Information Blackout

By Segun Ige

KO po ke? – “it’s not plentiful?” – if we rhetorically put in the context of the unanimous “write back” of the Nigerian print media, on Monday, July 12, would be transliterating into: Wouldn’t there be (or shouldn’t we be expecting) more “press” muzzling from the leadership? The system is designed in such a way as to, whoever is leading, preternaturally slide back into a more pessimistic perpetuity. It is indeed plentiful. Really plentiful!

“Of late, the Nigerian media have virtually waxed hysterical over the increasing arrogance and obduracy of this minority, thanks largely to the boastful performances of their most disreputable members,” observed Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Needless to say, by now, it is indisputable that any discourse of “lateness” in the Nigerian polity, concerning what a nation ought or oughtn’t to be, is tellingly remarkable of “presentness”: confirming the Eliotesque stance of the simultaneity of the “past” and “present” in working out the “future.” That’s how it’s always been and that’s how, if we’re impervious and immune to change, it would be, I’m afraid. 

Even though that assertion was specially addressed to the Nigerian military system of government, of the Abacha-Babangida-Buhari era, this same narrative still enormously holds sway, notably because of the civil spasm syndrome of selection, election, and coercion. Now, clearly, it’s no longer “war against indiscipline.” It is “war against incredulity” – where truth and untruth struggle in endless and bloody combats. 

The media, together with their message and messengers, are crucial to Nigeria’s nationhood. Nothing, indeed, could have been truer as regards the silent, severe and steadfast attempt geared towards the “pathological” perennial asphyxiation of the Nigerian media.

Nothing, to be sure, has depreciated concerning the torrents of torture and torment fomented – including extermination, expulsion and excruciation – against the media by characteristically behavioural civilian-militaries. These groundhog days of gagging the press are potentially breaking grounds meant to actually build, maintain and sustain national development and integration.

No fewer than 10 major Nigerian newspapers on Monday, July 12, carried a front-page advertorial that accused the authorities of conspiratorial clampdown on freedom of information. Sponsored by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors and Newspaper Publishers Association of Nigerian, the advertorial, significantly featuring a man in incarceration and in incommunicado, claims the Nigerian government is sponsoring amendments for two acts – Nigerian Press Council, NPC, and National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, acts.

A certain number of journalists and groups have sharply condemned the proposed amendments, describing them as an attempt by the Buhari administration to stifle the freedom of speech and a way of arbitrarily and militarily muzzling the media into mummification.

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The Nigerian print media unanimously published on the front-cover pages of the dailies an “Information Blackout” bravura trompe l’oeil, simply because the National Assembly or Federal Government was on the very verge of making Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, the superintendent of the media. I think that, to a considerable extent, is abundantly outrageous, hence the pungent counter-action of the press. 

Of course its not only in Nigeria this holds sway: gagging the media, nay forbidding freedom of speech or expression, was, “of late,” terribly demonstrated in the harassment and arrest of Al Jazeera female journalist Givara Budeiri in occupied East Jerusalem, necessitated by the Israeli-Palestinian fiery fracas. 

But what could have actually been the leadership desperation to clampdown on the media? I remember, in August 2020, when hate-speech fine was “increased” – as if we’re increasing the price of rice, tomatoes, potatoes, or beans – from N500,000 to N5m; and as if it was already foreseen, the #EndSARS protest ultimately played out on October 20, 2020 to test the veracity or actuality of the increment.

(Conversely I deeply desire we had leaders who could definitely and deliberately look into the future to forecast inevitable social crises, economic challenges and political tensions in order to implement laws and regulations that would inhibit, first, a devastating impact and, second, a deteriorating recurrence on the general human wellbeing.) Independent broadcasting media, namely AIT, Arise TV and Channels TV, were of course sanctioned and summoned under the heavy arms of some slightly considerable price – N3m – simply because of their, it was claimed, grandiose and grandeur establishment of the #EndSARS experience.

Could it be that the leaders are bent on grinding the particle-truth published and aired on the Nigerian media?  What’s expected in a typically disillusioned, dyslectic leadership system suffering from strabismus? For short, indecisiveness: Decision problem on major issues in the country is presently entrapped and warped in the trial of Nnamdi Kanu and tribulation of Sunday Igboho.

These are simple human beings who are merely reacting – even as far as the constitutional freedom permits (Sections 39 (1) and 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended) – to the villainous vibes of venality in the vestry of politicking. Similar energy, temperament and disposition should rather be channelled towards the irrespective, often leaving one bemused, perpetuation ploys of domestic terrorism, at its height – on the rise in the North – because of the egregious extremism of a group of political apparatchiks.

Putting the press under the sole proprietorship of a veteran like Lai Mohammed is making this “realm” of government on the very verge of precinct of extinction. As Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed might be taking upon himself some “double-bubble” responsibility, pruning the press under his lordship and majesty.

To this end, I don’t think the press is really the “enemy of the people.” In practice, the press and the people are never at loggerheads. But in fact, and generally speaking, the press and the power, or the microphone and the guns, are seriously spirited and steeped in the armageddon of nationhood – in Nigeria, in particular.

Apparently, reining back the press is antidemocratic and, alas, rejiging the press’s freedom is far more dire, even constitutionally, in the democratic processes of a country! At least, quite fortunately, Nigeria is diving further off the nomenclatural threshold of nation-state or nation-being.

  *Ige, a freelance journalist in Lagos, wrote [email protected]

Vanguard News Nigeria

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