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« Atiku Abubakar and the Mansion at Sorrel | Main | Addressing Cleavages in Alaigbo »

August 31, 2005

The Nigerian Media as Scapegoats?

by Uche Nworah (London, UK) --- Why do I think that this is the season of profession bashing, or better still media bashing? Even from members and non-members of the media constituency. Have things really degenerated to such alarming proportions to warrant the sweeping comments of concerned observers, most especially Seyi Oduyela in his media bashing article The Media in Nigeria 11?

Mr. Oduyela’s essays reminded me of Reuben Abati’s once sweeping condemnation of the teaching profession in his ‘now, now’ syndrome article, a profession that Mr Abati left for journalism which has this time come under Seyi Oduyela’s heavy hammer. In my rejoinder to Mr. Abati’s article, I had argued that teachers are no angels and so should not be expected to carry the heavy burden of salvaging the rot and decay which now characterises the Nigerian nation, especially when the Nigerian society has refused to enable and empower the teachers to do their work and fulfil these societal expectations.

Mr Oduyela seemed pained by his experiences at, and has therefore not minced words in his tirade. But I think that he may have wielded the big stick too heavily, especially when we learnt from our elders that we should ‘never bite the finger that fed/feeds us’. I am sure that in the course of his x number of years relationship with the owners of, there must have been merry and good times, such memories should have tampered his anger and rage. I would wish to recall here Martha Stewart’s plea to the jury during her trial in America, she had told the jury to also remember the good that she had done for America in the past and not just the crime that she was being tried for.

I submit that media and journalism practice in Nigeria is actually alive and well. I was bowled over during my recent visit to Nigeria by the number of titles at the newsstands, the increasing number of FM and TV stations jostling for licences at Ernest Ndukwe’s NCC offices. Considering the prevailing economic environment in Nigeria which is still harsh and hostile, one can only encourage those media houses that are still managing to keep their heads above the waters. To be able to this, they must be doing something nice to keep the interests of the readers who flock the newsstands daily to purchase the titles, the ability to maintain the interests of the readers, viewers or listeners are of course the only reason why advertisers will patronise the media houses.

Things can not be as bad as Mr Oduyela claims, media owners always know that the moment they lose the interests of their audience, they also lose the interest of advertisers and the next natural occurrence will be the natural demise of such titles, the graveyard of Nigerian media is still littered with lots of newspapers and magazines who couldn’t stay the course, most notable is Lawrence Akapa’s Top News, a classic example of how not to take the audience for granted.

The history of the media in Nigeria has always been characterised by two major forms of ownership, those owned by the government (e.g. NTA, OGTV, ABS, Statesman newspaper etc) and those owned by private individuals (The News, Silverbird Television, AIT, The Sun, This Day, BiafraNigeriaWorld etc). These two forms of media ownership are all driven by separate agendas. The government media houses are used mainly as instruments of propaganda for the government while the private media owners are driven by different motives, which could be profit making, agenda setting, to win influence which can later be translated into political and business gains etc. Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu in setting up Champion newspapers must have been motivated by the later, just like the late Bashorun M.K.O Abiola and his Concord group of newspapers. Therefore contrary to Seyi Oduyela’s arguments, there is nothing wrong with James Ibori and Orji Kalu setting up newspaper houses, as long as such enterprises are funded from government treasury. Not only do their newspapers contribute to the enlivening of the socio-political debate and providing alternative view points, they also provide jobs to journalists and all other service providers such as vendors, printers and other sundry staff such as cleaners and security staff etc. As a matter of fact, Orji kalu’s The Sun newspaper is being run by media veterans such as Mike Awoyinfa, Dimgba Igwe of Weekend Concord fame. The duo and their team which include Amanze Obi, Femi Adesina, Louis Odion etc have successfully and in so short a time positioned the paper to be the best selling soft-sell/tabloid newspaper in Nigeria, modelled after The Sun newspaper in the UK, the paper which operates in a niche market has a specialised readership who normally will prefer soft news and human interest stories, to the hard news including government critiscms, which can be found in The Daily Independent, The Guardian, This day and other such broadsheet papers.

