.Fayemi

By Kayode Fayemi

The first part of this lecture which was published yesterday focused on the role of the media in nation-building.

HOWEVER, this tradition was revived as the Second Republic collapsed. Two important media organisations represented the revival of this tradition in the 1980s. This included the founding of The Guardian newspaper in 1983 and the Newswatch magazine two years later. As the era of high impact media intellectuals was resuscitated in the 1980s, Nigerian journalism embraced a new mandate of ensuring intellectual clarifications of the most urgent problems of state and society.

This was a heavy burden under military rule, as the experiences of these two organisations and their editors and reporters show. Represented by Stanley Macebuh and Dele Giwa, The Guardian and Newswatch paraded first-rate media intellectuals backed by an excellent reportorial team that exercised caution but exhibited fearlessness in reporting and commenting on public affairs. The opinion pages of The Guardian and Newswatch were the go-to forums for the clarification of the most crucial public issues. They paraded some of the most articulate analysts of the Nigerian condition.

Even in the reality of autocratic rule and the subversion of the tenets of human freedom and the right to self-rule, these intellectuals and the reporters working with them, ensured that the questions of national unity, democratic freedom, justice and equity were at the centre stage of our national debate, despite threats of assassination and actual assassinations, imprisonment and threats or actual closures of media houses.

When the successor generation to the Giwas and the Macebuhs and Ekpus inherited this tradition and joined the battle in the 1990s, something qualitatively different happened to the intellectual tradition that I am describing. I stated earlier that the Macebuh-Giwa era paraded first rate media intellectuals backed by an excellent reportorial team that exercised caution but exhibited fearlessness in reporting public affairs.

What happened in the era led by the Onanugas, Igiebors, Chris Anyanwus, Obaigbenas, Ajibades and Olorunyomis to name a few (mostly Newswatch and Guardian alumni), was that they threw away the caution as they exhibited greater fearlessness – some critics would even say that they embraced recklessness.

And to that we would say, “reckless for a reason”!

As perceptive observers of the Nigerian condition and as students of the history of the death of nations know, media professionals of that era  recognised that the brand of military adventurism that Nigerians confronted from the late 1980s to the early 1990s was one that could turn Nigeria into a Banana Republic.

The end of Nigeria’s history was in sight, unless something urgent and desperate was done. They recognised that we were moving towards the endless dictatorship or the imperial autocracy of Mobutu’s Zaire, Eyadema’s Togo or Quadaffi’s Libya. Thus, while the intellectual tools of the earlier eras of the Johnsons, Macaulays, the Azikiwes, the Macebuhs and Giwas were critical, the succeeding generation realised that those tools needed to be augmented by a certain intellectual audacity and ideological daring that were critical for confronting murderous regimes.

Therefore, in throwing caution to the wind, the radical and progressive media intellectuals of the 1990s recognised that in the absence of democratic rule they were not only the surviving ‘People’s Parliament’ – as TELL described itself – they were also the most organised and the loudest ‘Voices of the People.’  Armed with the pen – and I must add, aided by the restructuring of the associational connections, commitments, and loyalties within and across social and cultural divides which included labour, local and international civil society organisations, and even subversive state agents – the media intellectuals of the 1990s became also democratic activists using the press to fight and end military rule in order to push Nigeria into democratic dispensation.

Those who thought the popular maxim that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ was a mere metaphor knew better when Abacha’s autocracy collapsed in 1998 and the succeeding military regime hurriedly handed over power to a democratically-elected government.

The radical press and their allied organisations didn’t directly end General Sani Abacha’s misrule or chase out the General Abdusalami Abubakar regime. However, they provided the necessary conditions that eventuated the end of autocracy and the return to democratic rule.

When TheNews and TELL emerged on the scene to send the soldiers back to their barracks, they worked with many organisations and concerned individuals, home and abroad – including some of us who had left everyday journalism for studies and work abroad – to ensure that the military didn’t end Nigeria’s history.

That we still have a country to call ours today is in no small measure due to the efforts of the hardworking and self-sacrificing men and women of the Nigerian media, many of whom are in this audience today and we must not make light of that critical role in the nation building process.

I have provided this background to understanding the role of the media in strengthening national security and deepening democracy in Nigeria not merely to underscore the role and sacrifices of Nigerian journalists, but also for a number of other reasons. One: I wanted to underscore the fact that we cannot account for the assets and liabilities of the Nigerian state in the current era without accounting for how the independent media played a central role in ensuring that we have a nation in the first instance.

In his analysis of the ‘Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy,’ the American political sociologist, Barrington Moore, famously stated: ‘No bourgeoisie, no democracy!’ We can say in the Nigerian context, ‘No Media, no nation!’ And we will mean this not only in the globally-acknowledged fact that there can be no true democracy without an independent media, but also in the specific reality of Nigeria: that without the important work and sacrifices by the pro-democracy press, Nigeria could not have had democratic rule today.

