Editors urge govt to create safe, enabling environment for journalists

By Braeyi Ekiye

Chapter 2, sub-section 22 of the altered 1999 Nigerian Constitution states clearly the obligation of the Mass Media to society.

As Fourth Estate of the Realm, the Nigerian Constitution empowers the media to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter: “The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the Mass Media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.

This presupposes that the press is a very vital component in our democratic process. It wields such enormous power in setting agenda for governments as custodians of public opinion and moulders of same. The Press, is indeed, the public court of justice when the judicial system fails to meet the expectation of the people. So, one cannot over-emphasize the pivotal role the press plays in the democratic process – The government of the people, by the people and for the people – Democracy.

But then, for Democratic government to succeed to truly serve the people, the choice of leaders at all strata matters; service oriented and ideologically sound and doggedly committed to the cause of the State and her citizens. Failing to choose or elect such men and women in the service of the state, we should be prepared to contend with a defective system and a symbol of frustration.

Democracy therefore, can be wired to be defective by self-centred politics and by politicians whose main focus of party politics and its success story is the pursuit of, and perpetuation of inordinate/autocratic power to ownership of public property and resources, to advance their egos and expensive life styles instead of the pursuit of the happiness and self-sustainability of the citizen.

This is where a vibrant, focused and patriotic Press comes in to correct the defects in the system and grease the wheel of the democratic process to safely and effectively communicate the benefits of democracy to citizens of a state.

The just concluded 17th Nigeria Guild of Editors Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, did set the tone and agenda in that direction. Indeed, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State in his remarks at the conference identified the Guild as a very important segment of society that cannot be ignored even as he charged editors to spear head agenda for the next general elections, noting that, doing the narrative without setting the agenda for the political class was responsible for the several challenges in the country. So true.

The Guild of Editors did set an agenda, albeit in a different direction in its topical topic: “The role of the Media in Times of Crises: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus”.

While I believe that addressing peace and security challenges of the nation is of great importance, I think also that the subject of security is in itself a by-product of the greater. That is to say that, the faulty Nigerian Constitution dubbed by large sections of the nation as fraudulent and imposed on Nigerians by the military is the greater problem facing Nigeria. It is this greater challenge that ought to be tackled first by the Nigerian State. Jesus Christ stated it explicitly in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”

Recall that only recently, the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINSAS) chaired by Professor Banji Akintoye, on behalf of the Alliance called for Regional Referenda on self-determination for aggrieved Indigenous nationalities in the South and Middle belt. The Association also gave reasons why the 2023 polls must be suspended. Their aim, infact, is to halt the voyage to 2023 inside 2021, paving way for regional referendums for self-determination and resource control. The Alliance sees the present Nigerian Union as toxic and said the Nigerian Union has long outlived its usefulness to her citizens.

The Group had earlier dubbed the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as fraudulent and unworkable as it promotes injustice, under-development and impunity in the country. The Alliance therefore, wants the drafting of a new Constitution to uphold the virtue of Integrity which allows for True Federal system of government. These widely publicised statements of the Alliance were made on Monday, August 23, 2021, when they promised a planned one-million-man march to the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York billed for September 14th – 24th, 2021 to drive home their points why the voyage to 2023 elections should be halted.

READ ALSO: Insecurity: We can’t continue like this — Guild of Editors

Infact, the planned march was carried out during the recent Security Council meeting of the United Nations, though the number of attendees fell far short of the one-million-man mark.     

It therefore goes without saying that the lack of a re-structured Nigerian federal system of government with a fraudulent Nigerian Constitution, now in vogue, is the “Invisible Force” that has triggered the visible manifestation of biting insecurity, inequality, injustice, conflicts and subsequent agitations for separatism within the Nigerian State. For example, IPOB, the Oduduwa, the Izon struggle for self-determination and resource control etc are by-products of a failed Nigerian State built on a weak, porous foundation.

Perhaps, to have a little bite of the super Nigeria cake that has been appropriated and misappropriated by the WAZOBIA since Nigeria gained her independence in 1960, it is instructive both for clarity and as a vital point of reference of my argument to quote Minority King Pin, one of the founding fathers of the nation and father of the present Nigerian States structure, late Chief Harold J. Dappa-Biriye: “The relationship here is that the people of the Niger Delta and Middle Belt Region are the major minorities whose resources finance the operation of the Nigerian State, but merely have little access to state power and resources.

