An executive of the new National Stakeholders Working Group (NSWG) otherwise known as Governing Board for the Nigeria extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), veteran journalist Gbenga Onayiga has charged the Nigerian media to rise up to their responsibility as the watchdog for the society. GBUBEMI GOD’S COVENANT SNR presents highlights of his presentation at a recent lecture held at the Lagos Business School, Lekki, Victoria Island.
Beginning with the crisis rocking Nigeria’s dwindling Naira, oil and the subsidy or no subsidy controversy, Mr. Onayiga recalled that the previous government had tried unsuccessfully to decide the matter completely. Of the bold move last Wednesday by the Buhari administration, he said:
“The issue of subsidy is still lingering in Nigeria, even though it cost about 4% of the GDP. Attempts were made by the last administration to remove it completely to no avail. The present administration is facing the same challenge of subsidy removal.”
Having apparently tested the ground and felt the pulse of the people in his one year in office, the Buhari administration made bold to end the subsidy scam permanently by pegging the price of our premium motor spirit, popularly known as petrol at N145 per litre and gave market forces free hand to determine the cost of the product.
The decision was reached after an extensive meeting held at the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in Abuja, after which officials who attended the meeting, said the price of petrol would start from N145 per litre, but explained that the government would strictly monitor compliance..
Making spirited efforts to find a balancing point between government policies and media participatory input, Mr. Onayiga, in his presentation titled, Media Re-Shaping the Nigerian National Economy, admitted openly that he is affected by the current meltdown as much as anyone else.
The veteran journalist compared the travails of Nigeria to that of Moses and the children of Israel, pointing out that the challenges in virtually all facets of our national life are exerting tremendous changes in the way we do things as individuals and collectively as a nation. His presentation:
These socio-economic and political quaking in Nigeria have also forced a reorientation of our political and social attitudes. Those who could some years ago give a gift of fifty thousand naira without batting an eyelid now think twice before parting with ten thousand Naira. The challenge these alterations pose for the media is quite easy to see.
As a critical component of our development as a nation, these charges or reforms stand a much greater chance of succeeding if policy makers constantly bear in mind that they must be media-driven. Only the media can sell the package to the public; and only when the public buy into it does it have a chance of enduring success.” Borrowing a leaf from Aremo Taiwo Allimi’s famous line, “while you may have information without development, you cannot have development without information.”
The Nigerian media and politics of corruption
One cannot define the Nigerian democracy and governance without the corruption component. But the truth is, whether we are really so corrupt or not, the media has created a picture of massive corruption – looting infact, in our entire psyche. This is what analysts refer to as the politics of corruption – that is, the use of the term corruption to fight political wars.
It is difficult therefore to discuss Nigerian media and politics without speaking of the politics of corruption or the corruption of politics. But no matter the argument, depending on the side one belongs, you will agree that the revelations from what has now been widely called Dasukigate and related cases are mind-boggling. We are keenly awaiting the verdicts of the courts, anyway.
Be that as it may, the 28th President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson (1865-1924) said “Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places and avoids public places, and (we believe) it is fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.”
From the foregoing we see that there is a nexus in full disclosure, good governance, corruption and the media. Reverend Father Matthew Kukah (1999) postulated that “for democracy to take firm roots in our nation there is no doubt that the media will have to be alert to its duties and responsibilities as a genuine watchdog… Let us not also forget that it takes a well fed dog to watch effectively.”
No matter the situation, the role of the journalist is quite crucial as Napoleon Bonaparte insisted that “a journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns, a tutor of nations …” The reality is that there is a correlation between economic progress and social mobilisation.
Mobilisation for Transparency
Onayiga who was one time head of Radio Nigeria’s political desk is known for indicting journalists of being perhaps too obsessed with mainstream politics, though he acknowledges the centrality of politics in the life of any nation.
But allow me to use my position as someone who has spent almost forty years in the profession to say that we must also find time to pay attention to the other realms of the Estate, such as the economy which today has taken us unawares. Without doubt, the primacy of our economy in the sustenance of our democracy will remain ever crucial. No government can wield power without money. So is the primacy of the duty of the media in watch-dogging the society, the economy inclusive.
We must recognise that our role in consolidating a democratic culture anchored on justice is a multi-dimensional one which involves monitoring the economy. In the unfolding Nigeria, the media should be the chief advocate of the need to nurture a transparent economic system that does not pander to any interest group, be it public or private. It was Henry Peter Brougham, the 1st Baron of Brougham and Vaux in the United Kingdom who said ‘education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive; Easy to govern but impossible to enslave.’ That is why I am worried about the level of ignorance of many of our people (even journalists) about the oil and gas sector. Many industry watchers have said that the secrecy in the sector is its greatest undoing. Now the onus rests on us to creatively challenge the problems of this mascot, which has brought us to a situation that paints a picture of ‘a culture here nothing works’.
Whether we admit it or not, the reality is that for development to take root in our nation these negative images and ugly myths must be uprooted. Why should the actual amount that NNPC remits to the national coffers be a subject of controversy until recently? Essentially, the role of the media in this terrain is to promote transparency and provide the atmosphere for the fight against corruption to thrive. The debate on how best to reform NNPC is currently on and the media must come out in bold and clear terms to show the way forward. Yes we can do it!
The media has always risen to the occasion. A political editor with Radio Nigeria, Victorson Agbenson once said about the 2015 elections ‘the PDP lost the election in the media’, while popular human rights activist turned politician, Corade Shehu Sani, who now represents Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the Senate alluded to this when he declared in an interview recently that ‘Nigeria’s media helped to bring down Jonathan.’ The implication of this is that the media can determine what happens and who governs in our nation. We can therefore deploy our arsenal to ensure the repositioning of our economy.
If we can tap into the same zeal with which we helped to bring down a sitting government with a party that had been in power for sixteen years, we can surely revive our dying economy. By virtue of the nature of our role and power, we should be in the vanguard of a campaign of creating a truly transparent oil and gas industry that will be accountable to the Nigerian people. We should even be able to call the industry players to order when necessary. So, for what is left of the depleted and fallen oil and gas industry, our focus should now be to maximise whatever we earn there from. To achieve this, we must open up the industry and become truly transparent.
“…the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people” (See Section 22 of the 1999 constitution).
In this regard, I must express my strong personal dismay at the dearth of investigative reporting among us. We have become mere speculators and publishers of press releases from EFCC and ICPC. I pray that we will overcome all obstacles whether economic, capacity wise of professional. Beyond prayer, there should be efforts at training and retraining our workforce. There should also be the provision of the right environment and requisite working tools to deliver investigative reports. I must say that much is at stake. The media should push for stiffer punishment for corrupt public officials.