Let us not get it twisted, there will never be a cosy relationship between state actors and good journalists. And so whenever you see that state actors and journalists are harping on a buzzword, ‘we are partners in progress’, there must have been a compromise against the people.
Journalism isn’t public relations. Journalism exists to scrutinise and question deviations, monitor governance and hold state and non-state actors to account, doubt and probe questionable reputation and integrity. Public relations goal is to manage reputation and control damage done to reputation perhaps through good journalism. This is yet another opportunity to explain this conceptual confusion to most people who do not understand what journalism is all about.
We need to know that state actors all over the world want journalists to do public relations job for them. Journalism seeks to cover what is odd, bizarre and unusual about peoples, places and events. That is also why some scholars have defined the most valuable product journalists sell, ‘the news’ as something, somebody somewhere is trying to hide, the rest is advertising’. And facts, which are the main ingredients of news are regarded as sacred. So, journalists are to cover peoples, events and places.
Journalism is people-centric. So, it is the remit of journalists to cover people, places and events but most people in authority, especially the power and business elites want us to cover up for them at all times. Most state actors and dubious businessmen want journalists to cover them up as if journalists were their reputation managers. Anyone who does this for personal gains should not be regarded as good journalists. This should explain why before the kingdom of God will come to man again, journalists and state actors including those who are even doing well, will never be good friends. Such friendships never last…No reader outside the state houses will subscribe to a newspaper that is full of praises of state actors who are mostly underachievers. Readers and listeners want to read or listen to items about unusual affairs of states such as robust investments in education critical infrastructure that lead to visible and remarkable feats in WAEC/WASCE, JAMB/UTME results.
People want to read about or watch on television extraordinary investments in massive road construction and healthcare facilities that will prevent medical tourism to India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, etc. But our political actors will renovate only four school classrooms and they want the classrooms photo and the commissioning on the front pages and prime time news on radio and television.
What is unusual there? In contrast, who can forget the good thinking and robust investment of a governor Peter Obi in Anambra State? Obi did not only return the seized schools to missionaries who set them up but supported the restoration with good money for sustainable growth. Have the Anambra schools ceased to amaze in results and even post-primary schools’ international competitions? Who has passed through Akwa Ibom state in the last 14 years? When you get to Akwa Ibom from their airport, you begin to see how a government should build even drainage system. From the airport, you begin to see what sustainable goals should be in their classic colours. Good road, good drainage and all through to the city centre and the boundary between the state and Cross River state. Inner-city roads are remarkable from one locality to the other. You will hear from state actors there how a governor Godswill Akpabio followed faithfully the designs of a Governor Victor Bassey Attah and how the current governor despite the tango you read about in the media, has been striving to sustain the extraordinariness of the Atta-Akpabio years. Can you then ignore Ibom Air airline that a former FAAN CEO is running for the state? Does anyone remember that it is one of the most reliable airlines in the country today? Does anyone need to tip journalists to mention this?
Didn’t Aremo Olusegun Osoba, one of the most significant journalists Nigeria has ever produced, and a former governor lead the Nigerian Guild of Editors during their recent convention, to see the unsung investments of the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje through what we can see as unusual urban renewal? The editors saw how political transitions and successions arrangements should be done for development. Governor Ganduje explained how Governor Rabiu Kwankwanso, through Governor Ibrahim Shekarau to his administration transformed the commercial capital of the North. He showcased what he alone has done but he didn’t hide what he inherited. Aremo Osoba and senior editors rode through Kano metropolis in a bus with the Governor without closing down any roads or markets. The editors saw a world- class skills acquisition centre in the works, aimed at stopping youth restiveness and insurgency. The editors also saw just two months ago how the Governor of Kano state has invested heavily in security equipment including world class tracking devices located in the state police command. They saw well equipped hospitals with even modern MRI facilities. It was clear to the editors why bandits and insurgents can’t be comfortable in one of the most populated states in Nigeria. Is anyone following the unusual rebuilding of community homes and schools in Borno state despite the atrocities of the wicked ones in the state? A focused Governor Babagana Zulum doesn’t need to pay any journalists to recognise the quality of his works and engagements. These are unusual issues that you don’t need to make noise about. The people know about them even if you don’t commission them.
