Being a keynote address at a colloquium organized by the Enugu State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) at Oakland Hotel, Enugu.
June 28, 2019
Gentlemen of the pen profession. I thank you all for putting this colloquium together for us to brainstorm on the role the media has played, is playing and will still play in our quest for national integration. I also congratulate the celebrant, Magnus, for hitting 50. For those of you who are yet to hit that mark, you may not know how it feels being 50. I know because I have been there. But I will encourage you to remain consistent and work healthily up the ladder of life so that you will be as strong as Magnus is at 50. The years ahead would be for Magnus, years of greater expectations, not only as a father to his children and husband to his wife but also, as a brother, uncle and even as a professional colleague. As a journalist, the years ahead will task his sense of judgement more. This will mean a lot as he marches on in life.
Like I said a while ago, the challenge now before us at this colloquium is to reason together. The Holy Book invites us at Isaiah 1:18 to reason together. It said, “Come, let us reason together”. I guess that is exactly why we are all here. We must reason together to see where the media is, and where it must be in the task of integrating our country especially, with the challenge of social media. I call it a challenge because that is exactly what it is. The social media has moved faster in removing boundaries and breaking all the rules of journalism. For me, that is a challenge. But we shall come to that later.
Gentlemen, the story of Nigeria’s sovereignty cannot be completely told without a golden mention of the role played by the media. From the day Rev. Henry Townsend started Iwe Irohin (meaning, Magazine), the first ever newspaper in Nigeria in 1859, the media has grown to become a necessity in the development of our country. Though Rev. Townsend’s newspaper lasted some eight years before it was rested, Nigeria grew from there to see its independence struggles enhanced by classy newspapers published by Nigerians, which had incisive articles and analysis written by educated Nigerians which in turn exposed the average Nigerian of the pre-independence era, to what the real issues were. Notably here is The West African Pilot published by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Several other newspapers came following alongside the first radio station in 1950 and the first television station in December 1959.
The Nigerian media would grow from there to develop its reading culture with fertile arguments, analysis, interviews, editorials and opinions on the future of the country. This development helped to create in Nigeria, a new generation of educated and visionary leaders who saw only one boundary -that between Nigeria and her colonial masters. That generation of leaders put the media to great use in educating, informing and even entertaining the people. Thus, Nigeria became the envy of others on the African continent as while other countries were struggling to sustain publication of one or two newspapers, Nigeria was churning our newspapers in their numbers. These media involvements helped bring us to where we are today as a nation.
However, media involvement in the independence of Nigeria did not end with Nigeria’s independence. It continued through the problems we had as a young federation leading to the civil war. After the Civil war, the media played a key role in reunification and integration efforts of the government. The media was also at the forefront of the campaign against military rule in Nigeria. Many of your colleagues paid the ultimate prize and yet, the media could not be deterred. The media showed resilience and determination in working towards delivering a country for all of us.
The struggles that followed the annulment of the June 12, 1993, general elections, was largely a media struggle. But for the media, our activists, and their activism, would have been silenced by the military. It is, however, unfortunate that when key players in the events of June 12 talk about their roles, they fail to mention the media which was the rallying point of that struggle. Without the media, June 12 would have been forgotten. The media kept it on the front burner of national discourse and continued to push it till it became a national day. Even journalists who were not born when the event unfolded, grew to become advocates for the recognition of June 12. That tells you the power of the media. Whatever the media focuses on becomes infectious such that generations of journalists will keep the clamour and carry the message as they designed it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am not here to tell you about the history of the media. I should rather listen to you when you discuss the history and the role journalists had played in national integration. You are the masters. You built Nigeria. You brought Nigeria to its present glory. And you deserve all the accolades that you receive. But I am bothered. How come the same media that was vibrant; that built Nigeria; that chased the military back to the barracks; the same media that made our independence possible and created heroes and role models, is now seen as undoing what it did in the past for the good of Nigeria? I am talking of contemporary Nigeria and the seeming failure of the media to hold leadership accountable to the people.
