By Ikenna Asomba
Since assuming office about seven months ago, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State has continuously reiterated his commitment to bring even development to the rural communities across the 57 Local Council Development Areas, LCDAs.
Ambode had promised to kick-off the plan by constructing at least 141 new roads; two in each of the council areas, as well as phase-out all wooden footbridges across canals in the state and replacing them with concrete footbridges before December 2016.
For the effective monitoring and implementation of these projects, the state government harped on the need to bridge the communication gap between it and residents.
It was against this backdrop that the office of the Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Communications and Communities, Ministry of Local Government and Community Affairs in collaboration with Growth & Employment in States, GEMS3, recently organised a workshop on Community Media for publishers, editors and journalists of Community Newspapers as well as Public Relations Officers of Council areas.
Present at the workshop which had “Community Media: Tool for Vibrant Democratic Governance,” as its theme were the Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Communication and Communities, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan; Lagos State Manager, DFID-GEMS3, Yemisi Joel-Osebor; doyen of Community Journalism and Publisher of Oriwu Sun, Chief Monzor Olowosago; Publisher of The Commoners, Mr. Jim Suleiman; Programme Manager, Media Rights Agenda, MRA, Mr. Ayodele Alonge, Chief Executive Officer, Foresight & Kaycee, Kingsley Okoronkwo among others.
Speaking at the event, Bamigbetan said the workshop became imperative in line with the thrust of Governor Ambode’s administration to bring about even development across the 57 council areas of the state.
The former Council Chairman of Ejigbo LCDA, said the state government believes that to achieve this feat, residents must be carried along with the plans of government.
He further explained that the Ambode administration believes that to achieve this, it is expedient to collaborate with the community media stakeholders who are closer to the people than the mainstream media, so that they can take the state government’s plans to the people, as well as intimate government on the yearnings and needs of the people through their reportage.
Amplifying this point, Bamigbetan said: “The 141 new roads that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode promised to build across the 57 council areas of the state will commence soon. Projects like these need the input of residents to monitor their effective implementation. If the State Government mobilises a contractor and four months after, work hasn’t commenced, it behooves the residents to raise alarm. This is where the community newspapers can take advantage.”
He urged the community newspaper stakeholders to live up to the billing in serving as middlemen between the state government, local governments and the people and assured that the state government and its ministries will begin to encourage the community media through advert placements.
Also speaking at the event, Olowosago advised practitioners of community media to work towards winning the trust of government, as well as the people through objective reportage of activities going on at the grassroots level of governance.
According to Olowosago, the dividends of democratic governance are yet to get to rural communities because the community media have not come to where they ought to be at the moment in Nigeria.
“Although, with a workshop like this, I think community newspapers have a bright future in Nigeria. In Britain, London in particular, there are about 50 community newspapers catering for a particular area. There is nothing stopping us from replicating same in Nigeria. If we have community newspapers in each of the 744 local governments in Nigeria, you will find out that the dividends of real democratic governance will get to the people,” he said.
Alonge took participants through the imperatives of the Freedom of Information Act, and how to effectively use it to deepen democratic governance at the grassroots level, even as Okoronkwo harped on the need to use better graphics and cartoons to attract readership to community newspapers.
At the end of the workshop, participants resolved, “to demand that the Lagos State Government patronise the community media in its marketing and publicity programmes; form an association of community media organisations to develop the genre to provide regular intelligence to the people; encourage better relations with local governments and win the confidence of the community stakeholders.”
“Participants also demanded that information units at the local government levels be strengthened for better community/media relations and that a forum be organised by the office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Communities and Communication on sensitising the Executive Secretaries on the need to embrace community media.”