covid19 lockdown.
FRAN are also vexed by the media’s concerted silence over the executive rewards generously dished out to killer Fulani herdsmen freely carrying AK47 rifles, and Boko Haram killers, including openly absorbing them into the Nigerian army! Again have the media adequately covered and reported continual police brutality on armless protesters up to June 12, 2021?
An octogenarian “Free Readers” lamented that the media has reduced the dehumanized state of “IDP campers” to threadbare cliches due to its little or non-reportage. “As children are born and raised there, rape reported and food and medical supplies syphoned, I wonder why there were no media coverage of their wellbeing during the lockdown or the attacks and killings at the Benue camp. The IDP camps must be in the news until the camps are completely evacuated.” He cried.
Have FRAN torpedoed the media’s agenda setting duties? FRAN want elaborate stories and loud mentions of the military clampdown and dehumanization of “IPOB” and “ESN” youths, the de-broadcasting of “Talk-Back/phone-in political programs and newspaper reviews especially on radio & TV, collapsing Naira, ports politics, need to devolve power, perennial bad roads, dilapidated health sector, electoral abracadabras, Nigerian bail system, non-utilisation of solar power, soaring electricity bills, absence of functional international airports in the North East and South East, dearth of processing industries, comatose textile industries as well as government’s human rights abuse in the forms of arbitrary arrests of armless protesters and molestation of journalists.
Interestingly, journalists are captivating “preys” of their “patrons.” On February 13 2020, Justice Sule Shuaibu of the Federal High Court, Calabar, granted a N10 million bail to Agba Jalingo, publisher of Cross River Watch and N700,000 refundable deposit for sureties – after 174 days in detention – without trials – for treason! His publication alleged that Governor Ben Ayade diverted N500 million state funds.
Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, founder, Naija Live TV also reported a nocturnal invasion; “Around 1a.m. on May, 9 2020, four masked agents of the Department of State Services forced their way into my home in Yenagoa; blindfolded me, and drove me around for more than three hours then docked me at the state headquarters.” He narrated via phone with CPJ and reported by Sahara Reporters.
Similarly, Omoyele Sowore, Publisher of Sahara Reporters and former presidential candidate was arrested on August 3 2019, after calling for nationwide protests tagged #Revolutionnow; detained after being granted bail. Earlier in June, the DSS also arrested multiple social media users without disclosing their names. Peter Afunanya, the DSS spokesperson, dithered to clarify their identities and whereabouts.
Jones Abiri, Editor and publisher of The Weekly Source newspaper in Yenagoa, was charged with terrorism, sabotage and cybercrimes. Abiri was arrested by operatives of Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) on July 2016 and detained till July 2018 without trial and access by family members. Recently, a radio station in Abia state was fined N5m over comments made by a respondent. There was the infamous salvo in the media space about Femi Fani-Kayode’s vituperations poured on Charles Eyo of DAILY TRUST during a parley in Calabar.
The former Minister came under a barrage of reprisals despite tendering a “delayed afterthought” of an apology aimed at damage control. At that time, the Oyo State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Ademola Babalola, directed all journalists in the state, to boycott any press called by Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, in his continued tour of PDP controlled states last year.
The Nigerian media today appears to be a fractionated unit trudging out of its slumber.
I wonder if the silence of the past is hunting the future of the Nigerian media from its “self compromised” position.