Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter – Thomas Jefferson
Whether journalism should be a ‘professional form of activism’ is a question that many would argue. But one unarguable fact is that the media should definitely be a vigilant watchdog. With the obvious ‘over synergy’ between the executives and the legislators in the present day national assembly, the ‘almost-crippled’ opposition parties and the ‘open-secret’ disregard for the judiciary in recent times, Nigeria definitely needs a media that could merge activism with its professional duties. Even countries like the United States which is recognised as an epitome of a ‘working democracy’ still have media that work as activists in keeping the government on its toes and not celebrating them amidst anti-people policies, actions and inaction. Although the president has claimed that all his actions are to ensure order in the country, many think otherwise. To quote a former US congress man, John Lindsay, he once opined that “Those who suppress freedom always do so in the name of law and order.”
With PUNCH newspaper now taking a stand through its editorial tittled ‘Buhari’s Lawlessness; Our stand’, this could be the beginning of a bolder journalism in ‘recent Nigeria’. Even the All Progressives Congress Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole charged Nigerian journalists to curtail its ‘over-politeness’ and ‘easy-ride’ watchdog activities they carry out.
One comic anomaly that has characterised major media houses is how well they are quick to celebrate politicians even those in the middle of societal backlashes. None is as ridiculous in recent time as the crowning of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano state by The Telegraph Newspaper as the best Governor in 2018. This award came at a time when the Governor was recorded on video allegedly receiving kickbacks from contractors. The 2018 best governor was exposed in 2018 after he was recorded stuffing foreign currency into his ‘bankbariga’ attire. Expectedly, the exposure was followed with scathing and racking remarks but unexpectedly, The Telegraph Newspaper gave Ganduje an award. His fans could say it was restricted to the areas of health and education but such defence appears shallow. The Managing Director of The Telegraph Newspaper, Funke Egbemode, further explored the deep causticness exhibited by the newspaper when she said ‘it is good to celebrate those that are making difference in our lives.’ What difference? Whose Lives?
Workers in Kogi state would tell how dreadful and ‘tough’ the year 2018 was as a result of unpaid salaries by the state’s government. If the best of soothsayers had predicted to them that one prominent society’s watchdog would present a best Governor award to Yahaya Bello, many would turn away. The imaginary soothsayers were right after all as LEADERSHIP newspaper awarded Yahaya Bello the best Governor of the year workers were still struggling to earn what they worked for – 2018. Although, quite infamous at that time, the paper went ahead to present a best governor award to him. How ridiculous!
Now to the straw that broke the camel’s back, one of Nigeria’s most read online news platform, PREMIUM TIMES, was almost caught up in this web of celebrating the ‘people’s antagonists.’ The platform has carved a niche for itself as a media firm not affected by the whims and caprices of those in government. It has called out, exposed and even blaze the trail in terms of exposing all sorts of illicit or illegal acts going on in the country. Its initiative, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism however chose to award another Nigerian leader in the midst of public outcry. Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinajo was the ‘lucky’ man. Just few days after Nigerians witnessed the DSS utter disregard for the Judiciary through the tragic drama that ensued at the Abuja federal high court which led to widespread criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, the WS Centre for Investigative Journalism ‘prepared’ an award for Prof. Osinbajo.
Many felt the award was a mistake and the centre quickly made a U-turn by informing Nigerians that it had postpone the award. PREMIUM TIMES headline captured the reason for the cancellation of the award and made the news platform retain its ‘activism regalia’. It reads “Wole Soyinka Centre protests ‘Impunity’, postpones award to Osinbajo.” It claimed the postponement was in protest against the repression of freedom of peace in recent times- A wonderful pro-people step to take at a critical time. The Vice President’s reaction to the ‘award brouhaha’ however made PREMIUM TIMES revolutionary caption slide into a reactionary one of some sort. The centre acceded to being wrong or to use a mild hyperbole, ‘it lied’.
Many other infamous politicians have been awarded by the Nigerian media in the middle of their respective infamies. Although this should not be the standard, the fourth estate has chosen to be in bed with these persons. Giving out awards to politicians for whatever reasons is not too bad but the timing of some of these awards makes one wonders if the media focus more on building the image of these ill reputed statesmen or on the gains that could accompany such awards. Whatever reasons these wrongly timed awards tend to achieve seems to be against the growth of our emerging democracy. Nigeria needs journalism closely tied to activism or better still Activism in journalism. The Nigerian media elites know better!
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