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Of Press Freedom And Democracy

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Gentlemen of the Forth Estate have of recent become the most endangered specie in Nigeria. Many have been killed and some are now placed on death roll with death threat letters already delivered to them by unknown persons.

A journalist in Bayelsa State, Mr Oyins Egrenbido was bundled into a waiting police van on Sunday, May 16, 2010 by officers of the Nigeria Police. The police was said to have acted on the instruction of a local government chairman over alleged report on the chairman aired on Rhythm FM. Recently a journalist was handcuffed and led out of an Abuja Magistrate Court on the instruction of the magistrate.

The journalist was in the court simply to perform his constitutional duty when the magistrate identified him and said if you are a journalist leave my court. Intimidation of journalists by those in control of top government offices sends a signal that the future of Nigeria media is still unpredictable.

The fact that journalist are poorly remunerated is not an excuse by those in “juicy jobs” to reason that they are stupid. They are rather men and women who have dedicated their life, mind and eloquent pen to ensure that our democracy is not sterilised. In modern society, it is the citizens right to ventilate his views without the fear of fellow men who regard themselves as small gods on earth.

A successful news story requires a journalist, subject matter, sources, audience and if fortunate enough feed back. A positive interplay between the four subjects yields a better story and credibility.

Providing false information to the media will not help fight graft, corruption or abuse of office. Occasionally arrogant public officials in their air conditioned offices will not respect the journalist appearing before them in search of clarity on specific issues of public interest. Since most public officials are physically unavailable or can’t be traced, media resorting to use of telephone in conducting interviews with majority of public officials has been the only solution.

However, due to the fact that most public officials have not taken short courses in public relations or journalism to acclimatise themselves with media, they are always caught off-guard when a journalist reaches them on telephone.

While on telephone, they have no time to consult with hard copy books and probably they aren’t in offices and will make sweeping comments or arrogantly intimidate the journalist on phone. “Who gave you my number? I don’t talk to people like you” they usually say before prematurely terminating the call.

However, in the News Business, no comment is a comment and whenever efforts to contact a source are successful; whatever the source tells the journalist will always be a comment for the story.

Surprisingly enough, when such a source that had earlier made arrogant and disrespectful comments and later reads them in the published story will quickly pick his phone and call the journalist hurling all sorts of insults at him or her forgetting that he had misused his earlier opportunity to comment.

It is unfortunate that many leaders in Nigeria continue to undermine the importance of the media ignoring the fact that the media is the “voice of the voiceless” and that journalists have the right to access information and that freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution. It is important to note that the dissemination of information if executed properly stands out as a key element in good governance and democracy. A flourishing and independent media in any country is a good indicator of good governance and democracy.

Due to denial and suppression of information, many top government officials have managed to put behind their backs a lot of misdeeds. It is therefore important for our leaders to understand that freedom and access to information is a human right enshrined even in the United Nations Charter. In 1964 the United Nations Assembly adopted resolution 59 (1) which states that freedom of information is a fundamental human right and “ …the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nation is consecrated”.

As stated by the United Nations Assembly and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is crystal clear that freedom of expression and access to information is a right that every government and citizen should strive for. The media should, therefore be given opportunity to publish factual stories for the interest of the public.

If all those in authority should do things the right way, then they have nothing to fear let alone news men. Journalists are capable of checking the abuse of press freedom. The press should not be used as a medium for political dog-fights or witch-hunts by some pressure groups, politicians, potential politicians or political aspirants. The press should not indulge in harassment of individuals for their purely private affairs.

Journalists cannot collectively disappoint their audience. They realise that the tools for their trade, WORDS are dangerous. They have thus always heeded to the warning of “Let mortals beware of words for with words we lie”.

As in other modern states, Nigerian journalists should be allowed to fulfill their vital functions of informing the people without hindrance. If the request for the passage of the freedom of information bill is granted and ingrained in the new constitution and charged with utopianism we shall be traveling in the right direction to utopia, or perhaps more realistically to a democracy that works for the people and not just the power brokers. It is only then that we can foster good government and development to make Nigeria one of the twenty most developed nations in the world by the year 20-20.