Today, Nigeria is troubled. We are faced with uncertainties. We are tackled from all fronts by security challenges including food security, social security, housing security, territorial security etc. Nigeria is pummeled from every side by habits that seemed alien to our environment. Sometimes, Nigerians wake to wonder if they will still have a country by evening. The challenges are enormous but the labourers are fewer. This where the media is needed more than ever before.
The topic for today’s keynote presentation is Media and National Integration in Nigeria. As with all intellectual endeavours, it is necessary to start with the definition of key terms to ensure some degree of conceptual clarity.
Apparently, three key terms abound in the title of the presentation:
Media and by extension Mass Media
National Integration which presupposes the concept of Nation/Nationhood.
Then there is the term Nigeria which simply refers to the geographic entity we call our country.
However, what exactly Nigeria means to each of us may vary relative to our unique experiences, in particular, to what extent our rights as citizens have been recognized and enforced.
Perhaps, no one has captured our frustrations with Nigeria’s failure to fulfil her immense potentials better than my illustrious kinsman, the world celebrated writer Chinua Achebe. In a 2008 Lecture to mark the Silver Jubilee of The Guardian Newspaper, titled What is Nigeria to Me? Achebe noted: Our 1960 national anthem, given to us as a parting gift by a British housewife in England, had called Nigeria “our sovereign motherland’. The current anthem, put together by a committee of Nigerian intellectuals and actually worse than the first one, invokes the father image. But it has occurred to me that Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed, and incredibly wayward.”
I will address the conceptual notion of Mass Media in the latter part of the presentation in relation to its broader role in national integration. Without a doubt, the operative term in the title of this paper is the concept of nation and for most scholars, there are two distinct, sometimes overlapping uses of the term.
The first refers to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, values or history. This is exactly what we mean when we refer to various ethnic groups in Nigeria as nationalities (e.g. Igbo Nation, Yoruba Nation, Ijaw Nation etc.). However, the second application of the term refers to people who share a common territory and government irrespective of their ethnic make-up. This is what in political theory is generally called a nation-state of which Nigeria is a prime example.
In its varying meanings and connotations which have changed over time, the idea of a nation presupposes a social reality used to organize history or what the influential political theorist Benedict Anderson called ‘imagined communities’. For Anderson, the idea of a nation is an imagined political entity because it’s impossible for members to know most of their fellow members, yet the idea of the nation remains alive in their consciousness (imagination). In a nation-state, such imagination is usually nurtured and sustained through deliberate government initiatives, especially when they begin to wane due to major divisions or conflicts that pit groups against each other or against the government. This is sometimes referred to as Social Engineering- i.e. efforts by governments to manage social change and regulate the future development and behaviour of a society. However, given the tendency of governments to sometimes use such initiatives in dubious and self-serving ways, social engineering for some has become a pejorative term.
What Then Is National Integration?
National integration is the recognition and awareness of a common identity amongst citizens of a country, along with deliberate and sustained effort to nurture such an identity in pursuit of national unity.
However, it starts with the recognition of entrenched differences in society and how such differences can be coalesced towards a common identity and interest to help foster a united, strong and prosperous nation.
Most nation-states (like Nigeria) are composed of multiple languages, ethnicities, races, religions, cultures, among others and national integration strives to find ways to reconcile all diversities to forge strong national solidarity. In practical terms, how for instance, do we get Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and other groups to prioritize their identity as Nigerians over their ethnic and regional peculiarities? Attempting to square this circle is the challenge of national integration efforts the world over.
In reality, various countries have tried to resolve the perennial tension between the national and the regions by embracing some form of a federal system of government that is unique to their situations.
