This, no doubt, is a very bad season for former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode. A man who made sport of piercing asunder the ranks of people he perceived were societal malefactors, with the weaponry of his tongue and pen, is being torn into shreds over the perceived infelicity of his rebuke of a journalist. Since that last week back-of-the-tongue harangue of the Daily Trust newspaper reporter at a press conference, Fani-Kayode has gone from the sober to the contrite and literally collapsed on all fours to ask society for forgiveness. I think, not being saints ourselves, we should oblige this son of old Western Nigeria’s Opposition Leader and Deputy Premier, Fani.
The Fani-Kayode/Daily Trust journalist spat has, however, brought to the fore so many ills plaguing the Nigerian press. One is the hypocrisy of Nigeria and Nigerians towards the press. If the question must be asked, if Nigerians were this in love with the Nigerian press, why did they stand akimbo and allow it to become an irredeemable object of ridicule that it has become over the years? Right now, not only is journalism practice going extinct in Nigeria, it has lost every modicum of respect, value and even place of pride.
The Nigerian press, as media scholars always remind us, predated Nigeria in existence. Each of the significant epochs of Nigeria, the press performed strategic roles. From the press contributing immensely to nationalism and independence, to its negative role in the collapse of the First Republic, rout of the military, collapse of the Second Republic, avant-garde role of purifying Nigeria at the advent of the Fourth Republic (it instigated the resignation of Salisu Buhari, Evan Enwerem, broke the certificate scandal of Bola Tinubu, etc) and down to its lukewarm role today, you cannot underrate the Nigerian press. But Nigeria, for over a century of its existence, was not strictly bothered about how the Nigerian press had been kissing the canvass over the years.
Unfortunately, the press, which has now transmuted into the media, having broadcast and allied concerns affixed to it, had always been home to the flotsam and jetsam, apology to Awolowo. This was perhaps why the first Western Nigerian Premier didn’t practice journalism further after his stint with the Daily Times as a reporter but chose to go to England to become a lawyer. With a combination of economic collapse, collapse of values and the advent of the social media, the Nigerian pressman is today worth less than the one kobo pen he writes with. Now equipped with the combine of a far greater education than his progenitors and armed with sophisticated equipment of a modern world, he is merely seen as a scavenger who scrounges a living from the dustbin of the privileged.
The truth is, nobody respects the Nigerian journalist. They merely condone him. Politicians, in and out of government, see him as a necessary evil and give the pressman cautious and pretentious embrace. They were probably happy when the social media broke journalism’s essence, flinging its doors wide open to all manner of funny character entrants who do not understand its ancient rules and principles. With a parlous global economy that shrinks its worth and hunger battering the navels of its practitioners, the conquest of the press by its adversaries comes full throttle.
This probably was what was going on atop Fani-Kayode’s mind as he harangued that hapless reporter. How dared he ask such critical question when, after that conference, the pressman would collect his entitlement of a brown envelope? How dared he ask for the source of the conference’s funding when the giver and the givee (apology to lawyers!) were both scavengers rummaging the debris for survival? While would he pretend to a holier-than-thou image when the press is a market where news is sold for half a farthing?
The truth is that – though very sad and saddening – the Nigerian press of today has since left that terminus where we expected it to uphold the sanctity of integrity, good conscience and be the watchdog of society. Today’s journalists uphold the sanctity of their stomachs and are watchdogs against their individual privations. The Press Centre is the graveyard of journalists who fought for principles, rather than their stomachs, but are literally beggars today. And the Nigerian society is the instigator of this collapse. If you loved the press this much and believed it had a yeoman’s role to perform in the advancement of society, how come you stood unperturbed while things went this awry with the press?
Many of those you call journalists today are merely in the trade to keep body and soul together. They themselves are not journalists in the real sense of professionals committed to a cause. Indeed, many of their press companies merely give them Identity Cards to operate as stringers because they are not staff in the real sense of it. Very few, if any, of them are ever taken through refresher courses or taught rudiments of the profession. To worsen it, their employers owe them several months of salaries and allowances. Nigerians know all these but never demanded surgical operation of a press that had stood by Nigeria for over a century now. When the Fani-Kayodes now spit phlegm on the journalist and vicariously, the Nigerian press, society lapses into intermitted sobs as it cries foul. Isn’t that hypocrisy?
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