Both the Senate President, Senator David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole have recently on separate occasions assured the nation that the freedom of information bill before the National Assembly will soon be passed. The two leaders are men that I can read their lips at any given time. Do it now please.

And the on-going request for improved wages for members of the Fourth Estate is quite apt. Thanks to the Hon. Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyuli for speaking in support of the quest.

Sir Ichoku is a retired director of the Rivers State Ministry of Information and Comunciations

 

Anthony Ichoku

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Opinion

Democracy In Nigeria: What Hope For Women?

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Who was not distressed at the news of the assassination of the Kaduna State Labour Party Women leader, Victoria Chintex? The vibrant women leader in Kaura Local Government Area of the state, was reportedly killed on Monday after gunmen invaded her residence in Kaura and shot her. Not even the offer of money by her husband could make the criminals change their minds. Instead, they got the man wounded as well.
How could people be so wicked to waste such a precious life, a beautiful, loving woman whose only “crime” was her participating in politics and identifying with a political party? For how long shall this act of desperate and depraved mind continue in Nigeria? For how long shall women be suppressed, intimidated and murdered for venturing in to politics and participating in the decision making that affects their lives, their children, families and communities?
We have not forgotten how the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) women leader, Salome Abuh, was shot and set ablaze at her residence in the Ofu Local Government Area of Kogi State three years ago. One Ocholi Edicha, had long been convicted to 12 years and six months in prison for culpable homicide by the court.
Many other women in our rural communities who have dared to venture into the “male terrain” of politics especially when they choose to belong to political parties different from the ruling parties in their states, have similar ugly tales to tell. At a political gathering recently, some women narrated how they are daily threatened and cajoled for participating actively in politics and being very vocal about their support of various presidential candidates. One particular woman who said she regularly calls during phone -in political programmes on the radio, said she had received several anonymous phone calls, demanding that she should stop participating in the radio programme and promoting a particular presidential candidate or else her family “will be visited”. Pre/post-election violence still pretty much characterises elections in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the percentage of women in politics in the country is low and there have been efforts to encourage more women to be more active in politics. How can this be achieved when the life-threatening barriers to active and substantive participation of women in the Nigerian political system are not addressed? Elections in the country are most often characterised by violence, thuggery, rigging, acrimony, blackmail and outright disregard for decency which is supposed to be the key element of leadership. Again, there are a lot of obstacles on the ways of women who want to delve into politics in the country – gender-based discrimination, indigeneship, culture and religious restriction, poor financial base, lack of education and a lot more.
The various political parties in the country are not even doing enough to address this challenge. Some political parties still considered women to be suitable only for the post of women leaders. Some place the prices of their nomination and expression of interest forms far beyond the reach of many women as was seen in the recently conducted party primaries. We have also seen situations where some women, despite meeting all the parties’ requirements, were asked to step down for the men, probably because they did not pay as high as the men.