Leading up to independence in 1960, Nigeria practised a robust Federal system of government composed of a Central government with three regions loosely along the lines of the major ethnic groups; a system that persisted until 1966 when the military toppled the elected government of Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Consequently, and reflective of its centralized command structure, the Military through decrees eviscerated the autonomy of the regions and retained Federalism in name only. Unfortunately, this has remained the situation ever since, despite 20 years of uninterrupted civilian governance since 1999.
As previously observed, nation-states with vast diversities have often found federalism an effective political tool in managing differences because it starts with the particular/regional and builds out to the national. Put differently, Federalism strives to forge a national character out of individual character which perhaps, helps explain the political aphorism- Unity in Diversity.
Nigeria is in dire need of real Federalism, not as a magical solution to all our problems, but as a platform for an honest and robust engagement with our differences by giving the federating units a deep sense of belonging on the basis of which they can willingly, and hopefully enthusiastically, buy into the national project.
To continue to ignore a federal system of governance is to play the proverbial Ostrich with head in the sand even as its vast body is embarrassingly exposed. It is like pretending that our ethnic and other differences do not exist or that they will quietly fade away if we ignore them. Since this is primarily an event for media professionals, permit me to briefly take you back to the First Republic to illustrate the kind of healthy competition that Federalism brought about among various regional governments with respect to the establishment of their broadcasting corporations.
As you may recall, the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) was established in April 1951 by the colonial government and that marked the transition from redistributing BBC programmes to actual live radio broadcasting in Nigeria. It later transformed into the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1956. The granting of internal self-rule to the Eastern and Western Regions in 1957 led to a push for regional government-owned broadcasting outlets (to operate alongside NBC which was owned by the Federal Government).
In 1959, the Action Group (AG) controlled government of Western Region launched the first television station in Africa- Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) with the proud slogan “First in Africa”. Not to be outdone, the Eastern Nigeria regional government controlled by the National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) on October 1, 1960, launched the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (ENBC), a combined radio and television service with the slogan “Second to None”, an obvious dig at Western Nigeria Television.
It was not until 1962 that the federal government controlled by the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) established a national television service- the NBC Television. The same year, the NPC government in the Northern Region also established the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria Limited (BCNNL). Such healthy regional rivalry of the first republic brought about by Federalism cut across various sectors like Health, Education, Agriculture, Industrial Development, among others.
Etim O. Frank and Wilfred I. Ukpere, both of Department of Political Science, University of Uyo and Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, Faculty of Management, University of Johannesburg, in their work, ‘Administration of National Integration in Nigeria: The Challenges and Prospects’, refer the understanding of integration to refer “to the processes of bringing the various Nigerian ethnic groups to cohere, on a continuing basis.” They argued that “cohering often involves the development of cherished norms and values respected by all the cohering groups, in order to enable all component parts in the integration process to continue to have a sense of belonging to the political community created, not out of ‘social-contract’ through the colonial process of integration.”
Taken into context, Nigeria’s journey towards national integration is as old as independent Nigeria. I believe that it was for reasons of integrating the people of the northern and southern protectorates that the people of both ends were amalgamated in 1914 by the Lord Lugard administration. That effort set off different other efforts to create a more cohesive society and achieve better integration. Though subsequent efforts seemed to expand the fault lines that had defined Nigeria’s federation even before independence, the effort by General Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi at creating a unitary government which centralized power, was a further attempt at integrating the people of Nigeria, divided by ethnicity and religion, and forcing an integrated country on them.
Events have however shown that you cannot force unity on a people. A people desirous of unity must work for it and agree to form a united front. The outcome of the effort by Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi led to a civil war, the effects of which Nigeria is still living, almost 50 years after. For instance, Etim and Ukpere stated that “a discourse on the empirical steps taken towards national integration in Nigeria would be more meaningful if the political sociology of Nigeria before the formal commencement of the process is outlined. This would elucidate the degree of integration already attained. It would be recalled that one of the foremost institutions established for an Independent Nigeria is the Nigerian Army. Recruitment into the army had been shared in the ratio of 50:25:25 for the North, East and the West respectively (Dudley 1978). This ratio perhaps exists to this day. This explicates the preponderance of northerners in command positions in the Nigerian military. The obnoxious resource control issue has made the South-South region the most underdeveloped region in the country, yet the producer of the nation’s wealth. This irony of a region constitutes a challenge to national integration in Nigeria.”
