Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Open Letter to Nigeria’s News Media

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the … public”- Theodore Roosevelt 1918

Let me start out this letter by asking all Nigerian news media if they believed that Nigeria exist to cater to the interest of People’s Democratic Party or the Nigerian people. Recent reports about the comment made by the National Security Adviser, General Owoye Azazi (retd) at the “South South” Conference and the attendant reports and comments by Nigeria’s news media prompted me to write this missive. Most of the print and electronic media in Nigeria reports that the NSA chief states that the Peoples Democratic Party undemocratic “zoning” clause should be partly blamed for the increasing destruction visited on Nigerians by the “Boko Haram” sect.

It is now almost a week after the conference and no news media in Nigeria has been able to print or post online the full text of the speech delivered by the NSA. Rather, Nigerian media has participated in an orgy of condemnation of the NSA chief, all without any balance. Some of the comments printed by the news media excoriating General Azazi range from the ludicrous to the insane. For instance, virtually all news report that carried responses to the General’s comment starts out “General Azazi (retd) on Saturday came under fire over his claims…”

No serious attempts were made to evaluate or analyze the comment made by the General. Not even an ounce of efforts were made to publish the entire text or audio online or in print. The press joined in the demonization of the security chief who is hired to analyze Nigeria’s security situations. Most of the reports seem to conclude that the primary duty of the National Security Adviser is to the president and his party, not the entire the country. Of course most of these media couched the response in form of reports of other people’s comment such as the one attributed to Olisah Metuh, the national publicity secretary of PDP. Some reports seem to have gone out of their way to solicit acidic comments of politicians from the northern part of the country.

One commentator, a former commissioner of police, Abubakar Tsav states “The remark … could be true based on intelligence available to him, but the public utterance by the NSA is irresponsibly faulty. The only honourable option left for him is to throw in the towel and resign. He has no business in government. He even appears not interested or dedicated to his job.” Here, is a call to sacrifice truth on the altar of violence by a former police chief and no reporter bother to challenge Mr. Tsav. Another commenter, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, said that “to begin with, the Boko Haram insurgency began in Yobe state in 2003 and later spread to Borno and Bauchi states under ANPP.” Here, I expect the reporter to ask the Alhaji if he had listened to the speech or read the full text. This is because the security chief dissertation is not on the origin of Boko Haram sect but its profligacy. Another comment attributed to Governor Yuguda excoriated Gen. Azazi for making a comment capable of smearing the name of PDP, to him “Azazi ought to have used his experience in moulding his statements, adding that any matters that affected the party should first of all be discussed internally before any public pronouncement”. Again, I expect reporters to ask the governor if Azazi’s allegiance should be to PDP or Nigerian people who pay his salary, sadly the reporter simply let it slide.

My query to the Nigerian news media is this: If Nigerian politicians appears on your news broadcast or editorial board interviews to make comments that were outright lies or such that will endanger the safety of the country, won’t you take a moment to halt the conversation and correct them? At least, I’d like to think so. Don’t you think it is apposite to direct such politicians to some indisputable fact stated in the speech? For instance, in the speech the General states “Today, if you arrest all the leaders of Boko Haram, I don’t think the problem would end, because the situation that created the sect has not been tackled e.g. poverty and the desire (of some people) to rule Nigeria. These issues cannot be isolated unless they are handled comprehensively”. One could of course, conclude that most journalists in Nigeria are too lazy to challenge insinuations, conjectures and suppositions with facts.

The dangers posed to our polity and democracy by such jejune extrapolations and censorship is real and present. In a time when we are trying to make equally difficult security decisions against a backdrop of homegrown terrorist and complex corruption problems, it is incumbent on the news media to play a role in helping Nigerians obtain the best, most accurate information available. Without it, the odds that we will not make the right decisions at this perilous time are greatly are greatly increased.

Perhaps it's easier to allow our media to pass along a distorted version of history. It is always easier to pile on and precipitate the removal of an honest security chief for political gain. Vultures are already waiting in the wings; those who want the job will stand at nothing to use their friends in the media to push the president to remove the NSA chief. Nigeria will be the worst for it at the end. But being complicit in the twisting of Nigerian political history isn't just lazy, it's dangerous. It has consequences that will affect the health, wealth and lives of all Nigerians. It lessens the chance that our children and grandchildren will ever get to see true democracy enthroned in our nation.

Please, print the full report of the General’s speech and asked Nigerian politicians who are drawing umbrage from the comments what they think is the root cause of the intractable security problem we are facing. History will remember you for doing so.

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