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Information and participatory democracy

By Julius Oweh

Biblical records point to the importance of journalism or the spoken word, as the Holy Bible says that God created the world with the word of mouth. Furthermore down the ages,   the growth of civilization and development is dependent on the passage of vital information.


It is against this backdrop that one American president is quoted as saying that were he given the opportunity to choose between government without newspaper or newspaper without government, that he would not hesitate to choose the latter. That underscores the importance of the media in any society.

It is to the peril of any government to ignore the role of the mass media, the Fourth Estate of the Realm. This wisdom is not lost on the Okowa administration as the chief image maker of the government, Honourable Patrick Ukah, the Information Commissioner is always using every opportunity to tell the story of the government and its social contract with the people couched in the terms ‘prosperity for all Deltans‘.

The ministerial press briefing which started with the secretary to the state government on 9th April, 2018 came to an end on Monday with the Information Commissioner rending his account of stewardship. What should be noted here is that by organising the ministerial press briefing, the commissioner was also doing his job of selling government activities and programmes to Deltans, the owners of electoral sovereignty.

The Information Commissioner was in his elements as he told journalists that they were all part of his achievements and that since journalists knew the activities of his Ministry, it was like saying the obvious to roll out his achievements. But according to him to fulfill all righteousness, he had to explain the achievements in the information sector and how the ministry was selling Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and his administration to Deltans in particular and Nigerians in general.

Ukah stated that the Information Ministry was ‘traditionally saddled with effective dissemination of information to the public which is fundamental to the success of any government as it is a critical driving force necessary for the achievements of set objectives by virtue of its ability to mobilize and propel people for action. It is a fact that no policy of government can achieve the intended objective if it is not properly articulated and implemented.

Traditionally, the Ministry of Information is saddled with this role and I am bold to say that the Ministry had performed this role effectively since the inception of this administration. The ministry has been committed towards articulating and adequately publicising the programmes, policies and activities of the state government within the context of the SMART Agenda over the last three years‘.

The chief image maker of the state explained that apart from using privately owned media houses, the state boasts of Delta Broadcasting Service, Delta Broadcasting Service, Warri and The Pointer newspaper. These media houses, according to the Information Commissioner, are doing great jobs in telling the story of the Delta State Government. The commissioner disclosed that under his watch, some major achievements were recorded in the Government Printing Press, Construction of the NUJ secretariat building, successful hosting of 46th meeting of the National Council on Information, Digital switch over of the state owned television stations   and making The Pointer titles more visible and effective.

On the Government Printing press, according to Ukah, efforts were at advanced stage to make it more functional so as to print government jobs and the state owned newspaper. He explained further: ‘As part of efforts to reposition the Government Printing Press for improved and well coordinated service delivery, the Kord 64 printing machine which was bad was repaired in 2017. This enabled the press to print the backlog of outstanding bills and gazettes from the Delta State House of Assembly. At present, the Ministry is making arrangement to revitalise the Government Printing Press and repair all the essential machines that would position it to perform at full capacity and enable it print The Pointer newspaper, all government documents and operate commercially.

He said that the construction of the Delta State NUJ secretariat building was at a high level of completion. He observed that his principal, the governor has shown much commitment to the welfare of journalists in the state. While thanking journalists for their objective reportage of government activities, he solicited for more co-operation and understanding.

The successful hosting of 46th meeting of the National Council of Information in Delta State, according to the Information Commissioner was a major milestone in information dissemination.

On the digital switch over programme of the stated owned television houses in Asaba and Warri, Ukah stated thus :‘Though the digital switch over programme is on, it may take another one to three years to completely   get the populace to key in and for the National Broadcasting Commission to shut down transmission on the Ultra High Frequency (UHF). It is important to note here that majority of Deltans still depend on signals from Ultra High Frequency (UHF). The Ministry therefore wants to keep up broadcasting on the terrestrial to ensure that government activities are effectively communicated to Deltans.‘

Delta State Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah

The commissioner during question and answer session passed a powerful message about repositioning The Pointer newspaper and with the exit of the current general manager, Mr Bosah Iwobi slated for the early part of November, government was considering the option of throwing the appointment of new general manager open. Ukah said that government was interested in getting somebody that can really turn the fortunes of the newspaper around, not in terms of competing with national newspapers but making The Pointer the best newspaper in the country as regards grassroots journalism. He observed that if The Pointer can have effective presence in Abuja, the political capital of Nigeria, Lagos, the commercial nerve centre and Port Harcourt, the newspaper should be able to break even. Questioned on the fate of workers angling for the position of the general manager as done in sisters media organizations of DBS, Asaba and DRTV, Warri, the commissioner answered that any member of staff that feels he is qualified is very free to vie for the position of general manager. The image of the general manager the state government is scouting for is the one that can properly manage the newspaper and make it to be self sustaining.

Said he of The Pointer :‘ the ministry has initiated   the process of reviewing the law establishing the company in line with the Ministry of Justice for what   would enable the company to function optimally in competitive environment. The Ministry has designed a programme that will refocus the DPPCL and position it to be commercially viable.

The programme was anchored on a more effective distribution and circulation of The Pointer titles and improvement on the editorial unit. In addition, the staff of the ministry are to co-function as correspondents in their different places of primary assignment. The ministry has also integrated the operations of its field offices with the company staff‘.

The commissioner lamented the onslaught of the social media and the preponderance of fake news and misrepresented reportage, however, adding that his ministry would continue to tell the story of the Delta State government.

His  parting shot was that managing information in era of social media was not a piece of cake. He argued: ‘The task of information management is ever challenging. However, the ministry remains committed to the effective gathering and dissemination of the policies and programmes of government to keep Deltans abreast of the implementation of the campaign promises of His Excellency, the governor as enunciated in the Smart Agenda. We appeal to the media to remain professional and constructive in their reportage. This Ministry also solicits for continuous interaction with the media particularly where there is need for clarifications‘.

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