Nigeria And The Challenges of National Integration
Nigeria, we all know is a British colonial creation which flowed from the 1914 amalgamation. Composed of over 300 ethnic nationalities, each with their own language and culture, Nigeria is an intensely diverse country; a fact fully acknowledged by our first national anthem in 1960: though tongue and tribe may differ, in brotherhood we stand.
Unfortunately, the fraternity we so hoped for did not materialize given the tragic chain of events that led to the fall of the first republic in 1966. Decades of sometimes very repressive military rule succeeded only for some time in suppressing dissent as all the pent-up anger came boiling over at the return of civil rule in 1999. This is evidenced in the upsurge of sometimes militant ethnic groups like the Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) in the south-west, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and the Avengers in the south-south and secessionist pro-Biafra agitators –MASSOB and IPOB- in the south-east.
Even with 20 years of uninterrupted democracy, many believe our country has never been more ethnically divided; a sordid state of affairs they attribute to poor political leadership, pervasive corruption, nepotism and the politics of exclusion that sometimes plays out so publicly at the highest level of government; generating intense feelings of disenchantment and undermining efforts at national cohesion. In addition, frightening levels of insecurity, particularly in about the past decade (violent religious extremists, bandits, kidnappers, killer herdsman); some of which may have ethnoreligious colouration have left many wondering about the viability of the Nigerian project.
All these begs the question: how has Nigeria tried to tame this seemingly intractable monster called diversity?
Long before Nigerian attained self-rule in 1960, the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 enshrined Federalism as a mechanism for integration and stability in a deeply fractured society. Interestingly, upon its establishment in 1956, the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) was tasked with the mandate of ensuring that the services which it provides, when considered as a whole, reflect the unity of Nigeria as a Federation and at the same time give adequate expression to the culture, characteristics, affairs and opinions of the people of each region of the Federation. (This was the crux of my lecture at the University Of Nigeria Nsukka in May 2018, titled THE VALUE OF DIVERSITY: RESTRUCTURING TO SAVE NIGERIA)
Since independence and the subsequent demise of the first republic in 1966, successive governments- military and civilian- have adopted a range of policies, legislation and institutions to mitigate the challenge of diversity.
Such initiatives in no rigid chronological order include:
State creation has always been used as a tool for national integration in Nigeria. In 1967, shortly before the civil war, Gen. Gowon created 12 states out of the four regions in a bid to keep the country together. The action was predicated on the belief that the regions became too powerful, even more, powerful than the federal government, to the extent that peoples’ primary allegiance was to their ethnic regions and not the country. This and subsequent state creations in Nigeria- 19 states (1976), 21 states (1987), 30 states (1991) and 36 states (1996)- also sought to foster national cohesion by empowering minority groups. Whether state creation in Nigeria has helped achieve its goal of national integration remains an open question.
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC):
Following the end of the civil war in 1970, the National Youth Service Corps was introduced to facilitate national integration. Decree No. 24 of 1973 which established the scheme sought to enhance interaction among Nigerian youths by providing them with the opportunity of compulsory national service in states other than their places of origin.
Laudable as it was, at least in its early years, it has lately been fraught with numerous problems top among which is the pervasive insecurity in the country. You will recall that during the 2011 General Elections, many Corps members from the southern part of the country were killed by angry northern youths protesting the outcome of the elections. At present, the NYSC does not post corps members to various parts of the country due to security concerns. Further, for most Corp members, a scheme that was meant to boost their commitment to the Nigerian project has turned into a symbol of frustration given that they barely get employment upon completion of the service for not being indigenous to the state where they served. Many prospective corps members skip the scheme, if they can, while others try to influence their posting to their geo-political zones. It is, therefore, no surprise that Nigerians are increasingly calling for the scheme to be scrapped.