Two: I want to emphasise the fact that intellection has been at the centre of a certain tradition of the Nigerian press. This is also why media intellectuals have had a lot of useful things to say about the organisation of the Nigerian state and society with almost the same level of insight and penetration, but certainly with equal measure of zeal and commitment, as the Nigerian social scientists. This is why we cannot talk about national security and nation building in Nigeria merely in relation to the media’s role, but also, and more importantly, in the ways in which the Nigeria media, in particular, has defined the dimensions of democratic rule in the country – and the generational responsibility for nation building.

In the years when different forms of military misrule sought to make democratic rule unpopular and irrelevant to Nigeria’s future, it was these media intellectuals who helped in redefining the parameters of the debate and re-centered democratic rule as the only guarantee of Nigeria’s continued survival.

And it’s precisely for this reason that this institution must not lose sight of his overarching responsibility as an intellectual crucible for the training of our journalists. The third reason is to point to the dangers inherent in the noticeable decline in the role I have described.

If the Nigerian media fail to play the role they have played in the past to press for and help promote the imperatives of unity in diversity and sustain democratic rule, there is no doubt that democratic rule will atrophy and the nation building process will go into reverse gear. Hence, the need to instill such lessons in an enduring manner in the intellectual tradition of this institution.

The media and the challenges of insecurity in Nigeria: Nowhere is this more crucial than in the media’s understanding of the security challenges that Nigeria confronts.

As the nation confronts insecurity on a rising scale, the key challenges to the polity remain that of establishing effective and accountable security agencies in pursuit of individual and community security in tandem with state security and on the other, that of establishing effective governance of the security sector through the empowerment of civilian oversight mechanisms. In other words, any given national security policy and architecture to have meaning and purpose must address these two broad challenges.

Yet, these structural challenges could only be addressed within a historical context. Equally, to understand the nature of the challenges and proffer solutions to them, an assessment of the political environment is crucial by the media.

To what extent, for example, has the question of the nation been settled? What do the constitution and other laws say about the control of security forces, what is the mission, purpose and nature of the security forces and its interplay with the larger society? Does the mission derived from the security threat correspond to the size, composition and equipment of the security forces; or are they misused in various ways including for rent seeking purposes; what’s the role of non state security actors – positive or negative and how effectively do the key oversight agencies – Legislature, civilian bureaucracy, civil society, media – function in general.

These are all questions that the media should regularly pose in speaking truth to power.

To do this however, the media must understand the complexities of the treacherous threat environment because more often than not, the orientation governing the operation of our security agencies, having been tailored to address perceived dangers of yesteryears, is now out of sync with reality. For example, the media must be better informed that the new security environment has occasioned a broader definition of security, drawing an inextricable linkage between security and development, underscoring the security of people rather than territories and individuals rather than states.

This became known in academic and policy circles as human security and popularized by Kofi Annan as encompassing “human rights, good governance, access to education and healthcare, and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential.” And as if taking a cue from this concept of human security, Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states in Section 14 (2b) that ‘the security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary purpose of government’, in other words placing governance at the epicenter of security and development complex in Nigeria.

It is therefore obvious that our status as a young and populous democracy with as yet fragile institutions in a geopolitical arena defined by globalisation and the internationalization of conflict presents the media with a raft of challenges to understand. First is that the narrow and uni-dimensional militaristic orientation of our security establishment is inadequate to address the threats we face and must be drastically revised.

Second that we must approach the development of a national security policy and strategy as a composite of various causalities not conventionally regarded as related to the subject of security. Issues of poverty, demography, food security, energy security and social security are all risk factors to be considered in the generation of threat assessment matrix and the formulation of security policy.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian  media is often at sea in providing the citizens with the requisite understanding of these issues and it ends up regurgitating sensational opinion and treating such as factual news with scant attention paid to national psychology. A good example of this faux pas by the Nigeria Media is what is popularly referred to as the 2015 prophecy of doom. In 2005, the US National Intelligence Council convened a group of American experts on sub-Saharan Africa to discuss likely trends in the region over the next 15 years.

The group discussed several major issues that will affect Africa, including trade globalisation and conflict among other factors. According to a National Intelligence Council Estimate authored by the conference, Nigeria could enter a phase of unrest and instability by 2015 that could culminate in her collapse by 2020.

It is important to note here  that the particulars of that estimate are not actually discussed in the public space. Most Nigerians are unaware of the context in which this projection was made. What every media carried was that Nigeria would collapse or cease to exist by 2015. What makes the report pungent is the fact that it resonates with popular, foundational anxieties about the long term viability of our union. For many Nigerians, it is enough that this is what America has projected concerning the nation.

