Once again Nigeria is in the eye of the storm, the whole world is talking about us and as usual, it is for a negative reason. For a number of weeks the world has been stunned and angered at the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno state.
This abduction has further exposed the massive security problem we have in Nigeria. That these numbers of students can be taken from their school in a state under emergency rule is cause for worry. Beyond the security loophole that this abduction has revealed, we have also seen a failing of leadership, even though this failure is not peculiar to this abduction. The government showed poor leadership in the first couple of days of the abduction by playing the ostrich and only reacted when #BringBackOurGirls went international. It took the Nigerian government almost three weeks to make any kind of comment about the abducted girls. Granted that the government might have been working behind the scenes to free the girls, but it seems grossly irresponsible to keep quiet on such a subject. Also, the Nigerian media has performed below par in it’s covering of the abduction in Borno.
The Chibok abduction has revealed that the Nigerian media is either not prepared or unwilling to provide quality, up-to-date information to the Nigerian public. The media, some would argue has been as confused as the government in the handling of this matter. Nigerians have had to rely primarily on international news outlets for ongoing information on the abduction of the girls.
I’m going to attempt in this piece to share some perspectives on why the media in Nigeria seems to be a non-starter as far of the Chibok abductions are concerned. A substantial part of my missive will focus on what has caused the Nigerian media to seem docile and also touch on some of what we need to do to improve the quality of the work we put out.
Let me emphasize that to a great extent my use of media in this article refers to the broadcast media, radio and television.
Many Nigerians, particularly on social media and on many radio talk shows, have vilified the media for failing to take the lead in the coverage of the Chibok abduction and have allowed international news companies such as CNN, BBC, and Aljazeera to take the shine off them. This is sad, but painfully true.
Why aren’t we taking the lead in reporting this abduction as well as carrying out investigative reports that could help unravel not just the location of these girls, but also the identity of their abductors? Like many knotty issues in Nigeria, the answer is embedded in the question.
First of all, many of us fear for our life. A journalist’s life, some would say life in general, in Nigeria isn't worth anything. Think Dele Giwa (Newswatch), Bagauda Kaltho (The News), Enenche Akogwu (Channels Television) to mention but a few. For all of these journalists, nothing has been done to bring their killers to books, no one has been prosecuted, no commission of enquiry has been set up, not even a committee has been constituted and we love committees in Nigeria. And you think more journalists will want to experience the same fate? If we want our journalists to go to the farthest end of the earth to unearth ground breaking stories, we must also ensure they are protected from any kinds of hazards and molestation, by ‘we’ I mean the state and their employers.
It seems odd that the Nigerian leadership will rather talk to some crappy second-rate foreign media company, instead of spending a couple minutes with a local media outlet and when they do, it is at news conferences where select journalists only are invited. For example the Information Minister, Labaran Maku has spoken to Isha Sesay twice in the last couple of days, as a matter of fact virtually everyone has queued up to talk to her. But how many times has he or anyone in this government spoken particularly to any Nigerian journalist on the Chibok abduction? But sadly, should we expect otherwise? Virtually all journalists expect or even demand gratification before doing what are their professional duties. It’s impossible to expect respect and recognition when many of us are on the payroll of these same people we seek to scrutinize and we go about it in the most shameless manner. A report on Al Jazeera’s Listening Post referred to what is practiced in Nigeria as “cheque book journalism”.
So what has happened to being on the side of the people, on the side of truth? Most of us are on the side of our pockets. Poverty and greed has driven us to a point where we would not touch a story that will not bring us any financial reward, sadly it has become a culture in the industry.
Remuneration is also an industry wide problem. They say, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys as workers”. This saying to a large extent characterizes the Nigerian media landscape. People are not paid for several months, in some cases, years. And in cases where they are paid the amount is barely sufficient to live a dignified life. So what you find is many of us fall into the rat race of daily existence and forget that society needs us to rise to the occasion especially in times of distress to provide clear and insightful reporting.
Then there is the matter of capacity. My experience with NN24 moves me to say that not many Nigerian journalists, particularly in the electronic media, have the capacity to deliver in the way international journalists do. There is a huge hole to fill in terms of technical and professional skills. CNN and the likes did not arrive where they are overnight; it took many years of spending on not just technology, but also on manpower development. Many journalists still can’t type their own stories and we think we can effectively report Boko Haram?
Nigerian media companies need to spend plenty of money on training of their staff. Unfortunately it is not priority for many of them. Keeping the place running for many of them is a struggle, so to push for training might just be shooting off the mark. But if we can constantly train our journalists, the task of proper reporting of events in our country wouldn't be such a herculean one. Aside other constraints, it is important that journalists continually up their skills, especially as the process of news gathering and dissemination continue to change.
All of us giving local media the stick for poor coverage of the Chibok abduction have to realize that it’s easier for foreign journalists to come here and cover these kinds of events. For one their companies invest a great deal of amount to provide security for them when they go to dangerous territories, it is standard procedure, the same can’t be said for local media. Also the host government would go the extra mile to ensure they have easy passage, the last thing you want is to suffer an international PR disaster. So foreign journalists are well protected and as such enjoy the latitude to get the job done a lot more than their Nigerian counterpart. Also because their reach is international they get plenty of cooperation from government officials who ordinarily would have stonewalled local journalists.
On the flip side, isn't it funny that many of these international media companies either work with local journalists or use local journalists to get many of these stories? A friend of mine traveled the length and breadth of Nigeria as a stringer for an international news agency, he wasn't supervised by anyone, yet he did a great job for them and went to many very dangerous places. My belief is that the money he was being paid motivated him. Beyond the financial benefits however, we must start to insist on collaborating with these international media companies and not be content with just being in the background. Media managers have to start looking at synergies that can help them improve their capacity as well. One of the things that we benefitted as a CNN affiliate at NN24 was we had some level of collaboration with CNN which enabled a number of staff to take part in a fellowship at their Atlanta headquarters. We also sent them videos of news from Nigeria from time to time. These kinds of exposure would in a great deal improve the perspective of such journalists.
Newsgathering and dissemination is expensive and is expected to be a form of social service, so who pays for it? For us to be able to do what many of these international news companies are doing, someone has to fork out the cash, usually it’s the owner, but for how long can one individual continue to do that? The story of NN24 is a clear illustration that you need plenty of money and a lot of time before your investment comes full circle in the news business. Even Al Jazeera had to be given a loan of $137 million dollars by the Emir of Qatar during its first 5 years of operations and they didn’t start making money immediately. News and the technology used in putting it together is not cheap. While we might want to argue that media companies in Nigeria are making money, it only seems that way because we have developed our peculiar Nigerian way of getting by.
Sometime last year Liberty FM in Kaduna was fined N2 million by the NBC for a phone call that was aired where a caller criticized Labaran Maku’s Good Governance Tour and because they didn’t give the minister right of reply. In a country where your regulator has all the power to punish you without question, you have to be careful about what you report…remember the SSS swooping on Channels Television and arresting staff a couple of years ago for carrying a story about the late Yar’Adua and the suspension of the operating license of AIT for showing the site of a plane crash. So censorship or regulation if you like, is another reason why Nigerian journalists seem to take a measured approached to these matters.
In closing many of us would like to do more and be a shining light for our profession and I’m optimistic that we’ll soon see a massive turnaround. A few Nigerian stations are beginning to fill the void, the likes of TVC News and Channels Television seem to be making a positive attempt, they can and should do more though; I hear Bloomberg TV will soon start operations in Nigeria and many more might come as Nigeria continues to grab the attention of the world. Nigerian media is not the toast of the world yet, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get it right and soon too, but there’s plenty of work to be done.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters