By Ishola Ebenezer
The importance of the media to the success or otherwise of any government cannot be overemphasised. Edmund Burke, a philosopher and politician in a parliamentary debate in 1787 referred to reporters seated in the gallery as the Fourth Estate of the Realm which was more important than the traditional three estates of Parliament: The Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons. Lending his voice to the indispensability of the media, Thomas Jefferson, the third US President (1801-1809) asserted that “… were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”
Without doubt, the media played a vital role in the success of President Muhammadu Buhari at the last elections. There is no question about the level of importance accorded to the media by the Nigerian President. Speaking at the launch of a seminal work, Nigerian Media Leaders: Voices Beyond the Newsroom, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, stated that “President Muhammadu Buhari … sees the media as allies, critical partners in the quest to build a worthy new Nigeria.” He further advised the media against seeing the government as something to be harassed, hounded and haunted down. The media aide to the President claimed that the government has provided free access to information as well as support for media professionals to work professionally. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari in his inaugural address on May 29, 2015, appealed to the media, particularly its social media component, to perform its duties with responsibility and patriotism.
Against this background, one now begins to wonder the rationale behind the candid remark by President Muhammadu Buhari in his latest interview with SaharaReporters in New York, United States of America, where he frankly asserted that the Nigerian media is “… too inquisitive for his liking”. The President further explained that his grouse with the Nigerian media is the seeming dearth of investigative journalism, giving the instance of the declaration of his assets which has been done four times. The remark of the President touches on a major cause of worry to Nigerian media professionals in the true sense of the word.
One major incident of strain in President Muhammadu Buhari’s relationship with the Nigerian media dates back to the barring of AIT news crew from covering his activities as President-Elect based on what President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media, Garba Shehu, referred to as security and family concerns, as well as issues of standard and ethics. The endless campaign on AIT which sought to portray President Buhari and a number of his allies in bad light prior to the elections readily comes to mind. Incidentally, it is quite disheartening to note that President Buhari has on a number of occasions subjected the Nigerian media to a second-rate treatment. The op-ed published in the Washington Post in July, 2015, where Nigerians got the first major inkling that ministerial appointments will be a September-affair, as well as the President’s response on taking charge of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, in an interview in New York during the United Nations General Assembly, further confirm my suspicion that all is not well between the Nigerian media and President Buhari.
President Muhammadu Buhari via his media team must make conscious efforts to rectify the seeming cynicism the Nigerian media is subjected to by the President which stands as a potential ‘keg of gunpowder’. A popular Yoruba proverb says “An elder cannot be in the market place and allow a child’s head to stay uncomfortable”. Garba Shehu (Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity) and Femi Adesina (Special Adviser on Media and Publicity) as veterans of the Nigerian media with impressive profiles, must harness their respective and collective capabilities to resolving this impasse.
The Nigerian media on the other hand has a part to play in this seeming crisis. A number of challenges expose the Nigerian media to cynicism by the Nigerian people. They include – Ownership structure of the media (He who pays the piper, …), poor remuneration and training of journalists which adversely affect output, the extreme obsession of media platforms to sensationalize news stories for increased profit, increased propaganda which has been a critical tool deployed in the do-or-die politics Nigeria is known for, among others.
At this juncture, let me share a news story that baffled me on the quality of journalism in Nigeria. In the early days of President Buhari’s administration when the past President, Goodluck Jonathan, was a regular caller to Aso Rock, a media platform reported that the reason for the visit is that President Buhari is seeking for leadership advice from the past President Goodluck Jonathan as the former had become clueless in the face of massive onslaught by the public particularly members of the opposition criticising the slow pace of the administration. This news story which emanated from an evidently biased media platform is an instance of ways the Nigerian media is fast losing its glory and trust.
Media stakeholders must rise to confront the challenges bedevilling the Nigerian media which is gradually stripping it of integrity and trustworthiness. As Prof. Pius Adesanmi asserted at The Platform 2015, we all must hate Nigeria to greatness. It is matter of Yes! or Yes!.