Local episodes of graft, conflict and terrorism, in the eyes of pessimists, only lend credence to the report. The fact that 2015 was an election year and that electioneering in Nigeria is typically fraught with violence on our shores further fortifies the conviction of pessimists that Nigeria is on her last legs. All of these inadequacies were not only reflected in the media, but they were also projected and magnified locally and often in a very subjective and sensational manner depending on the perspective of ownership. The role the media can play in exacerbating conflict can only be ignored as the world found out in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In our own nation building context, such anxieties constantly projected in the local and international media may serve to generate a psychological context of fatalism and resignation within which conflicts, political violence and terrorism flourish. This risk highlights the need for our media practitioners to recognise psychological operations aimed at de-marketing promising nations and information warfare as a necessary aspect of national security awareness.

Indeed, security managers must also be aware of the need to be conscious of the distinction between “secrecy” and “confidentiality” and engage the media regularly on the “need to know” basis. In other climes, the media understands the power of positive projection and they deliberately use it for the development and unity of their nations even when they have information to achieve the opposite.

The above example also underscores to the media the importance of being circumspect. Despite the challenges that we have faced as a nation, which we sometimes, unfairly exaggerate, it is important to constantly bear in mind that nation building is a slow and dynamic process. The awareness that nothing in nation building is finalized should give us hope and challenge us to do better and constantly look for ways and means to build a better country, by experimentation and learning, trial and errors, setting and resetting.

And this is why the operative framework of any nation is never intended as a divinely inspired scripture. Most of the challenges we face today could not have been envisaged in 1999. But we must see these challenges as opportunities to test our governance system and its responsive capacity to isdues of national co-existence. The media’s role in achieving the above cannot be given a short shrift – not by a media historically wedded to its contribution to the Nigerian state.  

Media experts have argued that the mass media “are the connective tissues of democracy. They are the principal means through which citizens and their elected representatives communicate in their reciprocal efforts to inform and influence.”4 In democratic societies, it is assumed that through the information they convey to mass audiences, the media “serve as key guarantors of elite accountability and popular control of government.”5 In light of this, a democratic media system has two important characteristics.

One is that, because the media enjoy constitutional guarantees, citizens are assured of free access to information of all shades. This ensures that citizens can challenge their government and also and hold it accountable, if it fails to serve the interest of the people.

Two is that the media are protected from arbitrary power and that media pluralism is institutionalised. As experts have argued, this ensures that “Democracy is strengthened and its integrity ensured by the free flow of information and competition among public and commercial media articulating … a variety of political viewpoints to educate the public and allow it to make informed choices, particularly at election time.”

27.          In any liberal democratic state, the media are expected to perform certain functions within the political system. These include:

i.              surveillance of developments, both positive and negative, which may affect citizens’ welfare;

ii.             agenda-setting – that is, identifying key issues in the polities;

iii.            offering accessible platforms for intelligible, illuminating advocacy by public servants and interest groups;

iv.           serving as a bridge for dialogue across a wide range of views by power-holders, aspirants to political offices, and the citizenry;

v.            holding public officials accountable for their use and misuse of power;

vi.           educating and motivating citizenry about politics – including electoral politics – and participation in civic life;

vii.          maintaining independence and integrity.

It is in the light of this that media scholars have concluded that “a democratic system of government that is not supported by a free, vibrant, and healthy media system represents a nominal rather than real system of democratic decision making.” Modern mass democracy is possible in part because of the mass media.

 The access that the media affords ordinary citizens, it has been noted, creates conditions of dialogues between the rulers and the ruled.

The media’s role in the periods when a nation is experiencing security challenges is critical because these are moments when the civic impact of journalism is fully obvious. It is the time when the media must promote inclusion rather than sectarian exclusion.

Chairman, having attempted to draw the necessary linkages between nation building and national security and highlighting the role of the media, I must not forget why we are here.

A convocation ceremony is an important occasion in the academia because it’s akin to the harvest time for the farmer. It is a time when the ivory tower celebrates its successes, rewards its stellar products, audits its progress and awards recognition to the best in society.

A convocation ceremony also provides a unique opportunity for the town and gown to interact as they both share in the success stories of the graduands who are awarded their diplomas as evidence of having been found worthy in both learning and character.

It is my hope that graduands will take to heart some of the lessons drawn from this lecture as you move into the real world of journalism – print, electronic, online or public relations and advertising.

Properly interrogates, youcan deduce that all that I have said  is no different from what you’ve been taught in Journalism 101 – your 4Ws – what, why, where, when and H – How. I rejoice with the graduands, parents and guardians as well as the school management.

 On the strength of the foregoing, I wish to commend the efforts of the Governing Council led by Aremo Olusegun Osoba, the Provost, Mr Gbenga Adefaye and the management for their relentless commitment in transforming this institute to an enviable height against all odds.

I understand a bill to upgrade the Institute to university status is currently before the National Assembly. I wish you luck and happy celebrations.  

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.