Thursday, March 26, 2009


“The truth is, for our democracy to work it needs not just an engaged citizenry,
but an informed one. We've known this since this nation's earliest days. …
"Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of
the people," they wrote, are "necessary for the preservation of their rights and
liberties." -Lee Hamilton “The Center on Congress Indiana University”
The impetus to write this piece came from no other place but Lee Hamilton brilliant piece where I extracted the quote above. I am going to be borrowing heavily from his writing. But let me take the liberty to give a little background to this piece. We learnt recently from This Day newspapers that Lagos State government and indeed Lagos State governor maybe doing an awesome job. Thanks to a columnist from ThisDay Newspapers, Simon Kolawole who wrote “My write-up today should help us understand the Fashola Phenomenon and put things in proper perspective. We can then ask: what can the rest of Nigeria learn from this?” The article went on and on to extol the many virtues and achievement of Fashola to the exclusions of all others.

When I first read this piece my mind immediately went back to ThisDay’s earlier hit piece on the same Lagos state governor. I am sure Mr. Kolawole, as editor of Thisday newspapers know one thing or two about that piece. Here is my riposte on that saga: “In a news story that is clearly a cut between an “hit piece” and an otherwise intelligent investigative report, we learnt of the shenanigans and hypocrisy of the former governor of Lagos State and his connections with the disgraced Abacha’s family friend-the Chagoury’s; as well as the multi billion naira awarded to the latter’s company-Hi-tech Construction company by the Lagos State government.” Thisday ended that news story titled “The Abacha Henchmen’s Chagoury Take Over Lagos” with a clincher “this article is the first in Thisday series on state government.” That was over 6 months ago, nothing but laudatory praises have appeared in Thisday. We are still waiting on their expose’

To Thisday newspapers all of that is water under the bridge, they have patched up with Tinubu, Fashola and the Lagos state government and it is back to business as usual, but to those of us who fought to enthrone the same democracy they are frittering away we are not done yet.

Thisday is not alone in this “jankara” journalism. The Nation newspapers purportedly owned by Tinubu acolytes fought back with their own hit piece on Thisday and its publishers. Other newspapers around the same time “led concurrently for three weeks with damning exposure of questionable award of pension by Gombe State House of Assembly to Governor Danjuma Goje. When adverts from Gombe State and friends of Gombe State started appearing in the pages of this newspaper and other newspapers, nothing was heard of the Goje pension saga” according to a Nigerian blogger who had observed this shameful practice.

This “jankara” journalism practice is also extended to corporate Nigeria. A GSM service provider gave tariff free lines to major columnists and editors. “This Greek gift has ensured that this company does not get the truth about the company activities reported. When any columnist or editor runs out of weekend cash, or money for staff salary, a not too favorable report is done, which is automatically followed by an advert or appearance on the cover of the weekend edition/centre page special report or pull out from the affected corporation or individual. This is how Nigerian media runs.”

When I started a column about Nigerian columnist I received a deluge of emails and text messages from Nigerian, most of whom wanted us to call them out. Many Nigerian can see through these shenanigans but do we have enough informed Nigerian to do something about this charade? One elderly Nigerian called me from Washington DC, an accountant by profession, he was so bitter about the piss poor state of Nigerian journalism that his son said he almost broke his vein speaking to me on the phone. He said he wanted me to concentrate on Reuben Abati. He wondered why I feature more positive and above board columnist like Sonala Olumhense and Okey Ndibe when I could have devoted more space to graft seeking columnist like Reuben Abati, shaming them every week. I told him my attempt is to show there is a better way. He concluded by reminding me that up till now, no one, not even the management of The Guardian newspapers have been able to come up with a reasonable explanation about how and why Reuben Abati accepted land titles from former FCT minister El-Rufai even whilst he writes glowing article about the latter’s tenure in Abuja.

Getting the basic facts right is essential to governing well, especially in a democratic setting. One of the most critical job facing political leaders in a society as complex as Nigeria is to forge a consensus among many people and interests holding competing views. This is difficult enough to do when everyone agrees on the underlying facts; it is virtually impossible when there is no agreement on them. Voters' misperceptions, in other words, can become formidable obstacles to the functioning of our representative democracy. This is why an informed citizenry is imperative for a successful democratic experiment and an articulated media without ulterior agenda is synthetically unavoidable if our experiment is going to last.

Misperceptions develop for many reasons. It can be wearying to sort through all the sources of information—the media, advocacy groups, the Internet, politicians, commentators—on any given subject. And there are always political leaders, lobbyists and others who are willing to let misperceptions linger. After all, if all you need do to win an election is bribing a few journalists why bother with campaigns.

By the same token, there is no single fix. Part of the answer lies with Nigerian growing members of Congress and other public officials, who have a responsibility to correct public misperceptions. Part of it lies with the media, which in recent years has shown a worrisome tendency to downplay its role as even-handed, in-depth civic educator and to focus on entertainment or once-over reporting. Part of it lies with civic groups—some of them do their level best to counter the flood of misinformation, but they often seem outmatched. Lee Hamilton wrote this about politics in the United States of America, but you can apply this mutatis mutandis to the on going situation in present day Nigeria.

In the end, the burden lies with each of us as citizens. A lot of powerful groups and interests in Nigeria try to manipulate public opinion, and they're very good at it. Yet a democratic society depends on its citizens separating the wheat from the chaff, forming good judgments, and putting pressure on their representatives to act accordingly. If ordinary people can't do this or don't want to devote the time and energy, the country suffers. No matter how good our leadership, if we don't have discriminating citizens, this nation will not work very well.

There is an old observation that a society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves. Living in a democracy may be a basic right, but it is also a privilege, and it is one that must be earned by living up to the fondest dreams of our founders for a well-educated and knowledgeable citizenry.

One good thing about the state of media in Nigeria is that the traditional media no longer have sole control of the message. Thanks to the innumerable Nigerian online bloggers populating the internet. A stark contrast between the approach of the traditional media and online blogosphere could be seen in the coverage of a certain Professor Gabriel Oyibo, who claimed have answered questions that Einstein tried to address until he died regarding the origin of the universe. Nigeria Guardian Newspapers through its United States correspondents Laolu Akande published a glowing tribute “celebrating” the achievement of the so-called Oyibo, based entirely on claims made by him. Several months after the publication the said professor surfaced in Abuja and was hosted and feted by Nigeria University Commission, apparently acting on the news report of Guardian.

Thanks to Elendu reports, who dispatched their reporter, Omoyele Sowore to investigate Professor Oyibo’s claim, it turns out many of the professor’s claim are either downright fraudulent or laden with delusions. You can read his report here. In that report Sowore took the pains to verify every claim and contact every institution referenced by Guardian newspapers. At the end of day Guardian newspapers got eggs on their faces, but don’t think that is the end of the saga. It turns out Professor Oyibo is an Idoma who happens to come from the same region as the current attorney general of the federation, Michael Aondoakaa, a man who had sworn to do everything in its power to exterminate eviscerate the very real threat the Nigerian blogosphere posed to their murderous hold on power in Nigeria.
Here is where you as a reader come in to help defend democracy in Nigeria. We all needs to be better informed. Don’t take everything you read from the traditional media or that you watch on NTA or AIT as gospel truth. Challenged them by writing a rejoinder, if they refuse to publish your piece sends it online. Let’s tell them we would no longer sit idle whilst they destroy our hard earned democracy. A better informed citizenry is a requisite vanguard to an enduring democracy.

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