If there is any institution that really knows how bad the Nigerian situation is, it is our national press. It is close enough to the hallways and byways of power and privilege to know what is going on. The question is whether it is doing enough for our country.
I think that as a whole, the press is holding back, and failing to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to press the panic button. Our institutions and structures and processes continue to deteriorate, but the press is not screaming. If it is, it is not screaming loud enough for the nation to hear.
I assume, of course, that we agree that the high levels of corruption in our country, and the ancillary official recourse to mediocrity and double-talk, are pushing Nigeria underground. They not only consume the resources we need to move forward, they frustrate those with the ingenuity and desire to provide solutions. It is dangerous when the press endorses this as an acceptable state.
The press ought to scream until the authorities have no option but to respond. And the press ought to continue screaming until a satisfactory response is made. In Nigeria, the press has lost this edge. Some of the media even sound like government officials.
The most important function of the media is to report. As I have observed in the past, however, our media often places emphasis on opinion-writing; reporting is often left to staff who have little idea what they are supposed to be doing. And from the quality of the stories being published by some outlets, their editors are of no better quality.
The conundrum is that unless a story is professionally and thoroughly investigated written, any opinion column upon which it is based is simply a potential menace to the entire society.
If Nigeria is to move forward, the press can lead the way by going back to basic reporting. The problem is how many journalists and publishers this could be a dilemma for. A compromised editor or publisher is unlikely to embark on a policy that brings in stories that are unfavourable to those to whom he has sold his soul. Similarly, they would also steer clear of such uncomfortable stories that are being published elsewhere.
Let me offer an example. In the continuing saga of powerful Nigerians allegedly converting their offices into private estates, the following have been accused in recent times of various ethical violations: Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa, Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro, Central Bank Governor Chukwuma Soludo, and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission chairperson Farida Waziri.
The allegations against them include living beyond their means: owning of huge mansions and businesses and cars. At least one of them is reported to have accepted vast sums of cash, and ought to have been on the other side of the jail door a long time ago.
These allegations might very well be untrue. These officials are probably suing the publications in which the stories appeared.
If so, I have missed all the denials and reports of lawsuits.
But I have yet to read, anywhere, of a principled evaluation of the position of these officials by the media on account of these allegations. Let me explain: in the absence of any spirited denials and lawsuits against their accusers, do any of these top officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria really have any credibility with which to speak for their offices let alone the nation?
I think not. But the press continues to treat them with reverence. Journalists do not ask them about these issues. Take Leadership, for instance, a newspaper I have praised in this column. Recently, the newspaper hosted Farida Waziri. With allegations of incompetence and corruption mounting against this woman, Leadership treated her to a public relations visit to its premises in Abuja that brings to question its credibility as a critical and discerning newspaper. Not one question was asked of Mrs. Waziri about the allegations against her.
And is it really possible for a self-respecting Nigerian journalist, without any reference to Mr. Aondoakaa’s credibility deficit, to report him with a straight face? Would such a journalist publish a story emanating from the foreign press should they ask of him such a question, or would that be seen as targeting Nigeria?
And it is interesting that Mr. Okiro claims to be working for a reformed, more productive police force. But the allegations he has refused to answer say that he has enriched himself stupendously. Some of them cite his businesses and homes, including an Abuja shopping mall. Where does Okiro obtain the credibility to fight corruption in the force without discharging these allegations?
And how does the media avoid the impression that it is giving these and similar people throughout the nation a free pass for some reason?
In my view, unless journalists, particularly those in the private media, intend to be a part of the problem, an immediate change of attitude is necessary. Nigeria must be reported truthfully, fully unconditionally, and with a sense of history. It is amazing how often some important stories are abandoned without a follow-up, permitting the impression that someone was bought off the story, or that that the original story had only been published in error in the first place.
I would like to see the press restructure newsrooms to reflect the challenges to making Nigeria work. It used to make sense to have an “Economy & Business” desk, for instance, but it is more realistic today to have such desks as NEEDS; 7-point plan; Power; Oil; Finance & Banking; Small Business, etc. Crime Reporters are always a good idea, but in Nigeria today, so would Corruption Reporters, Implementation Reporters (to report budgets and pronouncements and projects from the back end), and Electoral Commission Reporters (to report elections as an institution and a process, not an event).
On elections, the Nigerian media could do a lot to steer us away from the traumatic mess we see every four years by engaging in spirited voter education, instead of hanging around like a spectator.
The Nigerian media would also be of great help if it showed greater literacy, using numbers, figures and statistics to illustrate stories, particularly economic stories.� These often unveil pictures that words may not It was a number, for instance, that forced Olusegun Obasanjo a few years ago to try to get the civil service to give him a definition of poverty that he could live with.
I also invite the Nigeria media not only to pay closer attention to technology, but to use it as well.Technology now opens many doors that we did not even know a short while ago, and it is responsible for some of the stories that Nigerians often learn about far too late. Still, even when those stories are available on the Internet, at least for examination, vast sections of the press in Nigeria conveniently ignores them.
Today’s press must remind itself—or be reminded—that the day will come when it will be reported: By History.
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