WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
Over the years, bastardisation of institutions has become a norm in Nigeria. Regards, respect and recognitions for once revered institutions are freely waning with adverse impact on the socio-economic, political and cultural components and development of Nigeria.
We have seen our country retrogresses to a low whereby fingers are pointed at – to degrade – the presidency including the president of the nation at will; a level where the national legislature has virtually lost its high reputation as it is now commonly disregarded and disparaged as a house of criminals and the corrupt; where the judiciary is no longer trusted and rely upon to carry justice without biases and generally classified as a marketplace for selling of judgements to the highest bidders.
Nigeria has dropped to the point where even tribal and religious associations are no longer accorded any form of respect because of the common perception that the overseers and conveners have sold off the soul of these associations on the altar of corruption and paving way for the decay of inherent values of the groups. Severely grave yet value-eroding antecedents have been created in Nigeria and its key institutions. Unfortunately, institutions are not likely to work and deliver expected results when they lack acceptance from the populace, a scenario that has become the hallmark of the Nigeria nation.
Non-stop and unabated, both the leadership class and the citizens alike have monumentally oiled the wheels diminishing national institutions and rather than do anything to reverse the unfavourable dispensation, we seem to prefer the dysfunctional sequence. So, when the Fani-Kayode impasse with a journalist broke out recently and public outcries mounted against the former Minister of the Federal Republic, a self-acclaimed statesman and public critic, what I see is national hypocrisy. As grave as the action of Femi Fani-kayode was, he has only exhibited a common vice of our contemporary society and the system we built for ourselves.
It sounds unbelievable, ridiculous, and hypocritical when Nigerian citizens found a common ground to reject verbal abuse on a journalist in the same country where they condone and celebrate the gross abuse of figures above the pay grade and order of journalists. This is the same nation where the citizens queue to insult their leaders and elders on every available platforms; a nation where the likes of Fani-kayode are celebrated when they rain insults and derogatory rhetoric on the foremost leadership; the same nations where the institution of journalism has become the bearer of fake, destructive and insult-bearing narratives against citizens at the behest of their paymaster.
This is our evolved culture as a nation. The recurrent contents of our social media; the nature and structure of the news we appreciate; the contents that our media houses revolve and look out for; the ease with which we speak ill of individuals and carry fake propagandas that arouse emotions and sell, is our defining currency. I am in no way presenting the uncontrolled and irresponsible outburst from Fani-Kayode as acceptable by any means. It is not and can never be; but in the context of our existing culture as a people, it is neither strange nor unexpected.
In the words of the renowned storyteller, Chinua Achebe, “the center could not hold …things fall apart;” there are consequences for all allowed actions. The way we lay our bed is the way we lie on it. We have set the nation on the path of disregard and disrepute for bodies and institutions that should have been jealously guarded, and that path we must continue to follow until we return to correct the unsavory foundation we wittingly laid for ourselves.
Now, to the first subject of my reflection this week: attacks on journalists and media houses, in the form of verbal abuses, death, imprisonments and outright disappearances, have risen in all categories across the globe. The cases of journalists’ detainments by authoritarianism state leaders and non-state groups around the world is on the rise alongside the increased outburst of insults and disparaging utterances against elements of the profession. Somehow, leaders and supposedly respected members of the society are leading the pack of perpetrators of these irresponsible emerging trends.
What we saw Fani-Kayode displayed last week is an expression of twin factors: the downgrading of the profession of journalism by the society as a result of multiple factors and a voiced hatred for hearing the truth that are not palatable, which is the responsibility of the profession to voice as often as necessary. This hatred for hearing the truth, as demonstrated by Femi Fani-Kayode and very regularly by the kind of unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and associations we parade in Nigeria, we must begin to realise, has tragic consequences both on the continuous performance of the profession, particularly with regard to the socio-political stability of our society. When journalists are targeted in whatever form of attacks as they perform their duties, as it is becoming prevalent globally, access to unfettered truth and reportage of events as they occur will become a rare attribute of our society.
This emerging behaviour is not peculiar to Nigeria. As worrisome as it is, leaders across the world are finding it relatively easy to attack employees of the media who fail to take the path that either praises or ignores their weaknesses. As more leaders and individuals in the corridor of power as well as powerful men who are anti-masses as they become power drunk, autocratic and assume ungiven position of omnipotence, more incidents of direct and indirect attacks on journalists and the media will surface. In the last three years, we have seen the president of the most powerful nation and one that previously pride itself as the arbiter of freedom of the press, repeatedly humiliate members of the press with all sorts of unbecoming languages without end. We have seen outright disdain for members of the press when they ask questions that these leaders preferred not to have asked. It is disturbing that from January 2017 to now, more than 26 countries have introduced laws that actively restrict media access in the name of preventing “fake news.” Even the president of America has made attempts to silence the social media as a tool to prevent free flow of information he considers injurious to his ambitions. There are reports of leaders in Poland, Hungary, Turkey, China, the Philippines, Cambodia and a list of others citing “fake news” as a reason to criticise or restrict the press in their countries.