Federal Character Principle:
Enshrined in the 1979 Constitution, (although it predated the Second Republic), the Federal Character Principle, seeks to achieve a fair, yet the effective representation of various components of the federation in relation to access to power, status and influence. Unfortunately, the policy, although laudable in principle has been intensely politicized and critics point to it as primarily responsible for the introduction of mediocrity in Nigeria’s public life.
Establishment of Unity Schools
As the name clearly indicates, Unity schools, which later came to be popularly known as federal government colleges were yet another effort by the federal government to foster national integration. While the first set of these institutions were set up by the British before independence, three new ones were established in Warri, Sokoto and Enugu in 1966. General Yakubu Gowon, in 1973, decided to democratize the idea by establishing unity schools in all the 12 states that existed then. The objective was to provide a platform for interaction for brilliant high school students of every class, ethnicity and religion in the country and in the process groom future leaders with a pan-Nigerian vision. Some today question if the Unity schools have outlived their usefulness.
Relocation of the Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja:
The movement of the federal capital territory from Lagos to Abuja was yet another effort at boosting national integration in Nigeria. As the Committee on the location of the Federal Capital Territory noted in its report: There is no doubt that Nigeria is a federation, consisting of a large number of ethnic and language groups with different culture and traditions. Now, Lagos is within an area traditionally belonging to one of the major ethnic groups, namely, the Yoruba … In our view, the circumstances of Nigeria demand that the capital be not situated within a city the type of Lagos with a strong connection with one of the major ethnic groups.
Has the choice of Abuja and its administration over the years vindicated its choice as a symbol of national unity? Is Abuja free from the proprietary air of major ethnic group just like Lagos was? The debate is on.
Revenue Sharing Formula:
In response to sustained and sometimes violent agitation for greater resource control from the oil-rich South-South (Niger Delta) region, the government adopted a revenue-sharing formula of 15% derivation which was enshrined in the 1999 constitution. In addition to increased revenue allocation, it also established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to support development projects in the region.
National Orientation Agency (NOA) and its Precursor MAMSER
Established under Decree 100 of 1993, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is tasked with some of the following objectives which should foster national integration:
Mobilize favourable public opinion for government programmes and policies
Establish an appropriate national framework for educating, orientating and indoctrinating Nigerians towards attitudes, values and culture which project an individual’s national pride and positive national image for Nigeria;
Awaken the consciousness of Nigerians to their responsibilities to the promotion of national unity, citizens’ commitment to their human rights to build a free, just and progressive society;
Develop among Nigerians…. social and cultural values and awareness which will inculcate the spirit of patriotism, nationalism, self-discipline and self-reliance;
Promote new sets of attitudes and culture for the attainment of the goals and objectives of a united Nigerian State;
Instil in the citizens a sense of loyalty to the fatherland.
Before the National Orientation Agency, there was MAMSER and despite the efforts of both Agencies, Nigeria’s integration challenges persist.
Vice-President Osinbajo and a ‘New Tribe’ of Nigerians
Since 2016, Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has repeatedly stressed the urgent need for what he calls ‘a new tribe’ to salvage Nigeria. The ‘new tribe’ according to him must be ‘men and women of all faiths, tribes and ethnicities committed to a country run on high values of integrity, hard work, justice and patriotism…. men and women who are prepared to make the sacrifices and self-constraints that are crucial to building a strong society; who are prepared to stick together, fight corruption side by side, and insist on justice even when our friends are at the receiving end….A tribe consisting of professionals, of businessmen, of politicians, of students, of religious leaders and all who believe that a new Nigeria is possible’.
The challenge remains if the people to constitute this magical ‘new tribe’ exist in the shores of Nigeria and if they do, will they get a chance at governance given the often violent and devious nature of our politics?
