By Muyiwa Adetiba
The Nigerian Press Organisation honoured its own last Friday in an afternoon of tributes to some of its veterans who departed in the past year. It was the first of its kind. Hopefully, it will not be the last of such a thoughtful gesture. Journalism has over the years, played such decisive roles in our many struggles as a nation that those who held the fort and distinguished themselves at different times should be honoured.
If not by the nation, then certainly by those who took over the baton from them. Those honoured last Friday – Ismaila Isa, Waida Maida, Bisi Lawrence, GbolaboOgunsanwo, Sam Ida-Isaiah, Eddie Aderinokun, Ben Egbuna, Tony Momoh and Lateef Jakande – were leading lights of the media industry and so deserved the recognition. The media is my constituency. One I am very proud of and one which has made me who I am today.
I have spent quite a few decades in the profession so it is to be expected that I would have had a personal relationship with many of those who were honoured. One of them actually gave me my first job in journalism. Another took an enduring interest in me over the years and was always there to advice when I was at crossroads. He was also there trying to find financiers for me when I wanted to become a media owner.
Another inspired me a lot with his writings when I was still young in the profession and I was glad I was able to mention it to him when I felt I had come of age. Another, nearer to me in age, I met at the Middle- East News Agency in faraway Egypt in the late seventies. Despite the so called differences in culture and religion, we got on fairly easily and had a memorable time together.
So I had more than enough reasons to want to attend and pay my respects to these departed icons. There was also the curiosity to meet with colleagues I knew would be there – Oba Femi Ogunleye of the Daily Times fame, placed a surprising call to me five days before the event to ask if I would be there. The icing on the cake was the Keynote Speaker, the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.
I have a soft spot for the VP. He is intelligent; he is articulate; and he is humble – an unlikely combination in this clime. More to the point, his speeches are hardly boring; and they are insightful. He is in many ways, a modern leader in an anachronistic setting. It is probably this administration’s loss – and our loss as a nation – that we have not been able to get the best out of him.
His speech did not disappoint. He was as usual, eloquent, disarming and yet masterful. Sitting beside me – as near as social distancing permitted – was Chief OnyeamaUgochukwu, former Editor of Business Times, former Chairman of NDDC and a person I happen to like a lot because of his quiet, yet self-assured mien. More than once, we looked at each other as we nodded in respect and admiration at Osinbajo’s delivery.
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But despite my admiration of the eloquence and delivery, I still felt uncomfortable at some of the statements. I felt they were coming from the wrong quarters. I didn’t doubt Osinbajo’s sincerity. Nothing he said was different from his usual actions or body language. But he represents an administration that leaves much to be desired. The first part of his address was a skilful tribute to the departed professionals. Then he went on to the role of the media in these trying times.
He accepted that ‘power is a public trust and those of us who govern must do so with that understanding and it is your duty as journalists to invigilate us and hold us accountable. I urge you to do so relentlessly, fairly and unapologetically.’ He acknowledged that the advent of citizen journalism has changed the media landscape and urged the mainstream media to join others to achieve a consensus on a responsible social media.
He urged the media to elevate public discourse in such a way that ‘it does not empower and amplify the most insensate, intemperate and incendiary voices in our midst while drowning the voices of reason.’ I agree with many of the admonitions. I also agree that the media must not be overly emotional. There is too much at stake. Where I stumble is when he talked about the commonality of our purpose and ‘the need for the gatekeepers in the fourth estate to demonstrate a greater awareness of the sensibilities and sensitivities of our society’.
Has the government, in which he is the No 2 man demonstrated a greater awareness of the sensibilities and sensitivities of our society? I think not. Because if it did, the lopsided appointments in favour of a certain section of the country would not have happened. The retention of an obviously religious bigot in the Cabinet of a country which professes secularity would not have happened.
The manner in which herdsmen are being treated as sacred cows would not have happened. The insensitive pronouncement of certain leaders in the government over the insecurity of the country would not have happened. The manner his boss, the President dismissed the resolutions of the Southern Governors would not have happened. He claimed erroneously that the governors did not proffer solutions. But his own solution, still to take off, is at best long term.
Will the families of the scores of people who are dying daily or the hundreds who are displaced from their farms and homesteads, or people who are finding it hard to find food, understand that they have to tarry awhile until the peculiar lifestyles of some people are accommodated?
Many Nigerians, including those currently agitating for some sort of pulling apart, also believe like the VP, that the constituents of this nation are stronger together. But not when they are pulling in different directions. It has to be a country that pulls together in unity, justice, equity and collective progress. As it is, it seems to many,that the herdsmen – the bandits in our forests – are being treated with kid gloves and allowed to get away with murder.
So when our Vice-President talks about a greater awareness of the sensibilities and sensitivities of our society, when he talks about the commonality of purpose, when he talks about understanding the struggles of the time and embracing our roles in them, when he talks about elevating those constructive elements in our midst that can promote justice, healing and togetherness, he should first of all look at this government in which he is a major actor and those who issuing statements on its behalf. He should be asking if they are practising what he is preaching.