By Tonnie Iredia
The role the Media played in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence can never be undermined. Analysts who give much of the credit to politicians for leading the nationalist movements-the umbrella body that piloted the struggles, often forget that such political leaders were first and foremost professional journalists, Nnamdi Azikiwe for instance had served as the Editor of the Accra based ‘Morning Post’ before establishing the ‘West African Pilot’ in 1949 as a tool for fighting colonialism in Nigeria. Other political leaders that may not be described as Journalists were Media owners. For instance, Obafemi Awolowo set up the ‘Nigerian Tribune’ and the first Television in Africa as channels for fighting for self-government. Thus the Media deserves its pride of place as precursor of social change in Nigeria.
After independence, the first indigenous government had problems with the Media because the leaders merely stepped into the shoes of the whitemen only to turn the people into objects instead of the main subject of governance. Media attack on them facilitated the intervention of the military. By the time the latter jeopardized public liberty, it was the Media too that employed guerilla journalism to bring military rule to an end. Since 1999 when democracy returned, the Nigerian Media has used adversarial journalism to serve as the unofficial opposition to every administration. The posture is patriotic because as it complies with Section 22 of our constitution which mandates the media to compel all those in authority to be accountable to the people.
The Media has been strategic in the pressure on the present administration to bring back the abducted Chibok girls using jingles, posters, features, documentaries etc.; effectively for the assignment. The Media is right in providing such veritable platforms to all those who have the courage to ask government to do its primary duty-the welfare and security of the citizenry. In the past few days however, it is becoming obvious that the Media is being blackmailed to veer off the track. Many Journalists are now part of those who openly attack a group like the ‘#Bring Back our girls’ team with the rather weak argument that the group is sponsored by the political opposition. Assuming the allegation is true, how does it stop the government from rescuing the girls? Who sponsored people like Akwa Ibom Governor Akpabio and his wife to also commemorate 100 days of the abduction? Is it because the #Bring Back our Girls group is stationed in an open field that its role is offensive?
At the commemoration of 100 days of the abduction, the United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki Moon issued a statement saying “ I stand in solidarity with all those taking part in vigils to demonstrate that the world has not forgotten the girls who were so cruelly abducted from their school 100 days ago in Chibok, Nigeria”. If the Media cannot identify who is sponsoring Ban Ki moon against our government, then the path of honour is to focus on the subject more so as our government reiterated a few days back through Minister Jumoke Akinjide that the subject is officially the nation’s “priority number one”.
The Media should thus remain steadfast. It should de-emphasize all the mundane issues currently overwhelming our collective number one priority. Using its gate-keeping approach, it should down-play stories about political rascals which are presently competing for visibility with the prime issue of the Chibok girls. Politicians who are materially induced to impeach certain office holders should get no space in the media especially as they hardly ever comply with the appropriate legal procedure. Issues like changing Speakers at 6am; operating dual Houses of Assembly in the same state; cooking-up stories to instigate the impeachment of deputy governors and disobedience of court orders should at this point in time receive minimal attention because the perpetrators are distracting us from our main concern and toying with our hard earned democracy.
It is also important for the Media to mobilize the nation to follow the Chibok story and indeed the unending insurgency. What is presently being done is reporting what people say without the aspect of investigative journalism that illuminates the tales. The other day for example, there was a story that insurgents had taken over a specified location and had allegedly hoisted a flag there as evidence of their effective occupation. I doubt if Nigerians saw the location or the flag. The only follow up was a story credited to the military that it would not tolerate the annexation of any portion of Nigeria. To that, many citizens who believe every negative official story but doubt every positive one would remain cynics.
The establishment of a national information centre is good, but unfortunately government has remained unduly defensive. If the public media had shown the hoisting of a rebel flag and followed it with its removal by government forces, it would have been easier for the public to imagine that our government is capable after all. The elusive style of avoiding an issue for security reasons is dysfunctional. Instead, the government media should its media to also put the opposition on the hot seat through well-crafted questions that seek to identify the specific roles they have played in the interest of the masses to repel insurgency. Before the camera, opposition leaders would be conscious that if such questions are not patriotically answered it might establish that to criticize is easier than to act.
The argument that the opposition is incapacitated because it is not in power would be weak for two reasons. First, they have fair enough resources as heads of most state governments in the affected region. Second, the opposition leaders can no longer claim to have no stake because they too are now targets of attack. Opposition leaders should therefore be put in check especially with respect to reckless comments rather than the unending sermon of calling on all to stand behind the government-a call that would naturally fall on the deaf ears of those making it now if the reverse was the case in our convoluted political system where the winner takes all.