By Muhammad Ajah
“We have no other country than Nigeria, and what we make of it is what we get”, President Muhammadu Buhari.
Penultimate week, I attended two events organized by two different media groups. Discussions in the events centered on the push for good governance in Nigeria and the role of the media in the 2019 general elections. I listened to speakers, most of who were in line with my thoughts. The media have duties towards the 2019 elections; their attention and focus are on the incumbent President who has already declared for a second term and other contenders who are gradually sprouting out; and the hope is for a peaceful democratic transition. Generally, the electioneering procedures, including the electoral awareness are taking over the media. Still, many other media organizations are meeting or reorganizing or expanding to meet up with the task ahead 2019.
It is clear that some media organizations in Nigeria have already taken positions on the position of President Muhammadu Buhari’s bid to continue beyond 2019. Assuredly, some are working under the influence of politicians some of who are key stakeholders in some news outfits. With that in mind, it is believed that one who pays the piper dictates the tune. So, those media outfits can hardly report balanced news as it concerns 2019 political dispensation. Yet, it is believable that some Nigerian media are attached to the professional ethics and culture that guide journalism worldwide. As at today, it is clearer that the media are divided into three towards the Buhari’s 2019 bid.
One is dastardly against it but basically propelled by the political differences between the owners and the Buhar-led government. This group reports every Buhari’s action in the negative. Despite criticism is part of life, I cannot believe that any man is a complete saint or evil. The second is in total marriage with Buhari and reports every of his actions in the positive. The third, a very scanty number of the Nigerian media, has maintained professionalism by reporting Buhari’s actions as they are with constructive criticism and continuous counseling for national interest and well-being.
Some of the media, perpetually maintaining the positions of their politician-proprietors, are not comfortable with Buhari on the grounds of Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade which targets the looters of the nation’s treasury. Their stand against Buhari’s continuity beyond 2019 is propounded by their belief that Buhari is not only blocking all the means of fiscal impropriety but also bringing all those who stole Nigeria’s wealth – monies and properties as well as honour – gradually to book. So, the preference of individualist over national interests is the fulcrum of the media war – the campaign of calumny – against Buhari. Besides, some of them are “fantastically” attached to sensationalism as they believe that only sensational headlines attract patronage from their readers. And still, some claim Buhari is stingy with the media or that the media has no freedom.
All these above question the trend of journalism in Nigeria. Recently at the 20th anniversary celebration of Daily Trust, media practitioners were divided over whether journalism should be profit-driven or public-centered. Seasoned media panelists like Chief Ajibola Ogunsola, Frank Aigbogun, Dapo Olorunyomi and Senator Chris Anyanwu, amongst others, had distinct stands on media profession in Nigeria. They were, however, unanimous that the profession must redefine its mission in Nigeria and identify its priority for either public good or individualist profitability. Especially with the overweighing influence of the social and online media, the uncondusive media environment where a large number of practitioners are “fixed” and uncared for, the Nigerian media have found it difficult to sever ethical from unethical in the profession.
And they claim lack of freedom. But it is on record that the press has enjoyed its freedom in the Buhari’s three years of leadership, except for insignificant cases involving individual journalists who went extra-sensational in their report of events. Most recently on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, observed every May 3, the President reaffirmed his commitment to the provision of “unfettered environment” for the media to work. He called for fairness, justice and consideration of national interest at all times. Simply, he wants the Nigerian media to be free but professional. “The media can count on us to keep our words, but we also want to be fairly reported”, he averred , adding that the Nigerian media should hold ethics of the noble profession sacrosanct and be wary of those bent on causing disaffection in the country. The President acknowledged a positively critical media as vital to national development and the growth of democracy and warned against a media that gloat in generating unwarranted tension in a plural society like Nigeria. He appealed to those media organizations who involve in negative antics to reflect especially on the history of countries which were thrown into undesirable consequences by irresponsible media.
With particular reference to 2019 general elections, Buhari enjoined Nigeria journalists on accurate reportage of the processes, irrespective of the political differences and associations. “That would be the very essence of World Press Freedom Day”, he proclaimed. Recently in his hometown Daura, where he spoke at the APC’s ward congress, Buhari restated his call that the driving force for seeking public office should be to serve the people and see their lives improved, not for frivolity or personal ambition. His passion to serve and effect real changes in the lives of Nigerians informed his choice to join partisan politics, leading to presidential contests in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. He said his decision to seek a second term in office in 2019 is to serve Nigerians and not for personal gains as his regime is ensuring fairness, justice and equity in all aspects of governance.
This was the vocal point of the Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria (MMPN), an umbrella for all Muslim journalists in Nigeria – the role of the media in 2019. That was also part of points for discussion by the online media outfit, The Defender. President of MMPN, Alhaji AbdurRahman Balogun, observed that Nigeria was on another trial moment since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the February 2019 elections time table. With the announcements, he noted, political activities, from registration of more political parties to party congresses and conventions, rallies, defections, amongst others, have increased. All these, according to him, are coming with the nation’s challenges of recession and corruption which were the products of insecurity, kidnappings, suicide bombings, infrastructure decline and unemployment.
Prof. Taofeeq AbdulAzeez of the Department of English, University of Abuja, in his lecture revealed the lacuna between Nigeria’s brand of democracy and media freedom and professionalism. The don found how difficult it is to control the political heat and engineer the society towards peace during transition due to the high stakes and stiff competition, more especially in consideration of the economic survival and the fear that certain compromises may frustrate the truth and impede justice. He highlighted the roles of media practitioners towards 2019 to include but not limited to the education of the politicians in and out of politics, advocacy for the de-monetization of democracy in Nigeria, mobilization of the people, the demand for the de-militarization of democracy, promotion of national cultural values, sponsorship of capable media practitioners for political assignments and offices, tactical and non-partisan support for politicians’ work integrity and transformation of media associations into pressure groups to demand good governance and assist the masses to make informed choices.
In relation to the 2019 elections, the Muslim media professionals condemned any form of bloodletting in the name of religion and politics, compulsion in religion and unprofessionalism in journalism. They called on Nigerians to ensure success of the Nigerian project by ensuring justice, fairness and mutual understanding. Their communiqué recalled that since independence, the war on corruption and indiscipline has continued but despite the number of anti-graft agencies in Nigeria, the menace still permeates. Looters no longer patronize banks but keep loots unbelievable places. Buhari’s coming in 2015 has rekindled hope in good leadership. Yet, the media has to be the watchdog to guide and inform members of the public correctly, accurately and timely on issues of public interest.
Chairman of the online The Defender, AIG Mu’azu Idris Hadejia (Rtd), decried the alarming rate at which professionalism has been jettisoned by most Nigerian media operators giving rise to hate speeches, dangerous rumour mongering and fake news. The trio, in turn, has given birth to the insecurity in Nigeria with its adverse effects on national integration and economic development. “The media must first and foremost move away from the idea of being in opposition to or in conflict with constituted authority, rather they should station within the context of checks and balances”, he observed.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, represented by the Emir of Keffi, Dr. Shehu Chindo Yamusa III, regretted the unfortunate misrepresentations by most media organizations and urged them to change for the love of Nigeria’ peace and humanity. He sought for accurate, sincere and patriotic reports founded on “untwisted truth” about Nigeria and Nigerians at all times.
In a resolution reached by Catholic Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria (CAMPAN), on May 4, 2018, the group decried the alarming influx of hate speeches and the spread of fake news through the social media and warned against the negative consequences. They pushed for peace and justice in Nigeria.
*Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.