I would like to express my uncommon gratitude to the organizers of this programme for giving me the opportunity to give a presentation to this esteemed audience. I am particularly excited at the thematic focus of the topic, entitled. The Media and substance of Democracy in Nigeria. This is because, a dispassionate consideration, and thorough deliberation of the issue could not have come at a better time than now even as we move into the threshold of general elections in 2015, another litmus test for Nigeria’s democracy.
The media consist of Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, play critical roles in the political processes of democracies and indeed, other political systems. The nature and character of these roles, particularly in democratic settings are partly determined by the constitution, and partly by other structures Nigeria’s democracy is been built. These structures include institutions and organizations such as government, made up of the executive; the legislature and the judiciary.
Nigeria, as a country has come to a critical point in the democratic process; there is therefore an urgent need for a close examination of the democratic process viz-a-vis the yearnings, aspirations and expectations of the citizenry. One way of achieving this objective is to X-ray the activities of key institutions, pivotal to the growth and smooth functioning of democracies. This discourse therefore provides the platform for the assessment of the contributions of the media and the judiciary to the attainment of the aspirations of the people in the on-going political process in Nigeria.
Political process has been loosely defined in this paper as the features that are characteristic of democratic process. These include formation of political parties periodic organization of elections, registration of eligible voters, electioneering campaigns, legislation, policy formation and implementation among others.
The media on the other hand have been defined as those highly structured or organized social systems with well defined authority relationships which are responsible for gathering, processing, packaging and dissemination of information for public consumption. While the judiciary has been conceived as the arm of government that is primarily concerned with interpretation and enforcement of law.
Williams (1965: 197) provides an insight into the nature-of the relationship between the media (press) the executive; the legislature and the judiciary as thus:
“The press mainly in the eighteen century was concerned directly with supplying news relevant to the conduct of Business”.
“Later, it was heard that the three arms of government -executive, legislature and judiciary would greatly plunder society because of their traditional links if there were nothing to check them then. This led to the broadening of the role of the process to include that of a watch dog, thus earning it a status of the Fourth Estate of the Realm “.
The essence of Williams observation is the position that the press has been ascribed an institutional status, reckoned as the fourth arm of government, with onerous responsibility of building bridges of mutual relationship between the government (executive; legislature and judiciary).
In other words, by virtue of watch dog status, the media (press) assumes the role of an ombudsman in directing the affairs of both the government and the governed.
This function, undoubtedly, gives the media, the challenge of curtailing the excesses of government and the attendant frivolities of followership. The media by this function also have the responsibility of mobilizing the followership to get involved in policy making. To the extent of these functions; it can be argued that a complementary relationship exist between the three arm of government and the media (press).
Little wonder then that section 22 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria accords the media a role which states expressly as follows;
“The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times, be free to uphold the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, and highlight the responsibility and accountability of government to the people”.In response to this provision, the media in Nigeria held the leadership of the country accountable for their actions. For example, the media indicted the then Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu and then chairman of the Senate information Committee, Senator Zwingina for demanding a whooping sum of N54 million bribe from Mallam Nasir El-Rufai before he could be cleared for a ministerial post.
A more dramatic episode involved the erstwhile Minister of Education, Prof. Fabian Osuji, who offered N55 million to the former Senate President, Chief Adolphus Nwabara, and some members of the education committee in both houses of the National Assembly to facilitate the passage of the budget proposal of his Ministry in the 2005 appropriation bill. Commenting on the issue, Newswatch Magazine of April 4, 2005 reported in its covers story that “the anti-corruption war of Obasanjo administration claimed two major causalities last week (March 29)”.
According to the magazine (p.17) “the Senate President emphasized the need for the Ministry of Education to come forward with necessary PR or risk a cut in his budget. The minister was given 5 days up till December 3, 2004 to produce N55 million gratification or forget the budget”.
In its own account of the scandal, The Source Magazine gave details of the scam noting that “the entire amount of N55 million delivered to the house of Senator Chris Adighije was in the presence of Senator A. lbrahim, Hon. Dr. Matazia and Senator Mbata (The Source, 2005 page 17). Sequel to this development was the removal of Chief Ado Wabara as Senate President, and Prof. Fabian Osuji as Minister of Education. In a related development, the media indicted the then police Chief, Tafa Balogun for embezzling and stashing away in foreign accounts, the scandalous sum of N13b, which was unfit for his status as a police Chief. All these go to say that the Nigeria media (press) through investigative journalism have exhibited a high level of social responsibility, patriotism and commitment to the policy and principle of transparency and accountability.
Other remarkable examples in respect of the media’s exposure of cutting corners and sharp practices by politicians include: Buharigate, Ettehgate, Faroukgate scandals, Pension Scam etc.
The Buharigate Saga was made public by a popular news magazine; The news. In its 10 July, 1999 edition, captioned “Face of a Liar”. The magazine reported the certificate and age falsification scandal around the person of the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari. Buhari enevitably resigned.
On the part of Ettehgate Saga, the media directed the public agenda on the N640 million renovation of the speaker and Deputy Speaker’s residence respectively. Popular opinion from the media coverage of the issue mounted pressure on the two key members of the national assembly, this led to their resignation as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively.
Also worthy of note was the patriotic role played by the media in exposing the Farouk Lawan’s affairs with Femi Otedola’s Zenon oil and gas Limited with respect to oil subsidy probe of which Farouk was the chairman of the House Committee’s probe panel.