This is a time like never before when unfettered and unimpeded journalism is needed as an integral element to grow our democratic system. Who else or what other institution would hold the politicians and political office holders accountable to the people if not the media. Politicians and power brokers are becoming more estranged from reality – the needs of the nation – thus, the need to constantly remind them that power belongs to the people is a journalistic imperative. A straightforward question such as “who is bankrolling your tour of the country” is ideal, normal, necessary and by all standard, do not portray an intention of insult or humiliation, except when it has a potential to elicit the truth that may be unpalatable to men like Femi Fani-Kayode.
There is no doubt that the practitioners of journalism in Nigeria have been behaving unethically in a lot of ways and have been loose with the facts, causing the disposition of the news business to become contemptible. But, be it as it may be, the institution will forever remain a vital part of our nation’s free and open democratic system. It would more than any other institution remain the watchdog on behalf of the citizens, as it monitors the behaviour of individuals and every other institution in the interest of the public. At no time would attempts by any entity to abridge the freedom of speech or of the press be allowed to take root in our system. When we allow the press to be attacked without due consequences, we allow an attack on the very system that made our nation livable. A patriot as claimed by Fani-Kayode would know by default to honour the nation’s Constitution when they defend the press rather than humiliate journalists and denigrate the media. The public right to know and our imbibed tradition of free press must be well shielded from assaults.
It is unfortunate that we have to parade the caliber of Fani-Kayode as leaders of thought in our nation. Forgetting our histories and ignoring the things we saw and heard yesterday is a major discredit to our system. There are catalog of unsavory and proven false information accredited to the person of the same man over the last decade; the ones against the person of the former president Goodluck Jonathan, the massive heap of lies, insults and open abuses on the person and office of the current President Muhammadu Buhari; the continuous regular outburst of unsubstantiated information against individuals perceived as opposition and enemy per time, till now.
Yet, we line up and most of the time praise him and his likes for the lies they tell and the fake news they spread. When a man tells you lies as a pastimes and you oblige him, praise him and accept him for the lies he tells, in the case of Fani-Kayode, when his praise is sung the way his crowd of supporters do, it is only natural he grows wings and assumes the position of the almighty and unquestionable god. Have we ever asked the question what has this individual offered the country and its population to deserve the position of respect we offer him? On what grounds does he merit the accolades he receives from those who line up behind him, and what qualifies him for the position he arrogates to himself as he takes the tour of the country purportedly assessing projects in some states, in a country, where he cannot personally point at projects and additions he made to the growth of the nation as one with the privilege to have held a top government position. How a man unintelligent enough to identify opportunities in a question, no matter how bizarre and unfriendly the question maybe, is being seen as intelligent enough to be refer to as a leader is strange; a genuine leader must understand that a time will come to take rubbish and transform them to opportunity for personal and collective plus for himself and his constituency. If this is what PDP is preparing to unleash on Nigeria to return to power, then, it must forget power eternally. A fraction of the citizens may continue to sing their praises because of the crumbs they drop, but the population that matters would always know how to separate the shafts from the grains when the time is set.
I suggest we should look beyond the Fani-Kayode outburst as we categorize it as unavoidable considering the source, but rather to the need to offer protection to the media as we salvage the image of the profession in the interest of the nation and what the profession contributes to our total existence socially, politically and culturally. But, as much as this is the only path to reestablish the integrity of the media and all related institutions in Nigeria, we will forever remain short of the target for as long as we continue to play to the gallery, politicising and sentimentally responding to issues as the Fani-Kayode current mishap. It sounds so strange that in a week when the body of journalists across the country in solidarity are boycotting meetings with the man and all Nigerians are lending their voices to condemn the abominable act of the man, a revered man of God would openly praise the same man as he declared in prophecy and prayer that he will become the president of Nigeria someday soon.
That singular action of the clergy man is another revelation of what we have become as a people. It would not be surprising if in the next few days another chapter of the body of journalists comes out to exonerate Fani-Kayode and begin an image laundry job for him. We are enticed by the brown envelope and almost a willing readiness to support evil in exchange for financial benefits or consideration for sentimental affiliations and biases. Soon, youths and perhaps women groups of different extractions will be induced to take to the street in praise and defense of the man who just dissipated the relevance of a major institution in the country.