All over the world, there is an increasing number of women who are serving in elected and appointed political positions. Nigeria’s case should not be different. Rwanda always comes to mind when talking of where more female involvement in politics and leadership is paying off. The county’s deliberate effort at balancing power between the genders by enforcing the 50 per cent affirmative action policy has led to the rapid development of the country, peaceful coexistence of the citizens and a more decent society At this point in our national history where the country seems to have lost direction and hopelessness looms everywhere, should not women, known for their expertise in strategic planning, human and situation management, be encouraged to come on board to rescue our sinking ship of a nation? Should not there be deliberate efforts towards implementing the 35per cent affirmative action both within political parties and in the larger political and leadership space in the country so as to ensure more women contributing to the affairs of the country?
Is it not high time something was done about political assasination of both men and women in the country? Yes, we were told that in the case of Ruth’s killing, Ocholi was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. But how about the person(s) who must have commissioned him to carry out the criminal act? What about other conspirators to the crime? How about other political assasination cases in many parts of the country? The truth is that unless Nigeria deals with crime as it ought to, ensuring that perpetrators and sponsors of crime, no matter how highly placed, are properly dealt with in accordance with the law, criminals will continue to have a field day in the country. And this is very dangerous for our democracy. People should be free to belong to any political party of their choice and support any candidate they like. There is no law in Nigeria that says that every indigene or residents of a state must toe the same political line with the state governor or the local government chairman, as the case may be.
Members of opposition political parties have equal rights with those of the ruling parties. They have the right to hold their political meetings and other political activities without the fear of molestation and intimidation. Husband and wife, parents and children, employer and employee, brothers and sisters should be at liberty to belong to opposing political parties and still dine on the same table. Is not that the beauty of democracy? One sincerely hopes that Victoria’s killing, the burning of INEC offices in the South East and other parts of the country whether by known or unknown gunmen, the increasing molestation and intimidation of members of some political parties, frightening as they are, will not deter Nigerians, particularly the women, from participating in the next general elections. The stakes at the general elections are too high for them to be left to a few selfish, desperate politicians. Nigerian women and indeed all Nigerians cannot afford to stay aside and watch a few greedy individuals who have run the nation aground, to continue to have their way. Nigeria belongs to all of us and we must be ready to make all the necessary sacrifices to make it work.
It is imperative that sincere measures are taken to curtail the spate of politically induced crime and violence as the election dates approach so as to enable women to freely take part in elections. President Mohammadu Buhari has repeatedly assured Nigerians that the 2023 elections will be free, fair, transparent and credible. Nigerians will like to see the president walk the talk by ensuring that measures are taken by the police and other security agencies to ensure peace in the country both before, during and after the elections. An election cannot be credible when the electorate cannot freely participate in the electoral process due to fear of being killed or maimed, when electorate are forced to abide by the whims and caprices of the governors and other political big weights in their communities and states. President Buhari, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai and the police should see to it that the killers and anybody that has anything to do with the death of Victoria are caught and punished accordingly. This case should not go the way of others where people wasted the lives of others and disappeared into the thin air. Nigerians are hoping and praying that the death of this woman will not be in vain. That her blood and the blood of other Nigerians spilled for political reasons will bring an end to political violence, insecurity, killings in the country and bring about a better Nigeria.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Hope Deferred And A Sick Nation

