By Tonnie Iredia
In times of crisis, all groups in society are encouraged to come up with what they understand to be the contentious issues at stake. The expectation is that an aggregation of all suchtouchy issues raised by different groups might help to set an agenda for dialogue which is always the best strategy for conflict resolution. Here, there is wisdom in recognizing that by virtue of the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria, our crisis cannot but have several dimensions with each group framing the crisis from a particular prism.
But then, not much is achievable when some opinion moulders (quite often self-appointed) subject other people’s articulation to a self-servingdebate. For example, if the Southern Governors see open grazing as their region’s most acute problem, the best any patriot can do is to suggest what can solve that problem. To quarrel with the region’s perspective can only exacerbate crisis. It is even more fruitless when the narrative is reduced to finding fault with the method a group used to present what aches her. Whether through a letter to the President or a communique or even a peaceful protest; let each one bring her perspective to the general table with an open mind to resolve our common problem which has been on the increase in the recent past.
Why have outspoken people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo stopped talking about our challenges? Could it be that they have been deterred by those who always leave the message to attack the messenger? Indeed, some Nigerians have become experts in pointing out the contributions of critics to the problem being criticised. This observation appears to represent the comment of the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan that Governors who are always pointing accusing fingers at the federal government should practice what they preach.
In fact, from where did governors who have refused to carry out devolution of powers with local governments develop the moral courage to demand the same devolution of powers from the federal government? Can governors who have refused to obey the constitutional provision of financial autonomy for the judiciary be seen to be demanding more autonomy like state police from federal authorities? Objective answers to these questions would easily show that Senator Lawan’s criticism enjoys ample logic. Interestingly, that’s where it ends, because to use such arguments to indict our governors may not exculpate the federal government from a more immediate if not greater blame.
Ordinary Nigerians must first be saved from bandits and kidnappers before they can comprehend the struggle for power among politicians. While governors should not be allowed to emasculate the local government and the judiciary, such logic will be of no value to those killed through banditry and kidnapping. What this suggests is that to raise what the governors have themselves not done well to validate any lapses at the federal level benefits no one. Our politicians must therefore learn to avoid this narrative which makes two wrongs to become right. How to stop this tendency of defending the indefensible which is also not in anyone’s interest is one major problem that is begging for attention in our clime. If it is well handled, the most intractable problems would be illuminated.
The sector of our society that can best underscore this existential threat and place it in the front burner of public discourse is the media – a virile societal organ that may soon become feeble if society continues to quietly intimidate her. A few days ago, the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) rose against the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for its new posture of acting not as a regulator but as a ‘strangulator’ of the broadcast media especially those that have for some time now become the only voice of the voiceless. The latest bone of contention is an interview granted by Channels Television to an official of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) which the NBC found inciting.
In fairness to the NBC, it surprisingly for once, followed some praiseworthy steps of drawing attention to the infraction and giving the station a chance to defend herself instead of its usual procedure of instant verdict and punishment. This column which had been in the forefront of criticising the NBC was at the verge of applauding the regulator for reverting tothe old practice of natural justice when we heard that Channels TV was still asked to pay a fine of N5million for the said infraction. This huge sentence was reportedly arrived at after the station pleaded that what transpired was an unintended consequence of programming.
It is hard to believe that the punitive outcome was the handiwork of the NBC which is itself made up of broadcasters that are capable of dissecting the mental elements of a presenter’s intention to commit crime. Channels TV has no doubt become a well-known credible medium just as the philosophy, objective and format of the offensive slot – ‘Politics Today’ leaves minimum room for mischief. The impression one gets is that the NBC now has some inexplicable thought process that compels her to inflict capital punishment on innocent mistake.
It is a dangerous posture which seems to suggest that anti-government forces must never get any coverage whatsoever. The danger in that posture is that if the medium in the future gets content from such proscribed source that can help people escape from disaster, her first impulse would be self-preservation that would make her follow the subsisting inflexible broadcast regulatory provisions to the detriment of society.
In addition, to demobilize the conventional media in today’s world of technology is a wasted effort because what the effort seeks to hide would not only be on every digital platform of the social media, it would also be instantly distributed and repeated severally beyond official contemplation. On the other hand, the public organs of mass communication cannot do much for government because they are too subjected to maximum official control to have initiative or be creative.
Instead, they have become so incredible that some people no longer watch or listen to them while others that still patronize them are constantly propelled to doubt their contents. The greater danger is that when government now has an important public message, it would be hard to find anyone to communicate it to which is a major blow to public enlightenment.
Besides, when the media is so weakened that it cannot generate real news except propaganda and common-place press releases, the task of holding government accountable to the people which Section 22 of our constitution assigned to the media becomes superfluous thereby leaving impunity and undemocratic practices unchecked. And for a long time to come, no opposition party will win election as no medium will have the courage to disagree or report any event not sanctioned by the ruling party.
The way forward is for the Nigerian media to be encouraged to objectively criticise any public policy including the refusal to allow local government autonomy as well as financial autonomy for the judiciary. It must also not be dissuaded from publicising the failure to guarantee the security of lives and property in the country. On the part of the broadcast media in particular, one can only hope that it can resurrect the right vision to serve as the nation’s gatekeeper especially as its administrative regulator is empowered to place every infraction in a special class of cases which require no proof of evidence