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Media agenda must focus on development — Aremu

By Victor Ahiuma-Young
RECENTLY, the umbrella body for editors in the country, Nigeria’s   Guild of Editors (NGE), gathered in Awka, the Anambra State capital to among other things, take a critical look at the state of the nation which has been of great concern to many Nigerians in recent time.

As part of the guild’s contributions towards the efforts at deepening the nation’s democratic culture, it organised a public discourse on “Media, Labour and the consolidation of Nigeria’s democracy”

Comrade Issa Aremu
Comrade Issa Aremu

The well thought-out discourse, delivered by an erudite scholar,  journalist,  political economist,  Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Comrade Issa Aremu, was  thought provoking.

To start with, Comrade Aremu told the gathering that the 1999 constitution imposes a duty on the media to monitor the critical aspects of governance with a view of guarding and advancing the frontiers of Nigerians’ liberties and freedoms, while it legitimises the right to freedom of association and assembly of trade unionists .

Labour assumes special importance to the extent that all critical labour issues such as “ trade unions, industrial relations; conditions, safety and welfare of labour; industrial disputes; prescribing a national minimum wage for the Federation or any part thereof; and industrial arbitration” are on Executive legislative list, meaning that only national assembly makes laws dealing with labour matters.    .

He said  the media and labour are both democratic organizations founded and nurtured by their respective constitutions and that the role of the media and labour in the struggle for independence and sustainability of democracy has been well documented by chroniclers of Nigeria’s civil society.

According to him, there is no denying the fact that, the performance of both labour and the media is critical to the process of democratic consolidation.

Misconception about Nigeria’s democracy

However, the labour leader, believes that for the nation to consolidate the democratic dispensation,  he identified some misconceptions that must be done  away with.

Comrade Aremu named some of the misconceptions to include assumption that the current dispensation is merely a civil rule (not a democracy), that the dispensation (democracy)  is “nascent” and  not yet a “true’ democracy, that alternative to democracy is military rule, that there can be political democracy without economic democracy and that there is time for Nigeria democracy to grow and mature

The NLC vice president explained that democracy and civil rule are not mutually exclusive and that civil rule is an expression of democracy.

He said, “What makes a rule civil is not that it is civilian driven or so-called. What distinguishes dictatorship from democracy is constitutionalism which is trampled underfoot by the former but constitute the bed rock of the latter” and “we should not underestimate the significance of the current democratic process.

It entrenches constitutionalism daily in place of impunity of the military era.” Citing several examples, Comrade Aremu posited that “what differentiates dictatorship from democracy is the constitutional order that moderates the latter and the absence of it that entrenches the former.”

On the nation’s democracy being nascent, NUTGTWN’s General Secretary, lamented that the recent media hype about 10 years of democracy legitimises this mis-conception, despite the fact “Nigeria stars with democracy at independence”

He said: “We must interrogate the official calendar of democracy in Nigeria which reads Democracy Day every 29th of May. It is grossly misleading to say Nigeria’s democracy is ten years old, using May 29th controversial date of 1999 as the new democratic bench mark.

What happened to June 12th’ of 1993 the notorious spectre that hunts precisely it is the last day, the votes truly counted nationally? Why not November 16th 1960?

Dr Nnamdi Azikwe is sworn in as the first Governor-General and Commander in Chief of the Federation in succession to Sir James Robertson that day. Why not October 1979, when democratic Second Republic under Shagari was proclaimed after a decade and half of military intervention? Nigeria’s long walk to democracy goes beyond the last decade.

To cheaply reduce democracy to some bad controversial events of the last ten years rather than seeing democracy as a historic process (the first Nigeria’s political party, Macaulay’s National Democratic Party (NDP) was formed in 1920) is politically unhelpful.

Better to draw on the century of democratic process than politically bogged down to some serial systemic corruption, election rigging and judicial anarchy of the last decade.

Alternative to democracy, not military rule

Continuing, Comrade Aremu faulted the argument that the alternative to democracy is military rule posited that Nigeria’s history shows that military however “benevolent” or patronizing is not an alternative to democratic process.

He said: “Nigerians must exorcise the spectre of military in our democratic discourse.

Since the criminal military intervention of 1966, all military regimes know that they are nothing but aberrations.

Indeed to legitimize self every military usurper plays the democratic card of returning the country to democracy failing which they are imperilled.

The point here is that we must rather deepen democracy rather than nurturing unhelpful nostalgia for military as if it is an alternative. Military is not an alternative.

Alternative to imperfect democracy is more and more democracy and not less.”

“Another mis-conception is political democracy without economic democracy.

Both labour and the media must continue the great campaign for full implementation of Uwais report.

But this must be complemented by demand for development, development and development Political democracy is hollow without industry, employment and mass jobs.

Indeed the real threat to democracy is collapse of factories, destruction of middle class, mass consumption without production, power failure.

We cannot build democracy on poverty alleviation or poverty reduction paradigm. On the contrary, we can only sustain democracy on wealth generation and re-industrialization.

It is simply untenable that a relatively poorer democratic Nigeria in the 60s delivered greater prosperity than a richer democratic Nigeria in the last ten years. So the problem is not with democracy but the contemporary democratic actors who lack the commitment and vision of the old.

The challenge of economic democracy calls for more political democracy. As long as the votes don’t count, electoral outcomes deny true developers and impose electoral armed robbers in office, the result being further robbery of common wealth.

The media and labour have the responsibility to ensure we replace the current corruption agenda with development agenda.”

The labour leader dismissed the view being expressed in quarters especially the political class that the nation must gradually pursue democracy which many nations took centuries to achieve and pointed out this view underscores lack of sense of urgency and sense of history of the Nigeria nation.

According to him: “The truth of the matter is that the political class  is simply complacent.

It’s time political class returned to duty. And this must start with simple governance gesture such as punctuality and sense of purpose for service delivery.

The perpetual late coming to official functions by public officers’ underscores slack of seriousness by our leaders. Record shows that the late founding fathers were time conscious which explains the record achievement of 6 years after independence record.

We are yet to beat their record even with airplanes, internet, assorted cheeps and multiple and mobile phones which must serve as source of concern to us all.”

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