From the above, it is evident that Nigeria has never been lacking in efforts at national integration. But it would seem that the harder it tried, the less success it achieves.
While some still prefer to blame British colonialists for Nigeria’s predicament, others place the blame squarely on the inability of the country’s post-independence leadership to manage diversity by giving the federating units a strong sense of purpose based on political equity and socio-economic inclusion.
Major impediments to national integration in Nigeria include:
Hunger for power and primitive accumulation of wealth (corruption) by elites which continues to generate deep-seated animosity and lack of trust in political leaders at all levels, especially at the Centre where power is overly concentrated.
The pervasiveness of corruption in Nigeria is broadly linked to poverty, hunger illiteracy, unemployment, lack of access to resources, cronyism, marginalization, among others which contribute to the perennial tension and disaffection among ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
The exploitation of ethnicity for personal (political and economic) reasons by elites, especially political leaders who routinely use divide and conquer strategies to achieve their goals.
The practice of flawed federalism in which power is concentrated at the centre with little or no devolution to the states. Curiously, Nigeria’s federalism has neither achieved national integration nor fostered local autonomy. A strong constitutional mechanism is fundamental to any effective federal system.
Quite often, we invoke a segment of Chief Obafemi Obafemi Awolowo’s 1947 quote- “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographic expression”, to lament the Nigerian situation. The complete quote as it appears in his book Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) actually spoke to the absence of a truly federal constitution to deal with Nigeria’s diversity- If rapid political progress is to be made in Nigeria it is high time, we were realistic in tackling its constitutional problems. Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘French’. (The English, Welsh, French etc wears his nationality with patriotic pride unlike the Nigerian who sees himself from the ethnic lens). A major task before President Buhari’s second term as well as new (9th) National Assembly is to take the lead in developing a federalist constitution that has the buy-in of all Nigerians. It may seem a herculean task, but transformational leadership is all about doing the impossible.
National Integration: What Role For The Media?
As I said in the beginning, I will address the definition of the Media at the end of the presentation. What then is Mass Media?
Mass Media, according to Online Open Source Dictionary Wikipedia, broadly refers to the communication outlets or tools used to store and deliver information or data which includes key components of the mass media communications industry as:
Print Media (i.e. books, Newspapers and Magazines),
Broadcast Media (i.e. Radio and Television)
New/Digital Media (i.e. Internet and the numerous platforms it has generated),
Photography, Films, Advertising, among others.
All too often, we limit the mass media to Print (Newspapers and News Magazines) and Broadcast (Radio and Television) industries where most of you traditional journalists assembled here today work. But with the rise of the Internet and the several new media platforms it has engendered, in particular news Blogs, you now increasingly have to compete with a new crop of what we now call Citizen Journalists—ordinary citizens who have little to no journalism training.
The broader long-term implication of this trend both for media ownership and practice remains to be seen. But as we have already seen, it has contributed in no small way to the very dangerous and widespread phenomenon of Fake News and Hate speech. Because many social media practitioners enjoy some anonymity, they tend to thrive on pranks and mischief.
Yet, despite the rise of social media and Citizen Journalism, most Nigerians still rely on traditional media (Newspapers, Radio and Television) for their information. Many discerning media consumers still crosscheck with credible traditional media sources when they read things online that they find strange.
In the light of Nigeria’s enormous challenge with national integration, what then is the role of the mass media, particularly traditional Print and Broadcast media? Put differently, how can the media help foster understanding and cooperation among the diverse peoples of Nigeria? Any such effort starts with the recognition that despite our many and sometimes seemingly intractable differences, we have no other country we can call ours and must, therefore, do everything we can to live together. It, therefore, behoves on the media to strive to promote those things that unite us while constructively addressing the more divisive issues.
Mass media generally plays three key roles in every society- Information, Education and Entertainment.