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The story of Nigeria is that of a hope deferred. And as the Holy Book says, when hope is deferred, heart sickness is inevitable. Even now, Nigeria suffers from a decadence of the soul. A decadence and cankerous malady that eat deep in the heart of a once great nation. Even in the season of celebration, or at least what ought to be a celebration of our Independence from colonial and imperial rule, the nation mourns her great loss and stillborn hope that was not. Nigeria is now 62 years since it was recognised as a sovereign nation; 62 years of controlling her own destiny and deciding her fate. Yet, fate has frowned upon the heart of our land. At the inception of our nation, the country appeared promising and a great beacon of hope stood on the horizon. But what we thought to be a light at the end of our national tunnel turned out to be another train hitting us right on the face. This unforseen, catastrophic train came with its own malady and imbroglios such as succession of bloody coups after coup, the disenfranchisement of public trust and dashing of a hope that once was.
Even the imperial empire i.e. the Great Britain which reluctantly handed over our country to us did not foresee the level of mischiefs and sinister calamity we wished upon ourselves. Our supposed foreign enemy could not have imagined this heinous attempt to implode ourselves and bring upon each other a calamity of Herculean proportion. It was Abraham Lincoln who said a house divided against itself can not stand. For Nigeria, the merchants of mischief went right into its middle and broke it into little pieces. Till today, the remedy is still far-fetched. Giving his first Independence speech on October 1, 1960, the then prime minister, Tafawa Balewa said, “This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.”
He further stated: “I shall not labour the point but it would be unrealistic not to draw attention first to the awe-inspiring task confronting us at the very start of our nationhood. When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage. “We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to the responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an independent state we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fail for want of determination.” Tafawa Balewa was right about the fact that for us to take our place in the world stage, the issue of nationhood must be strongly addressed. The prime minister was also right about the clarion call for responsible leadership in government in order to achieve this feat. However, perhaps it could be said that he overstated our willingness as a nation to accomplish the task bequeathed upon us. Or on the flip side, he underestimated the tenacity of mischief-makers to devise different ways to cause division, polarisation and disunity in the polity. Because of this oversight, Nigeria remains stagnant and even retrogressive in the course of taking its “place on the world stage.”
Today, no one can deny the fact that our nation is suffering from an internal haemorrhage and it is bleeding from all sides. The once firm foundation now shakes and wobbles, threatening the whole building itself. It is a grim and frightening sight. At 62, we have with us a nation riddled with corruption, mismanagement, impunity and multifaceted dissonance. A nation whereby more people want to get out from, rather than come into. In the medical and tech sector for instance, there are more qualified doctors, nurses and tech experts from Nigeria in Europe and America than from any other African country. Since the hope and promise of a great nation has been deferred, the best and the brightest are now fleeing the nation. Experts refer to this as brain drain. A befitting and dreadful metaphor! Think about it: if the heart is sick and the brain is damaged, what then is left of the body? What is left of the remains of this carcass called Nigeria?
Some say it is a failed state; others claim it is not yet a failed state but it is right at the edge, dancing recklessly on the precipice of failure. But no one can refer to it as a successful or succeeding state. Before 2015, it was a consoling and even heartfelt remark to refer to Nigeria as an emerging economy; but what seems to be emerging then has now recoiled itself back to its catacomb. The failure of leadership under this present administration has now made us the capital poverty of the world. This is a nation that was once richer than Brazil, South Korea and Thailand put together. It is a grim picture. What makes our story more bewildering and heart-wrenching is not that we are stagnant or moving at a slower pace than our counterparts, but the fact that the hope that once was is now dashed and stillborn. And there seems not to be renaissance anywhere close. If one should mull over the state of our nation, not only will one’s heart get sick. One might die of a cardiac arrest. And that is the fact. The nation is sick. It is not dead, but it is on life support. And anyone who claims otherwise is living in a dream land. As we look back at what was lost, our task is to recover that hope in a nation that has enormous potential to be great. We should not sweet-talk our situation or romanticise our present state, but speak the bitter truth to diagnose the malady that besets us in all directions. This truth can make us mad as hell; but it also promises to heal us as well. It promises to wake us up from our slumber and revitalise us from the grave of our despair. The loss of our nation is great and the heart of our nation is bleeding. But this too can be a reminder that there is a lot of work needed to be done. Even in a sick nation such as ours, there can be a recovery of hope for the future to come.

