Afolabi Gambari               

Mixed fortune trails journalists wherever they go,
although the story is different from one country to another. But on the whole,
the story is always the same, that is, journalists are endangered species; the
only difference being that the danger is adequately taken care of in some
countries while it can be neglected or not taken care of at all in other
countries. For the purpose of charity, however, the focus here is on
journalists in Nigeria and how they have fared in their operations till date,
as well as how they would fare in the years ahead.

Over the years, the Nigerians journalists have
prospered. Well, this prosperity is not at par with politicians or political
jobbers or, for that matter, accidental leaders who have taken so much out the
nation’s treasury, especially in the last three decades. For the most part, the
journalists have been strong stakeholders in nation-building, putting leaders on
their toes and generally carrying out their duty as “mirror of the society”.
The society has not been less appreciative of the journalists’ uplifting role.
It is just that while the journalists need cash most times to live the life
they desire, the society would merely acknowledge them and leave them completely
on their own, especially in their time of deprivation which often leaves them
at the mercy of callous employers and high-handed state officials.

Whereas state officials that comprise civilian and
military leaders see journalists as partners in progress pursuit, they are
quick to make scapegoats of the journalists when things turn awry. Former
president, retired General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who took over power in a
palace coup in 1985, did not see his move as inordinate ambition, being Number
Three person in the government that he toppled. Instead, he famously blamed the
media for his audacity after he ascended the post. “The media necessitated our
coming into power,” Babangida told a group of journalists few days after he
became the first Nigerian military coup leader that would take the title of
president. “We noted the ills you kept highlighting and decided to act on them
and here we are,” he added as he ultimately declared that his government would “rely
on the media to get our work done.” Being fully settled in power, it did not
take long before the same government turned on the media as it reeled out its
anti-people policies that the media felt duty-bound to protect the citizens
and, ultimately, themselves from. Indeed the Babangida administration (1985-1993)
went down as the first and only one in Nigeria in which a journalist was bombed
to death on his breakfast table for investigating the government’s sincerity to
Nigerians.

Had the aborted Gideon Orkah coup of April 22, 1990
against the Babangida regime succeeded, the coup plotters would most likely have
blamed the media for encouraging them as well, considering their painstaking
chronicle of the ills perpetrated by Babangida against the Nigerian people. But
despite the coup failure, the media still suffered untold hardship after being
accused of aiding and abetting the putsch and hounded to no end.

Stories abound of how subsequent military and
civilian governments after Babangida’s courted the media upon assuming power,
only to abandon them soon after and sometimes even turned the media against the
larger society on behalf of the govrnment.

Nothing has changed in the prevailing dispensation
headed by Muhammadu Buhari, himself a former military head of state who reigned
from December 31 1983 to August 27 1985 when he was overthrown in a palace
coup, aforementioned. He did not court the media during his first coming and
was famous, well, or notorious for jailing two frontline journalists of the same
newspaper for publishing a piece of information that his government was yet to
get cleared for such purpose. To be fair, Buhari had declared in his first
official interview as military head of state early in 1984 that “I will tamper
with press freedom.” But because he gave no concise details, very few had
reckoned until he started to bare his fangs, as it were. The interesting aspect
in his second coming as democratic head of state is that he has neither courted
the media nor despised them, apparently sending a subtle message that he would
respect the media if they respect themselves. Perhaps, it is to his credit that
more than one year into his government, no journalist has been arrested or
detained or tried in the law court with a view to being jailed. But that is not
a feat whatsoever, in any case, this being a democracy where the rule of law
should prevail.

Yet, nothing should be more unsettling than a
newspaper headline three weeks ago blaring “Cross River government declares
journalist wanted”. In the report, it was stated that “Cross River State
Government has declared a Facebook journalist, Efere Paul, wanted for allegedly
disseminating information on Facebook platform which the government says is
false and a calculated attempt to bring the image of government to disrepute.” The
irony of it all was embedded in the fact the declaration was made by the
state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Joseph Ushie Abang,
“while addressing journalists in his office in Calabar.”

According to commissioner Abang, Paul posted on his
Facebook timeline thus: “Governor Ben Ayade shuttles the airways, yet there is
no homeland security or Police to fight armed robbers.” Abang insisted that
Paul’s statement posed serious threat to governance as “it causes disaffection
between the government and members of the public.” One would have thought Abang
should leave “members of the public” to determine who lived a false life
between the Facebook journalist and Governor Ayade and engage himself in serious
law issues that would move the state forward, instead of making a hero out of a
Facebook journalist called Efere Paul. Nonetheless, Paul’s travail should only
signal rough days ahead for journalists who dare to beat government officials
to “members of the public”.

In the same week, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji
Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III, blamed journalists for “jumping to conclusion by
declaring” that a traditional ruler in Plateau State, Chief Lazarus Agai, in
company of his wife and son, met their gruesome end in the hands of
gun-wielding marauders suspected to be Fulani herdsmen right on their farm
“without waiting for Police to investigate.” Like the Calabar case, the irony
was not lost in Jos, Plateau State capital, where the Sultan made his
declaration in the presence of journalists as he paid condolence visit to the
Gbong Gwom Jos, Jacob Gyang Buba.

We have witnessed the case of Edo State Governor Adams
Oshiomhole upbraiding a hapless widow at a market in a callous manner during a
visit and the incident was reported in the media with audio and visual
evidence, only for the governor’s aides to rush to the same media to say: “Our
attention has been drawn to a malicious report in the media purporting that
Governor Adams Oshiomhole upbraided a widow at the market. Nothing can be
farther from the truth and we wish to state without fear of contradiction that
Governor Oshiomhole is too humane and courteous to say such thing to a helpless
woman.” Soon after, the “nicely treated” woman was invited to the state’s
Government House and rewarded generously in cash and kind. More irony, like in
Calabar and Jos: the media were again called to witness the occasion with a
view to presenting same to the public the next day.

Hardly can any group of individuals be more of pawns
on a chess board as the Nigerian media.

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