In the final year of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, hardly was anyone not fed up with his lackluster performance. When therefore the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) smartly designed the catchy phrase ‘change’ the wind blew us all in its favour. The few people who purportedly remained with the government of the day were its own appointees and other lucky gainers of the spoils of office. Every other person including many members of the then ruling party wanted change by all means. Thank God those who promised change are now in control of the nation. While expecting change from them, the rest of us who earnestly yearned for change must ourselves be ready for change and its implications because change by leaders cannot make appreciable impact without commensurate support by followers. Accordingly, our civil society groups must change their ways. Among such groups, media organs stand out as they aggressively agitated for change through editorials and reports and helped to effectively publicize the views of other people demanding change. Therefore, the media itself must not only change, it must lead the change process. It must do so by changing its own ways which in the past encouraged the poor performance of government. The media must change from serving personal and sectional interests to serving the over-all public good.
Some 8 years ago, this writer was in New Delhi to deliver a key note address to the meeting of the Commonwealth Broadcasters Association in India. Throughout my 3-day stay, I saw nothing about politics, the media there was bothered only about governance featuring on-going development projects as well other public policies whose execution could easily be faulted. By so doing, government I gathered was being compelled to redress lapses and improve the lot of the people. Our Indian media colleagues told us that at the end of an election, in their country, further politicisation of public affairs is not allowed because it amounts to a distraction. This is a far cry from the trend in Nigeria in which the media quite often leaves substance for cosmetics and substitutes the serious business of national development for comedy, and shows of politics.
Nothing reflects this allegation better than the recent selection of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives. As soon as President Buhari was inaugurated, the Nigerian media directed attention to the selection of Heads of the legislature as if it was next in the order of public concern. No one remembered that the rest of us have no say in who heads that arm of government. So politicking consumed the public space because the media allowed it. Unknown to our colleagues in the media they merely ceded to politicians their own power to set the national agenda. So, the nation was diverted to the coverage of intrigues to the extent that we got told about how Tinubu’s wife refused to shake Saraki! It probably did not occur to some media practitioners that nothing would add to or subtract from any public gain in the two senators shaking 20 times.
The implication of this is that our media that called for change is itself not changing. But it has to because it has an obligation to contribute to the nations’ development. The media is exceedingly powerful as it reserves the right to determine what news item to cover and which to emphasize or downplay. By so doing, the media serves as the agenda setter of a nation but where all media organs decide to project what the politicians relish in doing to the detriment of people-oriented events, it stands to reason that they all colluded to abdicate from their constitutional obligation. Otherwise how does the ordinary man benefit from a senate that is led by either Saraki or Lawan? Not being among those qualified to participate in the selection process why did the media decide to evolve effective publicity of the selection to all Nigerians?
When compared to public enlightenment for the just concluded general election, it is hard to suggest that the media did well considering the exceedingly low turnout of voters which can be taken to mean that not many were educated to recognize the fundamental importance of participating in the nation’s electoral process. In addition, the large figure of invalid votes establishes that people did not know how to vote. In the case of the Saraki-Lawan contest, everyone was well informed and educated. Great broadcast presentations of what to expect from the contest; blow by blow account of how it was concluded and discussions on likely consequences made us believe that selecting the heads of our legislature was higher than health, education and other people- oriented projects. Having ceded our airways to politicians to put their interest above the public good, those of us in the media cannot escape from blame should our legislators this time around, spend 4 years on frivolities and pass 92 bills in 5minutes on valedictory day.
However, we have enough time to make amends by shifting our focus from publicity conscious legislators to monitoring the pace of development of our nation. There is so much that is begging for coverage in the interest of the people. Whether it is the unending fuel queues or whatever, the problems of our people should be in the front burner thereby stopping government from abandoning such issues. For instance, during the legislators’ intrigues, a more serious development occurred- renewed infliction of pains on fellow Nigerians and their families by insurgent groups. Thus the media can do better by shifting attention to the monitoring of the implementation of the directive of Mr. President that our military should move to the war zone. Media focus on it would spur action in that direction. While it remains expedient to keep a team to secure the nation’s capital, the current manual check points which further expose residents of Abuja and environs to the pains of irrational long queues will reduce. Indeed, media focus will push the military to appreciate the need to alter the mundane manual checks in these days of improved technology.