By Tonnie Iredia
A few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari voiced a charge that the achievements of his administration are under-reported. The charge which appears sustainable against the media and the political opposition was made by the President in an interview with the Voice of America. Taking an example from the agriculture sector, Buhari said “we had two successful farming seasons, people went to farm and did very well, but no one is talking about that; only insults.” In fairness, the President was not the first to raise the complaint.
Much earlier, his government’s Head of the Civil Service (HOS), Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita had, at a peer review meeting with Federal Permanent Secretaries revealed that in her state – Cross River, several roads among them the Calabar-Umuahia road that were being constructed were not adequately publicised. In the words of the HOS, “i don’t know if it is intentional by the private media not to give adequate reports on these or whether it has some political undertone.” She then used the occasion to call for more funds to the public information framework for better publicity of government policies, programmes and activities.
Oyo-Ita’s call for increased funding of the information sector appears to suggest that government has an idea of what can be described as part of the problem. Is government disposed to taking steps towards implementing such insider observation? If not, it would be hard to get anyone to share in the blame of her contributory negligence. Considering that the federal government is not lacking in media ownership, it ought not to capitulate to the private media if nothing is wrong with how she manages her own media.
But if as it has always been, those saddled with the supervision of the public media have through directives or body language coerced them to serve essentially as his master’s voice, it is the government that is responsible for the nature of the content of the public media which is hardly credible to the people. Interestingly, many experts have shouted themselves hoarse with unending caution to government to leave the public media in the hands of tested professionals. Sadly, as part of party patronage, untrained party stalwarts now operate in some segments of the public media in preference to career practitioners. With such infiltration of politicians in the media, a typical news bulletin these days often takes the pattern of opinionated and superlative eulogies of what government does without any form of balance and objectivity. Who will buy that?
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) is no doubt the biggest distributor of Nigerian news items to different media houses in the country. It is currently headed by an outstanding media professional which should make NAN produce qualitative stories. To say the agency, which is government-owned is under-distributing government news is a hard sell. Indeed, poor training and insufficient facilities across the board; ought to compel many media houses to rely on the Agency. Could it be that people are ignoring over-politicized media entities like the Voice of Nigeria (VON) whose otherwise articulate leadership is more preoccupied with the Nigerian scenario that is outside her external target audience? Well, if it is hard to identify the real problem of the public media, the inadequacy of the government’s communication posture is quite visible. This is because Buhari’s government is reaching out to only the urban elite that are characteristically cynical.
The problem with the posture is that the elite constitute a minority in Nigeria meaning that the government is virtually cut off from the majority of its citizens. It is therefore the government that is under-reporting itself as the masses in the rural communities know little or nothing about what she does. The National Orientation Agency whose formidable grassroots structure should have redressed the situation has been rendered inactive. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan was in the same dilemma all through its tenure.
When Jonathan returned to his roots for electioneering campaigns at the tail end of his government, he saw for himself that his own people knew nothing about all what the thought he had achieved. Governor Dickson of Bayelsa state had to openly appeal to traditional rulers to deploy their town crier frameworks to assist the then President. As if the lessons of history are irrelevant, Buhari’s handlers have adopted the same ineffectual Queen’s English approach to propagate government activities only to be complaining of under-reporting.
While it is easy to see Minister Lai Mohammed doing so much in information dissemination, he is probably engaging in self-talk or the communication of the deaf. The President’s Villa handlers are no doubt tested professionals but they are also quite busy expending ample energy on rejoinders that are made only after people had assimilated a lot of bad press.
Political opposition from the private press is not the main problem as Oyo-Ita had imagined; it is far more than that. In this part of the world, people are generally anti-establishment having found over the years that government information is hardly credible. Insecurity for instance, is better handled than explained. All that President Buhari achieved on assumption in office over Boko Haram are filtering away through daily killings in the inexplicable caption of herder/farmer clash that has extended to places of worship which are not farmlands.
In the circumstance, people are inclined to disbelieve whatever government says it is doing while fully believing what appears not done or wrongly done thereby placing government always on its toes. The present administration exploited this strategy when it was in opposition using every opportunity to make Nigerians lose faith in the then government. Rather than grumbling, she should have anticipated same from opposition politicians and designed effective strategies for keeping its achievements in the front burner of public discourse.
In his recent VOA interview, referred to earlier, President Buhari regretted poor reportage of the gains in the agriculture sector probably without knowing that the supposed increases in agriculture have been punctured by increasing food prices. Painfully, the situation is clear sabotage by government officials. As Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh revealed not long ago, every government organization in uniform operating on the highway, extorts so much from truck drivers that are transporting foodstuffs from the farms to our cities. Accordingly, such illegal collections get added to the cost of food items when they arrive at their destinations thereby rendering nugatory, whatever gains should have come from the supposed bountiful harvest. This obviously cancels citizen belief in government which the latter simplistically takes for under-reporting.