By Ikechukwu Amaechi
The idea was to make the event, a public lecture to commemorate the fourth anniversary of The Niche which debuted on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, as a 72-page, all-colour Sunday exclusive newspaper with an online portal to boot, as apolitical as possible.
The newspaper was an idealistic child. Although its emergence was in many ways a response to what we perceived as the structural dysfunction of the Nigerian Republic and prevalent mood of disillusionment in the country, we remained undaunted in our commitment to helping in finding solutions to the myriad problems.
There was so much noise in the country on the eve of the pivotal 2015 elections.
Our hope was that Nigeria would take a step back from the brink where it was tottering and transform into a community of producers; a productive state propelled by individual and community efforts, a democracy anchored on production rather than consumption as it was the case in the 1960s when the then Eastern Region was the fastest growing unit in the entire British Commonwealth of Nations.
We believed that the media had a fundamental role to play in propelling this shift in our country’s developmental paradigm.
Four years down the road, the reverse seems to be the case. The country’s socio-economic and political health has gone from bad to worse. Rather than reflective candour, nerve-wracking hysteria became the norm.
It was as if the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, had Nigeria in mind when he wrote his famous poem, Second Coming.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
To make matters worse, the media, which ought to make sense out of this impish hallucination got sucked into the murk.
The idea of the lecture, therefore, was an attempt to seek answers to Nigerian media’s problems in the era of corrosive national values and politics with unprecedented toxicity and in line with the ideals of our new project, The Niche Foundation for Development Journalism.
So, the topic, Development Reporting and Hysteria Journalism in Nigeria, was carefully chosen by the Board of Editors. Even more nuanced was the choice of guest lecturer, Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor of International Business and Public Policy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, U.S. and a global leader who has made contributions to the stability, progress and wealth of nations, societies and individuals.
A prolific writer, Moghalu’s book, Emerging Africa remains a best seller.
“Africans seriously analyzing Africa’s opportunities are all too rare. Kingsley Moghalu writes with insight and authority,” was how Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, described the book and its author.
But what many people didn’t know was that in his “former life,” Moghalu worked with Newswatch magazine and was also a special correspondent for international publications like the Christian Science Monitor and Africa News Service, as well as a contributing columnist for The Guardian.
The goal of the lecture was to call out the media. At the time, we had no idea that our preferred guest lecturer was nursing a presidential ambition.
On the day we met with him, he clairvoyantly made what he called a full disclosure.
And what was it? He had decided to run for the presidency in 2019 and would be making a public declaration before our lecture date.
He needed us to know so as to decide if he still fitted our bill. We agreed he still did, conscious, of course, of the implications.
Expectedly, some politicians who feared that attending a public lecture to be delivered by an opposition presidential candidate could be deemed anti-party stayed away. On the flipside, many people attended simply because of Moghalu.
In all, he did justice to the topic, hitting hard on the media and lavishing praises as he deemed fit.
He postulated that “hysteria journalism which seeks to play on the latent prejudices of readers,” rather than developmental journalism currently holds sway in the country with the deleterious effect “of reducing public discourse to a shouting match and leaving the public less informed.”
But he quickly added that the larger Nigerian society shares the bulk of the blame.
“Let us be clear: hysteria journalism is a reflection of our country and the magnified fault lines that exist in it today. The destructive tone and divisive rhetoric of Nigeria’s political class is what is largely responsible for hysteria journalism in Nigeria today.”
And his vision for the Nigerian media was as eclectic as the role he envisaged for the elite but can be summed up in a paragraph.
“We need a new elite led by a worldview that is focused on ensuring that Nigeria can fulfill its potential. Nigeria needs to become a worldview state. Only then can journalism in Nigeria play a developmental role, in line with that worldview.”
The discussants that included Mrs. Funke Egbemode, Managing Director of New Telegraph newspaper and president of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Obinna Nwosu, former Deputy Managing Director of Access Bank, Prof Aja Agwu, Senior Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and Engr. Joe Igbokwe, the All Progressives Congress (APC) Publicity Secretary, Lagos State, largely agreed though with different perspectives.
But wasn’t it rather naïve of us to expect that a gathering that included at least four former and present presidential aspirants/candidates on the eve of a critical election year will spend more than four hours without being overtly political?
Apart from Moghalu, there was the chairperson, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, who was the presidential candidate of the KOWA party in 2015 and who publicly indicated interest in the 2019 elections, Dr. Uma Eleazu, a presidential aspirant in 1992 on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Martin Onovo, the 2015 presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), whose body language suggests that he is not yet done with the race.
Then, there was also Dr. Bukola Saraki, Senate President and one-time presidential aspirant who was ably represented by the “Commonsense Senator” Ben Murray Bruce.
When the presence of politically conscious elder statesmen like Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Prof. Anya Okoh Anya, is thrown into the mix, then the picture of a quasi-political gathering emerges even when it was not the intent ab-initio.
Almost all the speakers called on Nigerians to take active part in the 2019 elections, which Nwabueze described as very crucial.
“We must all get our voter cards and vote during the 2019 elections. We must participate in the election because it will decide whether the country can stay or break up. This is the opportunity we have and we must make good use of it to elect credible leaders,” Nwabueze, professor of professors as he is fondly called by his numerous admirers, Nigeria’s first academic Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and former Minister of Education and Youth Development, said.
Moghalu charged Nigerians to speak with one voice. “We need to be led by leaders who can unite us. Today, we have recycled politicians who don’t have the best plan for Nigeria. We have leaders without worldview and that is why the country is not progressing as expected. For Nigeria to be great, people should use their voter cards to put in place the right government.”
In all, the consensus was that Nigeria and all her institutions, including the media, will either rise again or continue to plumb the depths of mediocrity based on the strength of the leadership choices eligible citizens make during the 2019 elections.
kechukwu Amaechi is the MD/Editor-in-Chief, TheNiche on Sunday newspaper, Ikeja, Lagos.