Thursday, 23 May 2013
Labaran Maku’s Funeral By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
If you want to kill a politician, make him or her the minister of information.
At this year’s Nigerian Independence Parade in New York City, I listened to Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, as he addressed Nigerians. The drama of his experience at the podium reminded me of that line in William Butler Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming.
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”
Maku was full of passionate intensity that day. But it did not rub off on his audience. At times he was booed for making outrageous claims. It happened when he claimed that electricity supply in Nigeria had improved so much that some places enjoyed 24-hour power. It happened again when he claimed that great trains were running again in Nigeria.
He was talking to a special audience. Gathered there were patriotic and optimistic Nigerians. They were not whiners. They were not Nigerians who hated their country. Many of them were very young, boiling with enthusiasm. In their protected innocence about the Nigerian project, this group was itching to forge ahead and do great things in spite of the challenges. They could take bad news as long as they could sense a genuine focus on the dream.
But Maku was more interested in fooling them. He was ignorant of his audience’s sophistication. He was unaware of his audience’s deep network inside Nigeria and their clear understanding of the ‘situation on the ground.’ He deployed old-fashioned propaganda in an ipod age.
You don’t tell people who stepped out of the New York subway that the second hand trains Nigeria has been picking up from junkyards of the world would amount to the best train system in Africa. You do not tell people who had not experienced power outage once in ten years that some parts of Nigeria now enjoy 24-hour power supply and expect them to clap for you. Certainly not when many of them spent their summer holidays in Nigeria and did not experience such anywhere.
Maku had the best audience he could find anywhere in the world -boys and girls who wore green and white attires, painted their faces the color of the Nigerian flag. And he blew it. And right there, I lost hope in his ability to make it anywhere.
I was, therefore, not surprised that, while hanging out in London with the former British Minister for Africa, Lynda Chalker, Mr. Labaran Maku declared, "The Nigeria media is so negative about the country. They are not interested in believing the progress being made in the country. They are running the country down".
Mr. Maku is a child of the media. He surely knows something about how the press works. He knows that “the only countries where newspapers are full of good news are those countries where the prisons are full of good people.” Maku is just not letting it out. Or maybe not. Maybe he was living a lie all these years that he was a Student Union activist and reporter. Maku, a former editor, knows that editors worship the devil. And politicians do everything in their power to keep the devil around the political arena. It is a symbiotic relationship.
Mr. Maku, in case you have forgotten, this is how the press works -the press reports the news. In a developing country like ours, the bulk of the news comes from the government- in this case, your government. The rest comes from what members of the press see around them.
Here are your typical news story headlines of each week:
Boko Haram bombs this church killing this number of people.
This international organization ranks Nigeria last in this or that development index.
Kidnappers pick up this prominent Nigerian and are demanding tens of millions
An investigative committee unearths billions of naira stolen from this government agency
Nigeria borrows this millions of dollars from China for development
Police officer kills bus driver for refusing to give N20 naira bribe
A pregnant woman dies at the hospital because she couldn’t pay N20,000 deposit
“90% of rape cases is self-inflicted,” says this state Attorney-general
Former government official buys billions of naira home in Abuja
Youth unemployment rises to 75%
Government official flown to Europe for medical treatment
Maku, these are the typical news story of every week in your Nigeria. Which of them makes the media negative? Which of them do you want the media to underreport? Wait, wait, wait, don’t tell me. I know what your answer will be. None. All you want is for the media to balance it up. Publish the good news as well as the bad news.
Ok, lets go through your typical good news of each week.
The eight wonder of the world, the Eko Atlantic Project, is in progress.
JTF has killed another Boko Haram commander
Nigeria’s GDP grows by 7.8%
Bank ABC has declared a profit of hundreds of billions
Another pastor buys a private jet.
Nigeria’s foreign reserve grows
Maku’s job of selling good news is made difficult not by the cynicism of the Nigerian people but by the epic river of corruption swelling around the government he defends. In Nigeria, bad news does not interrupt good news, instead it is good news that interrupts a stream of bad news. People feel the pulse of the nation based on what they see in their family and their corner of the country. It is not based on GDP figure.
To compound Maku’s problems, the mainstream media has lost its control over what people read, view or hear. While Maku’s predecessors could buy up the media, it is hard to bribe millions of citizen reporters who are busy on their cell phones snapping pictures and twitting away. Poor rankings of Nigerian in healthcare, education, life expectancy and infant mortality are not just statistics. There are people behind the figures. And these people now have a means to have their say about what they feel. In a connected world the expectations of these people are increasing. Just the same way President Jonathan was entertained in Ethiopia with beautiful cutleries and he came back and added hundreds of millions to Aso Rock budget for kitchen wares, Nigerians are becoming aware of the standard of life in other parts of the world and they want a piece of it.
In a government full of tragic individuals, Maku is the most tragic of them all. He spent years fighting the establishment. But once he became part of the establishment he finds himself screaming at the top of his voice that there is no establishment anymore.
Maku has the right to use his life-long mastery of the language of compliant to feign ignorance and self-righteousness. He does so while he tortures the truth, sacrifices the wretched and flatters the corrupt. It is falsehood that demands spin. Truth ascends to the surface no matter how many heavyweights fighters are holding it down. Haunted by a dark desire to keep the irony of his existence private, Maku is left to marvel at his unflinching failure to convince.
Maku is already guilty of intellectual dishonesty. He is capable of much more. But not to worry, it is his own funeral.