The brilliant Professor of Law that he is, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently took a swipe at us – practitioners of the journalism profession – but smartly swathed the bile in a vase of candy. Osinbajo had spoken in Lagos at a forum entitled “Media Renewal in Nigeria” organized to mark the 50th birthday of ace broadcaster, Kadaria Ahmed. His vase of candy was the encomium he showered on the Nigerian media for its contribution to the development of government and society, and his quip that “the democracy we enjoy today would not have been possible without the guerrilla efforts of some of our finest and most irrepressible journalists.” He went on a voyage into history to the colonial, post-colonial eras and the battles to free Nigeria of military autocracy.
Osinbajo however touched a very sour point in the operations of the media; what he termed the welfare of journalists as central to the media’s repositioning. He left the world to chew over how the abandonment of the welfare of the press has led to a major social crisis in the profession and how societal faith in its reporting had hit an all-time low. Apparently wary of a gang-up against him, Osinbajo had universalized the crisis by stating that the crisis of corruption and lack of integrity evident in the media are systemic. “The Nigerian press has had to deal with the same circumstances that have undermined virtually every institution in the country in the last few decades. If faith in the media appears to be at an all-time low, it is because public faith in all institutions is very likely at an all-time low. Politics and politicians are probably even worse off.”
In a disguised way, Osinbajo merely fed the Nigerian media the hemlock which the media fed the rest of society with relish over the years. It was the quinine of who and which sector had contributed to the Nigerian cancerous affliction of corruption. In 2015, at a workshop it organized on economic crimes reporting for journalists in Lagos, the EFCC Chairman, represented by the commission’s then Director of Operations, Mr. Olaolu Adegbite, had also reminded the media that as important as it is in the quest for sanity in financial matters, it is also a questionable location for graft and compromise by hawkers of illicit funds hoping to wangle their questionable ways through the system.
What the EFCC and Osinbajo said, in unquestionable simplicity, is a discourse that has dominated the newsroom and even among decision-makers in Nigeria for some time now. The truth is, as the Vice President said, like every other sector in the country that has been hit by the bayonets of graft and corruption, the Nigerian media has played very strong role in the pollution of society through lending itself as a willing basket inside which questionable slush funds are deposited.
As it is today, our society is media dependent. The dependence ranges from the news we hear every minute, the photography and videography that we see on a daily basis and which impact on our individual lives, our business, education, science and art. It will be an understatement to say that the media shapes and moulds our lives and we are hooked on its sounds, images, and the words that come out of media communication.
Of recent, especially in the last five decades or thereabout, our dependency on the media has grown exponentially. This means that the hitherto great viral of influence that the media wielded on society has also grown magnificently. The advance in technology has enhanced this growth phenomenally. In eras past, you had the telegraph and post offices, the transistor radio, the newspaper, magazines and television. Today, whatever was the power of those media has been replaced a thousand times by the internet and new media which include palmtops, cell phones, digital recorders etc.
Globalization has upped media relevance considerably. Right now, society is dependent on the media for that connection to the rest of the world and even performance of our daily activities like work, entertainment, healthcare, education, socialization, travelling etc. A number of our decisions as human beings are connected or dependent on those things we read, see or hear via the media. What this says in essence is that virtually all of our decisions, beliefs and values are founded on the totality of those media experiences. For a medium that controls the totality of our lives, the attention being given to the media in research and consideration in society is too insignificant. We need to be concerned about such a medium which determines our lives.
What is more instructive is that the influence of the mass media on our children, teenagers and even adults, is so phenomenal that leaving out the modus operandi of its operations, as well as not being curious about the development in the media, can be said to be utterly naïve on our part. It is in our interest to know how the mass media really works, if only for the complex mind-structuring methods through which it has become a subject that no one can ignore.
Politicians discover, ab initio, that a flirtation with the media guarantees them access to the hearts of the electorate. Thus, even in their inanities and acknowledged disdain for the people, politicians court the media. Scholars locate this symbiotic relationship in politicians’ discovery that one of the surest ways in which social and political power is wielded is through the control over communication media.
Until the 1980s Nigeria, the Nigerian media was principally owned by government which dictated the pace, tone and tenor of media practice. Front page stories and headlines were determined while the military strongmen who headed the country held the fat waist of cognac bottles and reclining on the cushion chair. The 90’s saw a reversal of that role and private individuals began to own newspaper press organizations and even radio/TV stations. In the melee however, politicians, most of whom had bested the rest of society in acquisition of illicit funds, repatriated these stolen monies into the ownership of media houses. Either through their fronts or even themselves coming out openly to declare ownership of these media houses, the media succumbed to the pollutant of illicit funds in its operations.
