By Josef Omorotionmwan
GOVERNMENTS have become too reactionary perhaps as a result of their ignorance of the enormous power of the press.
Many past leaders, though, expressed the power of the press in strong terms. To Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the United States of America,US, given a choice between having a viable press without a government or a government without a press, he would not hesitate an inch to opt for the former.
On his part, one time Prime Minister of Britain, Harold Macmillan (1894-1986) once opined that in times of war, the Ministry of Information should be known as the Ministry of propaganda. In any case, government is constantly in a state of war.
One man who thoroughly understood the working of government was Chief John Odigie Oyegun, the first Executive Governor of Edo State. Quite early in the ill-fated Third Republic, he established in his office, the Political Bureau (Politburo), charged essentially, with the business of publicity. The Politburo was manned by this writer; Prof. Stanley Orobator and Dr. Joseph Ebohon, as he then was – both of the University of Benin; and Dr. Ojo Sinatra of AAU, Ekpoma.
We put the opposition constructively on the defence. It was clear to us that the Budget, and other important policy thrusts, were not meant to gather dust in offices. As soon as the budget was presented, we ran away with it. In the next one week, we took it to all the Local Government Headquarters across the State, preaching its good gospel and indicating the goodies that it had for each area.
We cultivated the best possible popular press made up of the best up and coming vibrant journalists in NTA, EBS and the print media. We remember the likes of Ransley Abu Osagie and Dele Ailemen of EBS, Felix Oriakhi of Observer, who fell in love with our operations to the extent that they would even be prepared to sleep in the office to design programmes and talk-shows for us.
We sponsored those beautiful write-ups by vibrant Professors, real and imagined, in virtually all our Universities and at very little or no cost, the likes of Comrade Godwin Erhahon transversed the entire country, planting the articles in the choicest spaces in the best newspapers of the time. We left the opposition with no standing space. At the political end, late Pa Ebomwonyi, State Publicity Secretary of the SDP, was also casting his stones.
Every policy has two sides. If government remains dormant on the positive side, the opposition would step in with the negatives and create a lot of misinformation and deliberate falsehood; thus leaving government to be struggling to extricate itself.
No one ever envisaged that a time would come when thousands of kilometres of solid roads would be provided, or a time when close to 200 luxury buses would be procured to boost the intra-city transportation; and no one would talk about them, except at campaign rallies and in anniversary brochures, which have very limited circulation – only in official circles!
Neither did we know that a time would come when government would become so conserving; or hoarding of vital information needed for deep-rooted analyses. A government is only as good as the favourable media reportage it gets. There is a popular advert, which holds that if you think education is expensive, you should try ignorance. As they say in the colloquial, “soup wey sweet, na money killam.”
Government must learn to put its money where its mouth is. It is a height of self-denial, bordering on masochism, to be squandering your money on private media outfits while leaving your own media hanging perilously on the balance. And nowhere in the enabling laws were the government media intended to declare annual profits in terms of Naira and Kobo. The profit or loss they make can only be assessed in terms of the propagation of government activities, which is their primary function.
Edo State cannot keep shortchanging itself when indeed it has all it takes to remain on top. However, a few short steps must be taken.
The Nigerian Observer cannot be expected to perform 2017 feats using 1968 methods. Today, it is a storehouse for the most obsolete printing machines. Sadly, this is happening at a digital age where at the press of a button, your colour-print newspapers will role out simultaneously in Washington, DC, London and Abuja; and in less than one hour, you are done with the printing of the one million copies of your newspaper. And these things are affordable.
The EBS was born into the roughest waters and all it has known is persecution. You can imagine having to exist under the heavy weight of the NPN and PDP politicos, none of which wanted EBS alive. One exempt will suffice here.
At inception, the EBS mast was intended for state-wide coverage and beyond. That was before the obnoxious argument that the mast was on aviation route and thus the height must be drastically reduced. The first port of call in any attempt at revamping EBS is to take the mast to its original height.
Whatever happened to the Government Press? Time was when the citizen could walk into the Paper Office in the House of Assembly and he got on demand, the Order Paper, Votes and Proceedings, the Debates and any piece of legislation. These have today become extreme luxuries that government can no longer afford. Government can never grow under such a retrogressive system.
No organisation ever grows higher than the environment in which it exists. Over the years, our information sector has witnessed many staff deaths, retirements and resignations; and vacancies have remained unfilled. The organisations are at the verge of imminent collapse. Something must be done urgently!
The epileptic nature of our electricity supply is not helping matters, either. Essentially our media houses operate on diesel around the clock. Such cannot be further overburdened with the payment of the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR. This is the minimum that government can do while arranging a comprehensive recovery package.