The media disclosed that Lawan was offered $620,000 by Mr. Otedola to have his companies removed from the list of indicted companies in “a sting operation from the state security service (SSS)”. Lawan who initially denied collecting money from Odetola could not withstand the overwhelming evidence before the public admitted guilt and was subsequently removed as the chairman of the probe panel.
Other interesting scenarios where the Nigerian media had played patriotic roles include; the third term bid of Obasanjo and pension scam involving Mama, the former chairman of the pension board.
CHALLENGES OF THE MEDIA
It is a common knowledge that media practice in Nigeria has a lot of challenges which include; (1) ownership influence and (2) Ethnicity
This has been a major challenge to the media in their bid to consolidate democracy in Nigeria. Udoaka (1993; 100) for instance, has argued that “the mass media do not exist for a “common good” but as promotional fora for their proprietors and dossiers of short comings for their owners’ political and economic or social rivals. This implies that the media exist in most cases to give impetus to the accomplishment of the political, social and economic goals of their proprietor. In other words, the media serve as mere megaphone for the propagation of their owners’ political ideology on the one hand, and as instruments of political vendetta on the other hand. A flashback on the publications of the National Concord Newspaper (now defunct) and the Nigerian Tribune newspaper owned by late M. K. O. Abiola and Late Obafemi Awolowo respectively, (all of blessed memories) during the days of NPN and UPN in the second Republic aptly captures the foregoing analysis. Even in the government established media houses, there is little doubt that government controlled media have often been used to essentially serve the interest of those in government and associates out it, rather than the larger interest of the society.
According to Jibo (2003:8) “this selfish use of the state owned media has been a major issue in all the states of the Federation”. He observed that government owned broadcast media were particularly indicted in the conduct of the 2003 general elections for denying opposition parties access to their facilities for their electioneering campaign programmes, even when such parties were willing to pay money so that their activities will be published.
However, expressing this form of control over media institutions and their content in Nigeria’s democracy, particularly during elections, totally negates the very essence of the democratic process. The reason is that political information is a necessary component of the democratic process, and the media serve as channels for the provision of such political information. So restricting opposition parties access to media facilities, amounts in real terms to disenfranchisement of the electorate. The question then is, to what extent will this practice promote democracy in Nigeria?
Ethnicity has been identified as the bane of media operation in Nigeria democracy. Recently, the Nigeria media has demonstrated a line of division along regional, sectional or ethnic leverages in celebrated cases of Salisu Buhari, erstwhile speaker of the House of Representatives, Evan(s) Enwerem, former Senate President and former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu. While the News and the Tell magazines ensured that Buhari and Enwerem were removed from office, these same magazines which incidentally are Lagos/Ibadan based refused to beam their search light of probity on former Governor Tinubu.
The underlying argument here is that the media has become entangled in the pursuit of ethnic enclaves and agenda at the expenses of national interest. This tendency is inimical to the deepening of the democratic process in Nigeria.
SUSTENANCE OF DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA
To consolidate sustainable democracy in Nigeria, we need to examine issues such as: national interest, freedom of information law and democracy education among others.
Sustainable democracy can only be actualized in Nigeria when media houses truly embrace and consciously practice the principle of national interest. This principle de-emphasizes the over bearing influence of proprietor on the media content on one hand and the corrupt tendencies of the media on the other hand. It further posits that the interest of the country and its citizens supersede the primodial and sectional interest of individuals and ethnic groups. This in turn will strengthen democratic structures as well as deepen the democratic process.
Human right activists and communication experts believed that the freedom of information law (2011) will strengthen the country’s current war against corruption, raise the level of the peoples’ participation in governance, build confidence and promote transparency. They emphasized that it will consolidate Nigeria’s democracy by enforcing inherent democratic principles, as identified by Wilson (2005) which include:
Guarantees the right of access to information
Guarantees the right to know
Ensures the right to express oneself within the law
Promotes the right to received information
Guarantees the right to publish
Protects whistle blower
Protects democracy and its institution
Helps in the fight against corruption etc.
The involvement of the media in democracy education in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. Today, the Nigerian media have some measures incorporated in their programme contents, some amount of education on democracy. These contents, as Udoakah (2001) notes, appear in the form of news, stories, features articles, public service announcement.
Democracy education in the media should be geared toward political enlightenment programme with concepts that are meant to teach people the tenets of democracy which emphasize that democracy is not about thuggery, arson, rigging, ballot box-snatching, conflicts e.t.c, rather, it is about compromise and achievement of collective goals and objectives. It is hoped that effective communication of .this idea will usher the much desired altitudinal and behavioural change.
People who had credible records, and are held in high esteem be featured more regularly on political enlightenment programmes such as audience participation programmes or others likely to increases political education thus infusing new knowledge which will restrain the vulnerable electorates, particularly, the youths to the manipulation of ‘money bag’ politicians. The bottom-line of democracy education as presented in this paper, is attitude change which will ultimately lead to sustenance of democracy in Nigeria.
In this lecture, I have X-rayed the priceless contributions of the media to the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. The roles the media have played, no doubt are instrumental to the attainment of good governance, rule of law, equity, human development and above all, a renewed hope in sustainable democracy in Nigeria.
In spite of the positive contributions of the Nigerian media in various ways, there are noticeable challenges that plague the fourth estate of the realm which include, ownership influence, legal constraints and ethnicity. It is hoped that, with time these challenges will disappear from Nigeria’s political process.
Thank you for listening and God bless!
• Comrade USA Uzaka is the Vice President, NUJ, Zone F.
The Media And Sustenance Of Democracy