We will soon begin to hear loud and wide exhibitions of amplified reasons why the man is the best man to lead the country. If we could praise Atiku Abubakar and lined up to make him our president not minding his atrocities and hatred for the nation as clearly manifested in his grand corruption against the nation; and declare how we don’t care about whatever he had done in the past; how we had forgiven him; how every other person is also a thief, then we are still a long way from wanting out of the mess we are as a people.
Peradventure, we are ready and willing to reclaim the integrity of this institution and others that have become bastardised by our actions and inactions, we would have to be more than determined to take steps we have cleverly dodged till now. The reactions must begin with the body of journalists in Nigeria willing to undergo an internal cleansing; the self-dissipating and destructive brown envelop regime must end; for as long as these individuals in power believe they can use money to buy off the conscience and direction of service delivery of members of the body, the more they would also indulge and believe that they can address journalists anyhow and at will, after all whoever is responsible for you also enjoys control over you. You cannot collect money from them like beggars and expect respect from the same people.
What happened is a declaration of war against the media in the country and the body of the profession must see it and accept it as a war and one that must be won at all cost. Just as it is beginning to happen, the entire chapters of journalists and sister bodies across the country must stand in complete solidarity with their own in both principle and action. They must not accept being tamed or bought over by money. Everywhere and at every opportunity, the man and all his likes must be made to recognise and respect the sanctity and integrity of institutions in the country, beginning from the media. Everyone must continue to ask that same line of questions until an answer is provided.
Finally, on this issue, it is now more than ever necessary that legislations that broadly protect the media from both internal and external interferences must be enacted to protect the media from itself as it regards allowance of unwholesome practices such as the brown envelope journalism and growing adoption of fake news and hate speeches as norms; and then, from all forms of external attacks by revisiting the soul of the freedom of the press Act to become more exerting in its implementation and punishment of perpetrators of acts that impede members of the media from doing their legitimate and due diligence in reporting events and enforcing accountability on individuals and institutions in the country.
Now, to the second subject: in the space of two weeks, two institutions in the country were badly hit by an attempt to destroy their strongholds and integrity. While we were more intent with what happened at the derogatory humiliation of the journalist, we almost forgot to realise what is becoming of the legal institution in the country; from becoming infected with electoral malpractice which has become an accepted currency in our system to breaking the association of lawyers – NBA of 87 years just got balkanised. As usual, our love for money, position, power and relevance and the readiness to attain them by all means has ended all the great efforts and works to nurture a solidified base for the legal practitioners in the country. The very way our mismanagement of political parties leads regularly to formation of splinter groups like the NPDP and several others on a regular basis, we now pride ourselves also with having N-NBA. If we continue at this rate unabated, we would probably have no institution standing in this country any longer in the next decade.
Finally, CAMA has presented, as usual, another chance to fuel our interest for religious sentiments. The nation has started boiling underground as respected clergymen who should be more concerned and preoccupied by the well-being of the country and its people, are currently at the forefront of heating up the system and instigating their flocks and bases against the nation and its leader. I almost thought CAMA meant Christian Association Management Acts, until I read through the Act. It is my opinion that once again, we have unnecessarily chosen to create disharmony where there ought not to be one. We opposed RUGA policy without bothering to fully understand the import of the policy on the security and economy of the nation; now, we are beginning to do the same thing to CAMA because some people tell us to oppose it.
However, several aspects make the CAMA Act and the outburst against its passage interesting. The bill that was recently passed into law and which has been in the National Assembly since 2004 during the 5th Assembly and the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, was not an executive bill, meaning it was sponsored by an individual who happened to be a member of the then ruling party. That is in line with policies of this current Administration penchant for picking up and implementing abandoned policies from past administrations. The adoption of bank BVN, TSA, the endless continuation of abandoned projects make the list.
As far as I am concern, for as long as the Act does not wrestle ownership of worship centers from both the Muslim and Christians worshippers but steadfastly impose control on management of resources of the centers as it is commonly done in every other sane society of the world, it remains in the ambient of the law to do so. In the United States and the UK equally, we have a number of Nigerians owned religious houses that faithfully submit to the same version of the act we are criticising in our own country right now. The biggest church in the world today is in South Korea established by Yon gi Cho. Some years back, the people of the country found out he spent $12 million on himself and his family and he was jailed for that. That we have been negligent at exerting control till now does not submit to the fact that we cannot begin to do what is right onwards.
Nations are run by individuals on the platforms of institutions. When either of the two component is compromised, the nation is compromised. The thick errors and non-development of Nigeria over the decades are summary consequences of its dilapidated institutions. To get up from where we are and get to where we want to be, we must re-energise our system via our institutions and allow them to function as dictated by their establishment protocols, aka rule of law.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!