The fourth estate: Mass media and tribalism By Tabia Princewill

Mikel-Martins-Moses.jpg.pagespeed.ce.Qu8YGuNkG8Nigerian media is gradually shaped by sensationalism and simplification: publications appeal to people’s “lower instincts” and this “dumbing down” in which politicians are wiling accomplices as I said last week, is fraught with xenophobia and ethnic claims. I am increasingly worried by the persistent and damning inability to see things for what they are, to be rational and perceive reality without sentiment (or greed), thus perverting Nigerian judgement and the media.

Many of you will recall “Booboo corner”, a programme presented by veteran broadcaster Kehinde Young-Harry of the NTA. It proposed a weekly assessment of the news and most of all, its coverage; pointing out, in an insightful yet fun manner, some of the ridiculousness behind many would-be journalistic statements.

It’s a shame Nigeria has become so stilted, so sycophantic that very few people would be willing to engage in such an exercise today. We in the media have become too fond of “executive governors” (what does that even mean, a governor is already the head of the executive branch of government, why the hyperbolic title?) and “Alhaji-Dr-Chief-Prince-Engineer-Elders” to want to tell anyone the truth, let alone ourselves.

Gone are the days of “simply mister”. In an interview, renowned human rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo was asked a very strange, bigotry tainted question about why Mr. Keyamo supported Buhari, despite being from the South-South himself. How a journalist, the critical thinker par excellence would ask such a pedestrian, narrow-minded, intolerant question and not be sanctioned by an editor is beyond me.

Chauvinism and intolerance

So what if some Nigerians think in those terms? It is up to those who know better (or should know better) to educate and correct them. If in the US a journalist asked a White politician why he supported Barack Obama despite his being Black, we would call the whole affair racist and there is no place for chauvinism and intolerance in today’s public discourse. Unless you’re Donald Trump (a more entrepreneurially successful or refined Ayo Fayose, for those looking for his Nigerian equivalent).

We claim we want change but some of us are clearly either uncomfortable with the reality of said change or incapable of it. All of the noise about President Buhari’s choice of chief of staff and secretary to the government of the federation, amounts to our simplistic and corrupt understanding of governance: in the past, such positions were key to the awarding of lucrative contracts to politically connected people.

It was thus very important under the PDP for various factions to have “their” man in place. That we speak of these positions in ethnic terms points to the fact that the Nigerian state still awards positions not based on merit but on who one knows and most importantly, where one is from. However, this never benefits the common man: no matter where the SGF or chief of staff to the President is from, year in, year out, Nigerians know the same injustice and hardship. Any gifts, contracts and patronage go to the same set of already rich people whether it’s amongst the Igbos, Hausas, Yorubas, etc.

The village man in Anambra or Delta must realise that even if the SGF or chief of staff were from “his place” he wouldn’t help him in any way. He would first settle his family and friends. So wouldn’t we rather competent, intelligent people, irrespective of their ethnic group, were appointed in all positions, men and women who will work for all Nigerians, not just one tribe?

Unfortunately, like cannon fodder in times of old, the political elite uses the uncouth, injudicious ideas of the unenlightened masses to trick them into fighting their battles for things that have no real incidence on the common man’s life. The SGF’s function is very political and as such, must be filled by people the President trusts, irrespective of their ethnicity, unless we want Buhari to spend four years of his private conversations and activities being mysteriously leaked to his political enemies so that they in turn, spend four years bickering and fighting him, rather than all actors helping him solve the problems we elected him to rid us of.

In fact, it was Buhari’s refusal to do things as Nigerian presidents have always done, that is, use meddling, intimidation and strong-arm tactics, that enabled Saraki become Senate President. Had he picked his own preferred candidate (which let me remind you, goes against the constitutionally prescribed independence of the legislative arm of government), his relationship with the House would certainly have been smoother and we would probably have Ministers appointed and approved by the Senate, by now.

But he chose to stick to the letter of the law, which didn’t pay him. He was betrayed by unscrupulous, power-hungry men and slighted by illogical masses for, in essence, doing the right thing. Now, we criticise him again for proving he learnt his lesson: he is populating his office with people he trusts and can vouch for personally. That few in the media can either see or understand this and therefore join in the debasing of our public discourse and commentary by speaking only in ethnic terms, worries me.

Frustrated politicians

One can no longer tell the difference between angry, frustrated politicians and some finger-puppet journalists who parrot what these men say. Our media presents politicians in basic black and white terms while paradoxically asking politicians to show complexity and fulfill a balancing act between competing ethnic interests, rather than call for a new social contract: is a post-ethnic minded Nigeria possible? Where one is judged solely on the basis of one’s output?

Ironically, the “fourth estate” also refers to lawyers, whom French philosopher Montaigne says, sell justice to the rich, to the detriment of the poor who cannot afford to bribe their way to a favourable verdict. I hope that during the court cases which will invariably follow the probes, journalists will stand up for the people they are meant to educate and inform and not defend corruption based on ethnic sentiments or imagined witch hunts.

Asset declaration

Unsurprisingly,  most  state governors (including newly elected ones) have refused to make their asset declaration forms public, unlike our Commander-in-Chief and his deputy.

Many had no private business before seeking elective office and can therefore not justify the huge amounts they are now in possession of. I was surprised by people obsessing over the individual worth of the homes the Vice-President declared: what does it really matter (beyond satisfying our voyeuristic, jealous, tendencies?) so long as we know the number of houses? In fact, a public declaration is not a constitutional requisite so long as the information is available to the Code of Conduct bureau.

No matter how “rich” we erroneously believe Buhari and Osinbajo to be, they are nowhere as wealthy as the Sarakis, Obasanjos, Atikus or even Jonathans of this world: imagine them making their assets public! Either way, it is not wealth in itself that is the problem, it is stolen wealth that is unacceptable. Also, if Aisha Buhari is at some point forced to declare her assets (even though she is not an elected official) then it would be interesting to compare what Patience Jonathan has now to what she owned before her husband became president or even governor.

Traffic laws and Sen. Akpabio

Both humanists and sycophants thank God he is alive. But one must wonder why he didn’t use the “state of the art”, “first of its kind” hospital he built in Akwa Ibom after his accident.

His “uncommon transformation” clearly was not so uncommon by Nigerian standards: on paper governors are God’s gift to their states. In reality, it’s another matter entirely. As for reports his convoy ignored a red light, thus prompting the accident, government convoys are known to be particularly reckless, as their owners believe they are above the laws of the land. The Sheriff, as I said last week, is simply biding his time: Justice and equality will return to Nigeria.



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