In performing these roles, the media at all times must live up to its watchdog role of holding the government’s feet to the fire. The moment the media fails in that core responsibility, it loses its relevance especially with the citizens and then becomes a lapdog. You may not be aware of this, but most Nigerians in their despondency still look up to the media as the only group that can help save them from Nigeria’s political leadership. This is a trust you must never take for granted. Today, we have very powerful online radio personalities whose intervention with powerful government officials have become the last hope of the common man. They have lost hope in our legal system and look up to the likes of Ordinary Ahmed of Human Rights Radio Abuja for help
Mass Media should help encourage bold and courageous leadership, especially as it relates to actions and appointments that foster ethnic divisions. For example, we have all seen how federal institutions like universities have been turned into ethnic enclaves with the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. Between, the 1960s up to early 1980s, Vice Chancellors of federal universities were appointed solely on merit regardless of their ethnic origin. Before the civil war, Kenneth Dike was the V.C. of the University of Ibadan and Eni Njoku University of Lagos. Prof. Umaru Shehu was at the University of Nigeria. Nsukka in between 1977-9 and Prof. Cyril Onwumechili was at Ife in the late 70’s to early 80s. Today, it is unthinkable to have an Igbo man as the V.C. of the University of Maiduguri or a Hausa man as the V.C. of the University of Nigeria. What message about national integration are we sending by these appointments?
In playing this watchdog role, the media must make a distinction between regime interest and national interest and between regime security and national security. The tendency is for people in government to conflate both. But what is in the regimes’ interest may not necessarily be in the national interest. Same applies to regime security. It is never the case that those in government have a monopoly of patriotism.
While media owners, as part of the ruling political and economic elites, would sometimes want to use their media to further their personal interests, it is incumbent on the journalists not to be willing tools to subvert the unity of the country. The patriot in every journalist should eschew divisive and hateful rhetoric that could foster animosity among segments of the country, especially with respect to ethnic and religious matters which are two of the most problematic identities in Nigeria. From Nigeria’s experience with religious extremism, this will amount to throwing gasoline on a smouldering fire. Journalists and the mass media wield enormous power and influence and with that, must come responsibilities and deep introspection. Media must at all time promote national citizenship over other more parochial and divisive identities.
As a large country with complex diversity challenges, many of which remain unresolved breeding frustration among citizens, media must be in the vanguard of efforts to create a new imaginary; by showcasing the immense possibilities of this country which if well harnessed, can lead to a restoration of hope. It starts with striking a somewhat optimistic tone in reporting of what is, and what can be. This can help Nigerians rise beyond their differences. But it starts with staying true to your calling by holding the leadership accountable and not trying to hob-nob with them as is sometimes the case. (They can still be your friends nevertheless)
What is evident from this paper is that federalism which is supposed to help us manage our diversity has so far failed not partly because of the skewed and half-hearted type of federalism we have practised, especially since the military took over power in 1966. Most diverse countries have successfully used federalism to manage their diversity. The mass media must promote and defend what we sometimes in Nigeria refer to as ‘true federalism’ not as a magical solution to all our problems but as a platform, if well managed, to engage with each other with a view to discussing and hopefully agreeing on the specific governance arrangements suitable to our needs. This should be the major project of the 9th National Assembly and the second term of the Buhari Presidency. Such an effort must be based on democratic consensus and not by some form of fiat as the military framers of the 1999 constitution did in invoking the indivisibility of Nigeria, after all, Power, in democracy belongs to the people.
We should be encouraged in our task of promoting national integration that our situation is not unique as there is literally no country in the world without serious challenges of diversity. It took the genius and labour of people to build so many of the world’s greatest countries, many of which remain work in progress as Americans often speak of still working towards a more perfect union. We cannot abandon the task of building ours even in the face of daunting challenges. That is the task for the mass media and all of us. It was a group of brave young journalists who defied all odds and used their pen to defeat the British colonial empire. Today’s journalists can again lead the charge for a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria. It may sound impossible, but as the master of political miracles, the great Nelson Mandela once said, ‘it always seems impossible until it is done’.