By Tonnie Iredia
Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigerian political leaders have been occupied with the manipulation of both the people and the system. The result is that the nation is now practicing convoluted democracy in which political dissent is criminalized.
This is more obvious at state level where a governor is more or less an emperor. First, he struggles to populate the House of Assembly with hitherto unemployed citizens that are occasionally well serviced materially. This helps him to get all his bills, especially the annual budget passed, even before they are read. With ample funds at his disposal, a governor can do and undo and no one dares disagree with the emperor, not even his deputy that he can dispose off in a jiffy.
All he needs to do is to arrange for some packages to be shared among the state legislators who would cut short their vacation to carry out the impeachment of the “erring” deputy governor. Under the circumstance, it is getting more and more difficult to make government accountable to the people; yet that is exactly what Section 22 of our constitution mandates the media to accomplish.
The premise of this article is that Nigeria’s democracy is convoluted because the ideal role of the media in a democracy has been abandoned over the years. This can be reversed if those in the media can introspect and recall that in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence, no other group played a more crucial role than the media. The great leaders of the nationalist movements and other political activists recognized the immense power of the media and relied on it to oust colonialism.
As Alade Odunewu, the incisive newspaper columnist more known as “Allah Dey” did confirm, the Nigerian media of the time “wrote powerful editorials and seditious articles that caused the colonialists sleepless nights” until Nigeria became an independent nation in 1960. Thereafter, they fought the indigenous government which emerged after colonial rule because of the slow pace of the country’s development. Soon after, they began to fight the military for trampling on the freedom of the people. They also fought and have continued to fight leaders of democratic governments for their insincerity, level of corruption and weak leadership
Against this backdrop why are we still unable to put a halt to reckless conversion of state resources leading to impunity and godfatherism? While some say it is because every media organ is more interested these days in generating and would not want to offend people in authority that they rely upon for survival, others insist that the government media cannot afford to attack government.
There is also the issue of our current harsh economic weather that tends to further oil the proverbial brown envelope which silences those who get it. Some analysts also attribute the problem to the almighty power of government; “you cannot fight government” is probably the best way to put this. We submit that these defences are unsatisfactory. Of course, no one expects journalists to engage government in crude and physical combats; rather what is required is the fight of intellect and professionalism.
First, it is the duty of the media to set the public agenda. Our journalists should not just amplify what politicians say; instead they should also play the devil’s advocate and put the leaders on the defensive. Through that so much can be extracted from leaders who by convention always seek to hide information. This is an area where this writer made some mark.
As early as 1975, as a young reporter at the NTA Benin I incurred the wrath of a military governor who threatened to detain me for asking a ‘stupid’ question. It was the first news conference organized by the governor who had replaced a previous governor after a military coup. The new governor had revealed at great length how corrupt his predecessor was. During question time, the governor was full of laughter as he made more exposures while answering some questions until it was my turn to speak. I reminded the governor that he spent 90% of his speech on the failures of his predecessor which to me justified the removal of the former governor.
My question then was when shall we hear what he intends to do during his own tenure as all he did that day was to nail his predecessor? Big pity, the threat to detain me did not answer the question as the governor had no prepared plan to speak to.
What this teaches is that Nigeria will be better off if persons wishing to become governors are made to educate the people on their own programmes instead of reeling out the so called ills of the past which they themselves are likely to commit from the date of swearing-in. We make this point because anyone who has studied Nigerian politics should know that our major political parties are the same and that the only difference between a politician in jail and the one in office is luck. For example during the Presidential elections of 2015, the ruling PDP showed ample desperation as it engaged media houses to defame the candidates of the opposition.
This time in Edo, it is the ruling APC that is doing same which confirms that when the roles are reversed, our political parties have the same agenda. For this reason, the media should avoid amplifying hate speeches and accusations; what we need is public enlightenment that can position the people to make informed political decisions.
.In states like Edo and Ondo where elections are by the corner, this is not the time for disco political rallies featuring rented crowds. To continue to do that suggests that when elected the politicians will waste our resources on socials because that was all they conveyed when they came soliciting for votes. In fact, the media should at this point begin to investigate all political gimmicks like rented crowds in a rally. Most importantly, the media should query the use of state resources by incumbents which offends the principle of the politics of equality just as it denies the people the opportunity to know