By Bashir Adefaka
Nigeria has got many issues to address, from the VISION 20:2020 to how the FOI Act can help actualise the challenging aspirations of the anti-corruption crusade in the country and the need to ensure that reports of government panels always get attention after submission for implementation. Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Tukur, the managing director of the New Nigerian Newspapers, vice president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and member, Presidential panel on New Nigerian Newspaper revitalisation, spoke on these issues at his Ahmadu Bello Road, Kaduna office, recently. Excerpts:
We were told that the Presidential Panel on the revitalisation of the New Nigerian Newspapers had up till August 2010 to submit its report. This is July 2011, almost one year after, and nothing has been heard about whether they met the deadline or not. Is this not a justification of the popular fear that Federal Government’s panels never work?
I appreciate your concern about the issue of New Nigerian Newspapers. It is commendable to see a sister newspaper, like you, being so much concerned with the plight of New Nigerian.
Having said that, I want to say that the issue of the Presidential Panel on New Nigerian is still on. We are all aware that the last months of last year and early this year witnessed an increase in the tempo of political activities. The issue is a big one that needed to be trashed thoroughly. As at last year, the committee had concluded its work and submitted its report to the vice president, Arc. Namadi Sambo, which is a step forward. And I’m also aware that the vice president did not just sit on that report: he has commissioned some people in his office and other departments to take a look at the report and then effect the necessary amendments for eventual implementation.
And along the line, this year’s political activities came up and, you know, many things were slowed down as a result of that. But thank God the elections are over, the inauguration has also been done and government activities are beginning to pick up. Hopefully, in the very near future, you will hear something about that, I can assure you.
The FOI has eventually been passed, assented to and the Nigerian Guild of Editors, whose vice president you are, has given its words on it. Do you believe that the finishing of this FOI Bill represents the original intention of the sponsors?
It may be difficult to say it has actually represented the views of the sponsors but, to me, no matter what happens, it is still a step forward. We are all happy that the Bill has now become an Act; at least it has been assented to by the president, having been passed by the National Assembly. It is a stepping stone and what remains now is for all the stakeholders, that is, the government functionaries, the media, the civil societies and the rest of them to now undertake a constructive engagement in advocacy.
First of all, let us take our time to study the Act itself and then see where there is need for certain amendments. Even the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is amenable to some amendments and so I don’t think there should be any fear as to whether or not the FOI Act has actually represented the views or the aspirations of the sponsors. The most important thing is that, it has been passed into law, the foundation has been laid and then it is now left for the stakeholders to build upon it so as to attain the desired goal.
Now that there is FOI Act in place, what do you think should be the respective roles of government, the media, civil organisations and the people in its smooth running because, in spite of explanations times without number, many Nigerians still see it as only the media thing that does not concern them?
I think that is the greatest mistake people have been making. The FOI Act is not a journalist thing. It is something that affects everybody in this country.
It is all about good governance. It is about holding people in government accountable to their actions and their activities. So it is supposed to enhance good governance and when we have good governance, everybody will benefit and that is why I said that there is need for the civil societies, the media, all the people involved to engage in advocacy.
First of all, I expect the media to read through the Act itself, understand it fully so that we would not end up misusing it. There is need for us to fully understand it and work with it in accordance with the provisions of the law. Where we feel there is the need for amendment, then we will now champion that cause again and involve all the stakeholders: the National Assembly, people in government, civil societies so that eventually the necessary amendment can be made and then we have a more useful Act.
How would you describe the bearing of the FOI with the anti-graft campaign in the context of Nigeria?
The FOI Act is all about good governance, it is about the freedom or the rights of the media and, indeed, any other citizen to ask or approach any government official and seek for information pertaining to how they operate in the public office and that official is bound to supply such information to whoever wants provided it is considered of national interest.
And then, naturally, the people in government, knowing fully that they are now accountable and that they are compelled by the law to supply information on their activities, will sit up. The FOI Act, by so doing, will make them sit up and it will put them on their toes all the time to ensure that they are not embarrassed by any question or any answer they may eventually have to give. So I think it is directly related to the anti-corruption war. Because he knows that he must account for his stewardship, he would not want to do what he won’t like to show or what will embarrass him if he eventually shows it.
We are nine years away from the much celebrated VISION 20:2020 and there isn’t indication yet that we are anything near preparation. How are we not going to have a repeat of ‘Nigeria at 50’ with nothing to show?
We are not hoping for them. Actually maybe we should give the present government the benefit of doubt. They have just been inaugurated and last year had been very difficult for them to really put things in place. Now that there is a new government in place and they are beginning to sit down and settle for business, we are hoping that VISION 20:2020 should be taken very, very seriously.
How do the media play a role in that?
It is not only the media that should be expected to play a role. It is the responsibility of every Nigerian to ensure that whatever we do, we do it towards the attainment of the VISION 20:2020. Because it is a programme that is intended to accelerate Nigeria’s development and, when Nigeria is developed, everybody will be happy for it.
So there is the need to sensitise the people. The role of the media is to sensitise the people on the importance of the VISION 20:2020 programme, to also know that they have a responsibility that this programme is realised and then to hold government accountable and to follow up on the issue at stake. This issue of VISION 20:2020 must not be left to the government or the Presidency alone or the ministries. It is something that every Nigerian will have to contribute to. Unless we all resolve to do that, the programme may not be realised the way it has been originally planned.