…’the way that leads to future termination of corruption is the correction of past corruption, For when it is known that those who were corrupt did not get away with it, prospective cheats should think twice before embarking on the negative venture’ -Wale Onyemakinde, the Guardian Newspapers of May 8, 1994.
The recent directive by President Buhari urging media practitioners to among others things expose corrupt governors, local government chairmen, and other government officials, who embezzles public fund meant to improve the lots of their people, is but a pragmatic proof that politics is about grasping the moment. BUHARI’S NEXT LEVEL PROMISE, LOOMING UNCERTAINTIES
Apart from the move looking good peripherally, Mr. President’s choice of this season (electioneering period) as the best time for such directive, and his sudden recognition of the strategic power of the media in a democratic society stand as a telling proof to the above assertion.
As a background to this piece, Mr. President recently while on a televised town-hall titled; The Candidates” urged Nigerian media to expose corrupt governors, local government chairmen and other government officials who embezzle public fund meant to improve the lots of their people and also advised the local government chairmen to come together and speak louder if their statutory allocations are not given to them by their state governors.
As someone that is sufficiently interested in seeing Nigeria turn to a zone of peace, the statement in views could be likened to ‘goodness without good luck’. And the reason is traceable to the unpalatable experience Nigerian media as the fourth estate have mastered trying to complement government effort, inculcate positive political, cultural, and social attitudes among the citizenries or create a mood where the masses are keen to acquire, skills and disciplines against corruption.
Though this experience renders the passionate plea ineffective but on the other hands necessitates the questions as to what explains this strained relation between the government and the media? And, what it currently portends to Mr. President and our country?
For one, thing, the root of this national malady is more than just history but goes deep to the venal of mutual suspicion and underlying animosity.
Let’s begin with reality.
It will amount to the highest level of naivety to believe that media practitioners will whole-heartedly devote their time and resources investigating these public officers whereas the government failed to act on their previous efforts in this direction.
As an illustration, while the vast majority of the past governors, local government chairmen, minister investigated were neither questioned by the relevant government agencies nor prosecuted in the court of law, others were left to walk freely on the streets brandishing their loots and in some amazing cases rewarded with higher offices.
Apart from this reservation, there remains, of course, the question of the extent to which successive administration tried to exert control over the media.
History indicates that at independence, Nigerian leaders despite the multicultural, multi-religious and multilingual composition of the country allowed the media to thrive peacefully, and nourished by professionalism.
This harmonious existence between the government and the media, however, became chaotic as public officer’s quest for new but personal fields to increase their wealth and wellbeing without having such actions investigated or their future plans interrogated.
Attempts to resist such censorship by practitioners snowballed into a frosty relationship with the government reverting to the use of toxic decrees (during the military era). Such as the infamous decree 4, that sent two journalists with the Guardian Newspapers -Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson to jail by a military tribunal on the 4th of July, 1984 for reports that were not lacking in merit but asymmetrically viewed to have contravened the said decree.
This appalling situation continued even after the dethronement of the military rule in May 1999. Such instances include but not limited to; unfortunate attempt to regulate the activities of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in the country, followed by the ill-fated attempt to censor the social media through the introduction of the hate speech bill. And finally, the Nigerian Press Council Bill 2018- a bill that if passed, the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, to which all Nigerians are entitled under section 39 of the constitution, will only exist in the frames without a free press
Its consequences consist essentially in the acts such as Oyo state Government/Fresh FM saga and lately, the Daily Trust Newspapers/military friction- a development that has become to media practitioners a rocky episode of frustration and bewilderment.
This and other sordid performances emanating from the industry explains why the nation is currently groping and stumbling and without any shadow of the doubt remain a fundamental reason why this passionate appeal by the president will only exist in the frames.
However, If Mr. President truly wants to fight corruption, the media has a role to play but the greater chunk of that responsibility lies in his ability to remember that ‘the way that leads to future termination of corruption is correction of past corruption, For when it is known that those who cheated did not get away with it, prospective cheats should think twice before embarking on the negative venture’
This became necessary particularly now that corruption has transcended to both nepotistic and supportive.
As we know and have observed lately, while ‘nepotistic corruption involves unjustified and often unqualified appointment of friends or acquaintances to public offices in violations to the established norms (federal character), supportive corruption on its parts refers to actions undertaken to protect the existing or already done corrupt practices particularly when the person(s) involved belong to the same ruling party.
Also, for the media to give the needed support in this direction, the President like his counterparts the world over must understand that a free press is not a privilege but an organic necessity in society. That without reliable and intelligent reporting, the government cannot govern, as there is no adequate way in which it can keep itself informed about what the people of the country are thinking or doing.
Media practitioners on their part must create professional characters embodied with virtues that people can respect, develop moral and ethical principles that the masses can applaud and trust– develop genuine independence from partisan political personalities so as to discharge their responsibilities with unshakeable confidence.
BY JEROME UTOMI