It is indeed, pathetic that the three domineering tribes of Hausa/Fulani in the North, Yoruba in the West and Igbo in the East have blocked all opportunities of minorities to have access to State power and resources. Incidentally, the resources from the time of tin mining in the Middle Belt Region in 1945 to crude oil and gas in the Niger Delta Region in 1956, are sourced from these marginalized minority areas. And until these resources are allocated, the owners are marginalized. This was not the case when cocoa (West), groundnut (North) and palm oil (East) were the mainstay of the economy in 1953, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced the derivation formular of revenue allocation”. (Quote from the book: “Harold Dappa-Biriye- His Contributions to Politics in Nigeria).

Or shall we meditate on the passionate plea for sense of direction by lawyer/writer, Alexander Moro at the back cover page in his book on: “Ownership of Petroleum in the Niger Delta”: Quote- “Ownership of petroleum in the Nigerian Federation is vested in the Federal Government.

This violates the cardinal principle of federalism. Section 2 of the Petroleum Industry Bill also entrenches the violation of the ownership rights of the Niger Deltans. (note that the Petroleum Industry Bill has since been passed into law by the National Assembly and signed by Mr President, Muhammadu Buhari). Nigeria is a federation like Canada, USA and Switzerland.

In these progressive and developed federations, the Federal Government do not own petroleum or any other mineral in the component units, which are sovereignties within the larger federal system. Nigeria does the opposite by promoting a unitary government system of ownership of petroleum. Thus, in the true sense of federalism, the Federal Government of Nigeria has no single drop of oil or gas in the Niger Delta”.           

My thinking is that the Nigerian Guild of Editors should have taken the Bull by the horns by setting an Agenda for the re-structuring of the present unworkable Nigerian System of Government and the prospects of drafting a new Constitution that Nigerians can truly affirm as: “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…”.

In my thinking, what Nigeria is facing now as crises/conflict can be nipped in the bud if the Federal Government has the political will and sincerity of purpose, and if the Stakeholders across the country are also sincere and truly worships equity and justice, and come to the conference table to agree to the need for a paradigm shift from the old to the new call or clamour for a Nigeria of our dream- True Federalism and the draft of a new Nigerian Constitution.

As providence would have it, the chairman of the 17th All Nigeria Editors Conference and former Managing Director of Newswatch Magazine, Chief Ray Ekpu drove home the point I am making.

Ekpu carpeted those condemning the acts that led to calls for secession.

The distinguished publisher and journalist regretted that there are many anomalies in the present Nigeria that must have necessitated the present crisis in the country for the likes of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to have taken the route to secession from the Nigeria State.

The point must be made that, Ray Ekpu’s diagnosis of the problems of our country, viz: authoritarianism, the loss of trust to the system, the huge corruption in public and private space, the reckless carpet crossing by some politicians who are more interested in stomach infrastructure, the leadership failure and the lack of respect for diversity, finds her answers and solutions in a re-structured system with a brand new Nigerian Constitution.

Shall we continue to bury our heads deep in the sand like the Ostrich?, when there is palpable fire, fierce in its content, burning and spreading wild through the fabric of our national life?

Ray Ekpu comes to the rescue again: “People feel sufficiently frustrated to call for separation”.

He noted that those who instigated these anomalies in the governance of the State have, unfortunately conspired “together to create a situation where some condemn separation”, adding that “you must also condemn what gave birth to it: impunity, unfairness, lack of equality, parochialism and prebendalism”.

These Ekpu said, have deprived our country of its binding force, which ought to be justice and fairness to all our country men and women.

He declared: “You cannot have development without peace. These are triplets- Peace, Justice and Development. They work together for the good of all societies”.

The Nigeria Guild of Editors still have yet another opportunity to set the tone, the stage for the birth of a new nation before the 2023 general elections. There is, indeed, time enough for the planning committee of the Guild to go to work in setting the Agenda for Fiscal Federalism and the drafting of a new Nigeria Constitution as panacea for the much sought-after peace and security, accelerated holistic socio-economic and infrastructural development of the nation and her components.

Let’s awaken in us the spirit of patriotism, courage, audacity, informed/enlightened pens of the likes of Ernest Sisei Ikoli Anthony Enahoro, Babatunde Jose, Lateef Jakande, Tunji Oseni etc and do the needful by leading the way to save Nigeria from disintegration and possible violence and bloodshed.

The politicians, am afraid, have failed us and there is little hope in the Judiciary or the National Assembly or State Houses of Assembly taking a lead in this direction. The voices from within and without are beckoning on the Media- the Press, to take up the Gauntlet. A stitch in time saves nine.


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