By: Cyrus Ademola
Ademola, a journalist and columnist, writes in from Lagos.

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Opinion

Nigerians As Defeathered Chickens?

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In a graphic demonstration of the fickleness of the human mind, Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), former leader of the defunct USSR, plucked off the feathers of a chicken and dropped bits of wheat towards it as he walked around his compound. The profusely haemorrhaging chicken followed Stalin everywhere, pecking on the wheat. Likening this coldhearted scenario to political engagement, Stalin said thus: “This is how easy it is to govern stupid people; they will follow you no matter how much pain you cause them as long as you throw them a little worthless treat once in a while”. This illustration speaks volubly to political leadership in Nigeria.
Chickens are easily frightened hence, in American parlance, lily-livered persons are referred to as “chickens”, and the act of withdrawing from a competition or likely brawl is referred to as “chickening out”. A defeathered chicken loses its bird essence; when bleeding, running becomes traumatic; with open pores, its susceptibility to disease is very high, thus accentuating its vulnerability. A defeathered chicken is therefore in a precarious state of being. For all intents and purposes, Nigerians have been defeathered since the abrogation of the Independence Constitution of 1960 and promulgation of Unification Decree of 1966. The Waterways Bill that is being surreptitiously pushed in the National Assembly will nail the coffin of Nigerians if it is passed into law.
Nigerians were “fully feathered flying fowls” under the Independence Constitution, which vested natural resources on the subnational governments; it was such that Nigeria recorded many “firsts” at the continental and global arenas. However, Nigerians were defeathered by the Unification Decree of 1966 and finally nailed by the Petroleum Decree of 1969, which divested the federating units and citizens of the right to their natural resources in favor of the Federal Government. These ill-informed acts of dictatorial lawgiving commenced Nigeria’s slip and slide down a slippery economic slope that slithered the nation into the current state of disarticulated private sector, consumer—nation status, dreadfully devalued currency, runaway inflation, ever-elongating unemployment line and the mocking moniker of poverty capital of the world—a scornful sobriquet that has erased the letters “g” and “i” from the erstwhile appellation “Giant” of Africa thereby turning Nigeria into “Ant” of Africa.
Recently, a sitting governor was quoted as saying that “Nigerians don’t have the capacity to unite because they are burdened by poverty. We have taken away from them their dignity, their self-esteem, their pride and self-worth so that they cannot even organise…We [the elite] unite; (the citizens are) already in hell”. This is a candid admission of elite class culpability regarding the deplorable economic state of affairs in Nigeria. In other words, this statement declares that it is the elite that have brought so much hardship in Nigerians. The truth remains that acrimonies amongst the elite are orchestrated to mislead the public. In reality, they are united in looting the nation’s wealth. They have weaponised poverty and kept the citizens weak, confused and, therefore, malleable.
Nigerians are profusely bleeding and perceptibly pained chickens; borrowing the words of Stalin, they have, arguably, become stupid people who have consistently followed their political leaders irrespective of how much pain is inflicted on them through public policies that serve only the purpose of the elites. A micro-minority lives in obscene opulence while the overwhelming majority languish in penury. The stupidity of Nigerians derives from their allowing themselves to be deceived into believing that ethnicity and religion are the dividing lines in the Nigerian socioeconomic space. Another strategy for defeathering Nigerians is the indigenisation/privatisation of government stake-holding in the economy, which was carefully crafted crookedly to benefit elites in the final analysis.
Given the above, Nigerians sadly continue to follow their Stalin-hearted leaders as they shamelessly shilly-shally across political party lines completely devoid of any philosophy or ideology other than the “I, me, mine” ethos that characterise political participation in Nigeria. Late Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), once lamented that the problem with Africans is that they complain about bad leadership but when the opportunity comes for election, they still elect the same group of people. Also, Madibo Keita (1915-1977) averred that “when the citizens of a nation deem their most accomplished thieves as the most electable…theft becomes their national creed”. The full weight of these statements is still with us in Nigeria.
The first quarter of 2023 is around the corner. Sadly, at every level of government, pardoned convicts, “idiots” and “tribesmen” (in the Greek tradition) are jostling for public office without patriotic vision or record of service to the community. Rather, they are drumming up primordial sentiments and the tragedy is that hungry and unemployed people blindly support a dumb, numb and reckless elite class that is responsible for the pillage and wastage of Nigeria’s wealth; an elite fixated with maintaining the status quo to sustain their flamboyance, profligacy and obscene opulence.
In a rather surprising twist, President Buhari advised Nigerians to be introspective in the choice they make in the forthcoming elections; he emphasised that Nigerians should choose wisely. This implies being conscious of the fact that to elect a dishonest person is to put the treasures, future and posterity of the nation in jeopardy.
Finally, a Tik Tok video clip credited to Jolaosho Olaitan Ake presents a rather interesting scenario that is relevant to our chicken metaphor. The clip shows a little boy holding a sack that contains grains being chased around an enclosed compound by about fifty chickens. Crying and holding fast to the sack, the boy tried very hard to outrun the chickens but the chickens persisted until the boy dropped the sack and they settled down to a feast. It is my fervent prayer that before February 25, 2023, the millions of defeathered but enfranchised Nigerians have regrown their feathers and that they are resolute enough to teach the Joseph Stalins of Nigeria a political lesson that will positively change the narrative of Nigerian history.

By: Jason Osai
Osai is a university lecturer.

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