We can see the Rivers and Delta State Governors commissioning projects every week in the state. How many states can we see like Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Anambra Delta, Borno and Kano with sustainable growth stories?
Yet most of these underachievers even at the federal level will want journalists to help them blow their trumpets without any extra-ordinariness that attracts journalism.
The federal legislators with strange alacrity for approving foreign loans for even consumption will want journalists to hail their careless gestures. The federal legislators who would not like to approve electronic transmission of results of elections in Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation would want journalists to put them on front pages for their perfidy against the people they represent. Our leaders who keep flying to even African countries for simple medical care, want journalists to write editorials on the front pages about why they can’t equip even the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital and the National Hospital Abuja to prevent our reproachful medical tourism to the United Kingdom and India!
Our leaders who can’t provide security for even our school children want journalists to celebrate their mediocrity. What is more worrisome, our federal legislators from southern Nigeria who were sleeping on duty when the obnoxious PIB was being perfected by their vigilant counterparts from the North would want journalists to venerate them for their ‘handicap’ and compromise? The same crop of wonderful federal legislators from the south who were mischievously absent when their colleagues were voting against electronic transmission of elections result would want journalists to help them blame INEC for not sensitising them enough about their technical readiness? Did they want journalists to transmit their absenteeism and betrayal of trust as I was saying here on PIB last week?
That isn’t what journalism is all about. Good journalism, which still matters is
about unusualness, extra-ordinariness, oddities, even in all aspects of human
affairs. Good journalism isn’t about prominence, oratory and sophistry on
banditry. It is about significance of service delivery and quality of sustainable
goals and deliverables. And here is the thing, no power on earth has defeated or successfully suppressed good journalism. Those who don’t like the constitutional role and powers of journalists as enshrined in sections 22 and 39 of the Nigerian constitution as amended should remember that even the powerful Republican Party, the Grand Old Party (GOP) could not help Richard Nixon when the effects of investigative journalism of Metro and Police Reporters in D.C, then Boob Woodward and Carls Bernstein began to
take its toll on the high office of the then President of the United States. He
had to resign on August 8, 1974. The two ‘Washington Post’ reporters whose
investigation brought down President Nixon have become legends on the
Watergate Scandal they uncovered at the hotel where the GOP set the tone for the fall of a president.
Those who are afraid of press freedom in Abuja should read the story of the robust journalistic legwork that brought down President Joseph Estrada in the Philippines in 2001. The Filipino press laughed last and their weapon was pursuit of public interest as
journalists do in global context. Those who want to dish out obnoxious anti-
media laws because they don’t want free and fair elections in 2023 and they
want to continue to rule and eventually ruin this significant African country,
Nigeria, are advised to study the notion of Freedom of Expression.
That is the only way they can understand that Freedom of the Press provision in most constitutions around the world isn’t the privilege of journalists. The Freedom the media exercises derives from the Freedom Expression power of the people. We can’t be enemies of the same people we interview to express themselves.
Freedom of Expression allows people to tell their stories, help advocate, hold governments to international human rights standards.
From access to information to freedom of assembly: freedom of expression allows active participation in civil society and for that civil engagement to be heard. From petition to boycotts, from public protest to collective organisation for workers’ rights, freedom of expression facilitates action and allows events to be reported on. A robust media – of citizens or news organisations can –act as a public watchdog, bringing important issues into the light. Our leaders in Abuja need to study the construct of Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that, “By sharing knowledge and sparking debate, a free press invigorates and educates the nation’s citizens”. The same Jefferson adds, that “Freedom will be a short-lived possession unless the people are well informed”. They also need to understand what John Adams means when he said, “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of the state.”
The sponsors of the toxic media bills should note what “The Seaford Star” told the US president in 2018 too: That today journalists in Nigeria are standing together in solidarity, as the messengers, the champions of the underdog, the cheerleaders of our youth, the spotlight on evil, the voices of the voiceless and the eyes and ears of our communities. We are not defending our freedom. We are defending the Freedom of the People to express their views in a democracy. We are not the enemy they need to fight.
*Oloja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian newspaper.