Saturday, July 13, 2024

25 years after return to civil rule how has journalism fared?

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By Francis Onyeukwu, NAN –

The Nigeria’s media are among the institutions whose role in the struggle for the return of the country’s democracy in May 29, 1999 stands out.

In fact, the media remained unbowed in the heat of onslaught unleashed by the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha, now late and other military junta.

Many activists were involved in the struggle that ousted the military junta that hijacked political power through coups and counter coups for cumulative 29 out of 39 years of Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

Many human rights infractions were committed by the junta as democracy and rights activists such as Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka Ken-Saro Wiwa, Lola Omolol, Dan Suleiman, Ebitu Ukiwe and now President Bola Tinubu battled the military.

They found partners in a fearless media some of whom witnessed proscriptions and other forms of attacks as they rose stoutly in challenge of the Khaki junta.

Some journalists lost their lives in the struggle while others suffered other forms of deprivations, including ‘routine’ detention in security agencies’ dungeons.

But in spite of the contributions made by the fourth estate of the realm, not much respect and recognition seem to have come their way 25 years after the unbroken democratic governance.

Most journalists, especially those in the private media organisations, are either poorly paid or not placed on salaries.

The problem of all important training and re-training of newsmen cut across both private and public media organisations.

Dr Chris Isiguzo, President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), said it was unfortunate that in spite of their unquantifiable contribution to the return to democracy the media remain under appreciated by the society and politicians.

“Journalists and media houses took immense risks, often facing persecution, imprisonment, and even death, to ensure that the voices of the oppressed were heard and for the calls on democratic governance to be amplified.

“The press served as a beacon of hope and a rallying point for pro-democracy activists and groups, relentlessly exposing the injustices and human rights abuses perpetrated by the military regimes.

“Their courage and tenacity played a critical role in mobilising public opinions and international support for the cause of democracy,” he said.

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Isiguzo says in the 25 years since the restoration of democratic governance, the media has continued to play a crucial role in consolidating and deepening democracy in Nigeria.

“It has been instrumental in holding government and public officials accountable, advocating transparency, and promoting good governance.

“Through investigative journalism, the media has uncovered numerous instances of corruption and abuse of power, thereby contributing to the fight against corruption and enhancing public trust in democratic institutions,’’ he said.

He said the implementation of restrictive laws; especially the Cybercrimes Prohibition Act of 2015 and the occasional hostility from certain government quarters underscore the ongoing struggle for true press freedom more than two decades after return to democracy.

Isiguzo insists that for democracy to thrive, it is imperative that the government not only respects but actively protects the rights of journalists to report freely.

“Many Nigerians rely on the media to stay informed and hold leaders accountable. However, the relationship is sometimes strained due to issues of trust and credibility.

“The proliferation of misinformation platforms and sensationalism in some segments of the media has led to skepticism among the public,” he said.

Malam Ali Baba Inuwa, the immediate past Head Politics Desk, News Agency of Nigeria believes that poor welfare and lack of common front among media professionals are top on the problems affecting the profession.

“When the struggle for media salary structure was being pursued it was some journalists and proprietors of media organisations that scuttled it.

“Yet it was the media that aided the struggle for enhanced salaries for medical doctors, nurses, legal officials and other groups,” he said.

Inuwa, a retired veteran journalist also said that the albatross of media practice in Nigeria are both the society and government.

“I began my media practice in the 1990s and the respect for the media then was better than what we are seeing now.

“In spite the position of the media in the fight for the return of civil rule, the military had good respect and the people held journalists in higher esteem than now.

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“I recalled with nostalgia, in NAN quarters then, it was only two persons that had Volkswagen cars, the salary wasn’t too fantastic and yet people respected us when they noticed we are journalists in social gatherings” he said.

Inuwa, who recently retired from the services of NAN, said Nigerians, especially politicians, no longer regard the media and their contributions in restoration of civil rule.

“I was driving an SUV vehicle recently and at a checkpoint, security personnel stopped me, when I introduced myself as a journalist, he said ‘hmm,’ does journalist also drive jeep’’, he said.

Inuwa, however, urged Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) to sanitise the profession by flushing out quacks, even as he urged the federal government to revisit the media salary structure demand.

This, he said, was important for Nigeria’s media to effectively operate as catalyst for social change.

For Emmanuel Ifesinachi, the Vice-President NUJ, South East Zone, it is unfortunate that the media was at the front burner in the struggle for the return of democracy but today treated as the goose that lays the golden egg.

“Some journalists such as late Dele Giwa were manhandled, brutalised, jailed and even killed in the course of the struggle to restore democracy.

“It is painful and unbelievable that the Media which served as the oxygen for democracy after its members’ paid high prize for the enthronement of democracy are now seen as misfit, unwanted, irrelevant and liability in the Society.

“The political class now perceived the media as their enemies either that they don’t understand the function of journalism or they don’t want the society to properly assess information to enable the citizens enjoy full dividends of democracy“, he said.

Ifesinachi blamed quackery in the profession on poor welfare scheme because authentic newsmen were moving to more lucrative disciplines.

“The media has been acting as a voice for the oppressed and a platform for pro-democracy movements.

“During the military regime, journalists faced harassment, imprisonment, and censorship but persisted in exposing abuses and advocating for democratic values.

“In the 25 years of unbroken democracy, the media has been instrumental in promoting transparency, accountability and civic engagement therefore should be recognised and given its place of honour,’’ said Grace Ike, of ADBN Television Media Organisation and chairperson, House of Representatives Press Corps.

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Ike said challenges such as press freedom limitations, harassment, and the spread of misinformation still persist, requiring efforts to safeguard journalistic independence and integrity.

According to her, the media should be a cornerstone in Nigeria’s quest for better governance, serving as a watchdog that holds leaders accountable, informs the public, and fosters transparency.

She observed that those basking in the euphoria of the silver jubilee of the nation’s return to democracy should be made to remember how democracy was won.

Igwe Nomeh, former state chairman of People Democratic Party (PDP), Ebonyi, shares the same sentiment as Ike.

He said as Nigeria celebrates democracy rule, the media should be respected for its role in the struggle that gave rise to the celebration.

“In the dark days of military regime, journalists fearlessly put their lives on the line to expose various human rights violations which attracted both regional and international interests resulting to the return of civilian administration in 1999’’, he said.

Nomeh added even the political class who today is the highest beneficiary of democracy was not too visible during the struggle.

“I treasure the contributions of the media because without them, the military would have continued to hold everyone hostage,’’ he said.

Nomeh observed with regrets that in spite the contributions of the media, not much attention is being given to the sector by the government.

He recommended a good welfare package and development of the profession through training and re-training as done in other climes.

It is evident that the media professionals in Nigeria have not been appreciated enough as evident in the poor welfare, working tools and environment in which they operate.

It is therefore incumbent on media operators, both private and public to re-evaluate what they provide for their media employees.

That is one of the best ways to ensure newsmen also enjoy the dividends of democracy which they worked for.


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