The result is that professionalism suffered. Professional journalists who came on board with intents on best practices were stupefied when the politician/publisher with sacks full of money and acrid-smelling cigars waved them aside and inflicted their ideas on the running of the press. In their association with these politicians, journalists also became compromised and learnt how to live the big life. Then came the era of Big Benz editors who, in tow with their politician publishers, breakfasted in Madrid, lunched in Bonn and dined in Washington DC.
The reporters too, taking a cue from their editors, decided to go to the open market with their news. News became a commodity that could be purchased by highest bidders. There was an instant queue for the news commodity which politicians require to convince their constituents of their performances. You now find a situation where journalists tell brazen lies to romanticize those who pay their pipers and who in turn call the tune. As it is now, news is nothing more than a merchandize and the reporter and his editor the merchants who trade in the nuggets of news. Indeed, journalists, being very smart folks, having learnt the trade bequeathed on them by the politicians, have gone a step higher: We mix this broth with interesting substances like blackmail and untruth. In the process, many of us are richer than our politician counterparts. We are egged on by a daily failing economy which has made our profession a centre of a survival-of-the-fittest-and-elimination-of-the-weakest battle. The welfare of journalists is the least in the list of the bothers of owners. The ultimate loser, it will appear, is the people.
Thus, no matter how low your social status is as an individual, no matter how low your educational standing in society is, once you occupy the top ladder as a media baron, a sudden liaison develops between you and political forces. They court you like a heroin addict courts the needle because the sustenance of their bid to colonize the hearts of the electorate is dependent on the power in your possession – the power of the word.
Some very smart ones among the political forces take a step further by becoming political and media barons. They acquire media power and give it residency in the heart of their political empire. Also, modern rulers have come to discover that the vehicular agency of the media is important to maintain visibility in the eyes of the people.
Many of our publishers and CEOs are acknowledged gangsters and heist lords. Imagine James Onanefe Ibori matching forward in 2007, in his resplendence, as member of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NIPAN)! It is the same among our editors and reporters. Some reporters and editors reek of the tang of common rogues and fraudsters. Yet, these are the ones we have left in their hands the task of moulding opinions that Nigeria relies on to move forward.
Many of those rogues in government see the press man as a worse rogue and carve a fraternity with us under duress. Far many of them open their arms to receive us with cosmetic smiles, aware that we could destroy them with our pen if they don’t. When we leave with our graft bag, they curse us under their breaths and wish they never had anything to do with us. This is why when a Nigerian journalist is hit by joblessness, he seldom finds helper anywhere, even from “His Excellency”, with whom he had dinner yester-night!
Contrary to Osinbajo’s platitude, the media is not totally a good story. In the democratic period from 1999 to the present, it played an ambivalent role. Being a period when the social media has gained more currency, much more than traditional media, the activism of the media could actually be said to have been taken over by the incursion of the social media into the media arena. With an additional family of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many others, what is noticeable is that the activism that used to be the hallmark of the Nigerian newspaper press has been taken over by the social media and citizen journalism. Apart from a few activist roles it played during the unraveling of the legislative frauds of Salisu Buhari, Evan Enwerem and a few others, the Nigerian press could be said to have gone on sabbatical.
Even during the 2011 and 2015 elections, the press just scattered like the proverbial seeds of a walnut. There was hardly any ideological or national agenda that the press of this period could be said to be at the forefront campaigning for. While Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State placed damaging advertorials that could not pass through the test of any editorial or ethical sieve – which were accepted for publication by many Nigerian newspapers – some other newspapers supported the candidature of the two presidential candidates in unabashed ways that violated all the ethics of the media profession.
This is why Osinbajo, Muhammadu Buhari and all who seek the growth of the polity must go beyond mere cavalier statements to actually ensuring a total reorganization of the media. If you look at millions of “journalists” on the social media today, practising their trade of uncensored lies, illicit communication and inflicting ignorance and naivety couched in half-baked language on the rest of the world, you would realize how important the media is to our lives as a people. We need a national media conference to discuss how we got to this sorry island.
Sanusi’s mental test
The Emir of Kano, Lamido Muhammadu Sanusi, was quoted recently to have called for the enactment of a law which will compel Nigerian political and religious leaders, which include lawmakers, governors and traditional rulers, to undertake drug test. He had made this volatile call at the opening of a two-day Senate Roundtable on Drug Abuse Epidemic in Nigeria. It was organised by the Senate in Kano. Sanusi volunteered to undergo the test.
If you take into consideration the kind of lifestyles lived by some so-called leaders, their wonky policies and obsession with filching public money entrusted in their care, one cannot but come to a conclusion that they are worse than our youth who are currently enmeshed in the epidemic of Tramadol, codeine and marijuana consumption. This writer is aware of a Southwest leader who weekly combs universities for scores of young girls who are in turn paraded naked before him as sport while he clutches the neck of expensive cognac. Sanity must be far away from such a leader.
For a person to qualify to be called a leader, he must be far removed from the petty vices that afflict those he leads. This is why this writer agrees with Sanusi in toto.