When Editors Gathered In Port Harcourt

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Among media workers, editors are the most busiest. Aside their normal duty of ensuring that media contents are thoroughly scrutinised and packaged, they are also involved in the day-to day running of their organisations.

But last week, they took an official three days off not only to unwind but to take stock of their activities. The venue was Port Harcourt and the topic was “Oil, Gas and the Post -Amnesty issues”.

It is not strange that a lot of them had in their newsrooms edited stories and issues from the Niger-Delta without having a first hand information about the region.

Fortunately, the conference afforded them an opportunity to have first hand information of the so-call hot bed of the nation.

This is not the first time the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) conference has been held in Port Harcourt, according to its President, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, who is also the Deputy Managing Director of the Vanguard Group of newspapers.

His question set the tone of the conference, when he asked, “why would the Guild choose Oil and Gas, Post-Amnesty and the Nigerian Editor.”

Mr. Adefaye explained that  this year’s theme was put together in order to school the media executives on the operations in the oil and gas industry considering the huge revenue it rakes into the national purse.

According to the NGE president, Oil contributes more than 90 per ent of our foreign exchange earnings. It brings more than 50 per cent of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)”

Despite these huge economic contribution, Adefaye lamented that oil and gas has brought hardship and violence to  the nation.

Safe for the amnesty declared by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, he observed that the region and indeed the nation would have now been thrown into political and economic crisis.

It was in the light of this he said the editors had chosen Port Harcourt as their venue for discussing. In his view, the conference is an agenda refocusing one, considering the upcoming 2011 elections.

With the elections just around the corner, the NGE boss challenged editors and journalists, “to put public policies on the agenda even as the politicians play their game.”

In her remarks to declare the forum open, Minister of Information and Communications, Prof Dora Akunyili said aside from the stocktaking activity, editors should also join in the crusade to rebrand the country.

Prof Akunyili frowned at a situation where editors only publish negative stories about the country. She said such action not only dampen the image of the country but stifles the patriotic zeal which editors of the old were known for.

She declared, “ there are many good things in these country which I don’t  see reflected in the copies which the journalists mills churn out day-in-day out”.

The former NAFDAC boss was of the view that journalists and editors most especially  can spearhead   the crusade to rebrand Nigeria through agenda setting, canvassing of positive values and a celebration of developments in society which have ennobling potentials.

However, governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi lamented the sorry state of the region despite its huge oil and gas reserves.

Governor Amaechi, who described the people of  Niger Delta as “oppressed and depressed”, tasked the editors to use their medium to canvass for change.

He remarked, “you have the sacred duty to communicating to every stakeholders of this nation that there is something diabolically unjust about the state supervised economic oppression of a region that contributes 80 per cent of government revenues.

The Rivers State governor said, editors are the conscience of the nation. He stated that because of their role of improve society through effective communication they have a very important duty to transform the country.

He added, “ Nigeria needs editors who would hold elected servants accountable to the mandate of the people who elected them”.

His view on accountability was re-echoed by visiting President of the World Editors Forum (WEF), Bertrand Pecquerie, who stressed the need for the media to fully assert itself as the fourth estate of the realm.

By holding those in authority accountably, Mr Pecquerie averred that good governance would be enthroned.

Most of the papers presented at the conference was aimed at mirroring the oil and gas industry how to upgrade the knowledge of the editor in understanding the intricacies in the sector.

After brief comments by the chairman of the occasion, Rtd Major-Gen I.B.M Haruna, who was also former federal commissioner for Information during Murtala-Obasanjo regime, executive secretary of local content development  commission, Mr. Ernest Nwapa.

Mr. Nwapa informed the editors that the country was making progress with its local content polices. For instance, he explained that with the management of the commission in 2004, the agency  became independent since it was  formerly driven by the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC).

He disclosed that the federal  government was evolving Nigeria Content Development Fund so as to fully tap the resources accruable from the sector. The fund, he stated would tax one per cent of every contract under the sector

So far, he said about 150,000 have been created in the sector, but lamented that these kobs are mostly dominated by foreigners.

The Nigerians Local Content Development Commission Secretary remarked that while the post-amnesty was still on-going the federal government was tinkering with the idea of creating more industries and employment in the sector.

More issues and grey areas cropped up after President of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee presented his paper titled, “ oil exploration and the environment.”

Mr. Mitee’s paper took snipe at the various federal government polices, which according to him have deprived the people of the Niger Delta their God-given resources.

With their environment and ecosystem plundered, the MOSOP president noted that the time has come  for the federal authorities to fully address the plight of the people in the region. He was of the view that the issues go beyond  the post-amnesty programme.

On the second day, the editors were treated with more eye popping sleaze from the sector. Prof Asisi Asobie of the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) said behind the huge profits and revenue witnessed in the sector, the sector is mired in deep corruption. For instance, he said most of the oil firms do not given accurate statistics of the country’s oil production.

By shielding certain information from the Nigerian public, he explained that the country’s resources are stolen brazenny, as most of the foreign oil firms evade tax and royalties due to their communities.

He said activities of the oil/gas sectors need to be reported deeply and creatively due to lack of transparency and accountability by the industry players. 

Prof Asobie disclosed that so far, the body has recovered 500 million dollars as under payment from oil firms royalties to the states.

Also he said that even the NNPC was equally involved following investigations. He asserted that the study conducted by the body reveal that the corporations account was in the deficit of N655billion.

The university don argued that the huge task of transforming the sector lies in the hands of the  mass media, civil society  groups an the communities, who according to him should demand accountability and transparency from the sector players.

One way to ensure accountability in the oil sector according to Mr Stanley Ebochukwu was in adequate reportage and coverage.

As a business beat, Ebochuku said the sector should be given a deeper and incisive coverage”, it is a good development for most news medium taking interest in covering the sector”, he added.

He was of the view that oil/gas sector was not only economically viable for the newspapers but for any mass media which takes special interest in its reportage.

However, when the issue of preventing further violence and resurgence that beset the sector came up, former NDDC managing Director, Timi Alaibe said measures are being put in place to prevent instability that rocked oil /gas production last year.

Alaibe said the kidnapping of foreign nationals who dominate the sector has equally reduced following amnesty declared by the federal government last year.

Currently now, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Matters said the comatose post-amnesty exercise was being revived. “ We are at the stage of demobilising (camping) and rehabilitating the militants”.

He stated that when this was finally achieved, the militants would be re-integrated into the society. Nevertheless, he insisted that the long term solution was to provide infrastructure and the upgradement of the human resources of oil bearing communities.

“By emasculating the minority groups and if the economic oppression persist, then militancy would not be eradicated”, he warned.

Governor’s of Delta and Kano states, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, Ibrahim, Shekarau and the Deputy Governor of Lagos who represented Governor Babtunde Fashola, all stressed the need for good governance as  pathway to peace and development in the country.

Shekarau declared, “ unless we return back to attitudinal change and patriotism, then we can’t have peace and development in the country”.

As the two day conference drew to a close , one thing according to WEF President, Mr. Pecquerie was missing: “ The editors didn’t thoroughly discuss core professional issues. The number of governor were too much.

On the other hand, he observed, “ Perhaps they know why they invited them and I am also happy that the editors have formed such a forum. I think it is a beginning for professional development.