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The Niche lecture: Again, it’s the economy

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

THE Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, the country’s foremost foreign affairs think-tank, will on Tuesday, October 15, host the second edition of TheNiche lecture, just as the venue did in the first edition on April 20, 2018. The choice of venue is strategic because its ambience gives vent to the intent and purpose of the endeavour, which is to help proffer solutions to Nigeria’s myriad problems.

The lecture series is the idea of the corporate social responsibility of Acclaim Communications Limited, publisher of TheNiche, which debuted on April 20, 2014 as an idealism child, with a 72-page, all-colour Sunday exclusive newspaper with an online portal to boot.

Niche
economy

Although the emergence of TheNiche was a response to what we perceived as the structural dysfunction of the Nigerian Republic and the mood of national disillusionment, we remained resolute in our commitment to the Nigerian Project. 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.

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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 was the case. Nigeria’s socio-economic and political health went from bad to worse. Rather than reflective candour, nerve-wrecking 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 lamenting that the falcon could no longer hear the falconer because things had fallen apart and the centre could no longer hold. To make matters worse, the media, which ought to make sense out of the impish hallucination, got sucked into the murk. The idea of the first 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, while at the same time being as apolitical as possible. It was a delicate balancing act. The topic, “Development Reporting and Hysteria Journalism in Nigeria,” was carefully chosen.

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, United States, and a global leader who has made contributions to the stability, progress and wealth of nations, societies and individuals.

He postulated that “hysteria journalism which seeks to play on the latent prejudices of readers” rather than developmental journalism currently holds sway in Nigeria with the deleterious effect “of reducing public discourse to a shouting match and leaving the public less informed.”

But he stressed that the larger Nigerian society shares in 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.”

Moghalu urged Nigerians to vote in the right government. “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,” he added, summing up his vision for the Nigerian media.

The discussants which included Funke Egbemode, Managing Director of New Telegraph and President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors; Obinna Nwosu, former Deputy Managing Director of Access Bank; Prof Aja Agwu, Senior Research Fellow, NIIA; and Joe Igbokwe, All Progressives Congress, APC, Lagos Publicity Secretary, largely agreed with Moghalu’s hypothesis that Nigeria and all her institutions, including the media, will either rise again or continue to plumb the depths of mediocrity because of the leadership choices they would make in the 2019 election.

Today, the jury is still out as to whether the electorate hearkened to Moghalu’s admonition by electing the right government. The daunting challenges of nationhood, most of them avoidable and self-inflicted, remain and are exacerbating.

As Bill Clinton noted in his 1992 United States presidential campaign, it is “the economy, stupid.” The phrase, coined by his campaign strategist, James Carville, was the battle-cry that won the November 3, 1992 presidential poll for Clinton, a Democrat, and former Governor of Arkansas, who trounced incumbent George H. W. Bush, a Republican.

In Nigeria, such things don’t matter. But they should if we desire to dig ourselves out of the ditch of despair and misery that we are in right now. The elephant in the room is the ever-worsening economy. On October 7, Oxfam – an international confederation of 20 non-governmental organisations working with partners in over 90 countries to end the injustices that cause poverty – raised the alarm that about 69 per cent of Nigerians (94,470,535 million) live below extreme poverty level.

Citing the latest World Poverty Clock report, Constant Tchona, Oxfam International Country Director in Nigeria, said: “The number of people that live below extreme poverty level as at April was 91,501,377, making Nigeria the World Capital of Poverty. As if that was not bad enough, at the moment, six months later, the number has jumped up to 94,470,535 people.”

The implication is that since after the elections, which was won by the same government that sat on its palms while Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world, 2,969,158 Nigerians have slipped into the extreme poverty peonage.

Oxfam’s conclusion was dire. “At the current rate, Nigeria is not only off track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, but many now believe that up to 25 per cent of the world’s extreme poor will live in Nigeria by 2030.”

Again, as it was before the polls, the issue now is still the economy, stupid, hence the theme of TheNiche 2019 lecture: “Business and accountable governance: The obligation of leadership.” Professor Anya O. Anya will deliver the lecture.

He is a chartered biologist, Fellow and past vice president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Fellow of the Institute of Biology of the United Kingdom, Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London, Fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, former president, Union of African Biologists, and former director general of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG).

A man of incomparable transcendental influence, Anya’s greatest strength as a scholar is the fact that despite his awe-inspiring accomplishments in the field of natural science, he is also at home in every other academic field.

His knowledge of Nigeria, its politics, failures and triumphs, is encyclopedic. Another distinguished Nigerian, Dr. Christopher Kolade, former director general of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, former chief executive and chairman of Cadbury Nigeria, and former Nigeria’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, will chair the occasion.

The discussants will include Femi Adesina, Special Adviser Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari; Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, founder and Senior Pastor of Trinity House and Managing Partner at SIAO Partners; Ted Iwere, CEO of SME Media and former Managing Director of Independent Newspapers; Innocent Chukwuma, Ford Foundation Regional Representative for West Africa; and Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, European Union Head of Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS.

Last year, we promised that the lectures will be a permanent feature of Nigeria’s intellectual calendar, and also unveiled TheNiche Foundation for Development Journalism. The lecture series is the foundation’s corporate social responsibility, CSR, our idea of giving back to a society in dire need of help.

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