Having said this, it becomes a tall order to expect the editors of such privately owned newspapers to turn around and criticise their owners. The late Dele Giwa tried to pull off such a stunt in his days at Concord newspapers when he published a poll of best dressed Nigerians, in the poll his name appeared before that of his boss (Late Bashorun M.K.O Abiola), Abiola did not find this funny and obviously this must have been one of the reasons for Dele Giwa’s eventual ‘disengagement’ from Concord newspapers.

If anything, the Nigerian media is getting more vibrant by the day, Dele Olojede recently proved that Nigerian trained journalists are not rubbish after all; else the Pulitzer Prize committee wouldn’t have so deservedly rewarded him. Baring the lack of adequate resources as expressed by some journalists in the article How the internet is affecting journalism practice in Nigeria, I am proud to say that Nigerian journalists can hold their ground and compete with the best anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, poor remuneration has led to a situation where journalists look elsewhere for supplementary incomes, some have resorted to demanding for the famous ‘brown envelope’ or according to Seyi Oduyela ‘jostling for appointments, contracts and advertisements’. In the Nigerian environment, there is really nothing wrong with these, except when a conflict of interest arises. As Mr Oduyela rightly points out, some Nigerian journalists earn on the average about N20, 000 – N30, 000 monthly. One would normally expect the media owners to do better than that but sometimes, there is really not a lot the media owners can do, this is as a result of many factors, according to Dan Akpovwa, the publisher of Abuja Inquirer ‘cover prices alone are not enough to cover costs, the advertisers owe media houses and the advertising agencies drag their foot in settling invoices, we can not chase our staff away, the system somehow has to be kept alive, it is better to carry an advertisement and be owed than not to carry at all, it is indeed a tough call on publishers to match the salaries paid in the banking or telecommunication sectors ’.

During a recent visit to the Abuja offices of the Abuja Inquirer to interview the publisher and also to get a feel of the problems regional newspapers face, I got to see first hand the challenges that both newspaper publishers and their staff confront everyday, I came away with the impression that both the publishers and their hard working staff are nothing but miracle workers, for their ability to roll out fresh copies of newspapers daily despite the difficulties they face ranging from scarce or expensive newsprints, power outages, mounting advertisement debts, rising distribution costs etc.

At the Abuja Inquirer offices in August 2005. L-R Uche Nworah, Dan Akpovwa (publisher), Joseph Inokotong (Editor) in orange shirt.

I also think that it is wrong to condemn Nigerian journalists for their aspirations or job offers in government as government spokes persons. Mr Oduyela mentioned a few journalists most notably Nduka Irabor, who at some point was Chief Press Secretary to Admiral Augustus Aikhomu. One would think that such journalists were committing a mortal sin by such acts or career moves, rather than simply seeking to fulfil a basic human need, one of which is self actualisation according to Abraham Maslow.

In the Nigerian media landscape, the natural career progression route for journalists apart from setting up their own media houses is to wander into corporate affairs departments of private corporations such as banks, telecom companies etc, the other option which Mr Oduyela doesn’t like so much is that of accepting positions in government as press secretaries or media spokespersons of government officials, there is still nothing wrong with journalists accepting job offers, especially ones that may improve their living standards, life is too short, also life is not all about criticising and attacking the government of the day. If one gets offered the opportunity to come and contribute to the process of nation building by working for the government, it should not be regarded as a sign of selling out.

However, some of these journalists who have the opportunity to do brief stints as press secretaries almost always come back to the profession that gave them fame, even if not fortune. There are the likes of Greg Obong- Oshotse, former press secretary to Mrs Miriam Babangida who is now the Europe and North America editor of the independent Newspaper, Tony Momoh former editor of the Daily Times and Babangida’s Minister of Information is now a private media consultant. Ruth Benemaisa – Opia went from NTA 9 O’clock news to serve as a Commissioner in Bayelsa, her home state. She is now back at NTA doing what she knows how to do best. Chris Anyanwu also left NTA 9 O’clock news to serve as Commissioner for Information in Imo state, when she left the job she set up The Sunday magazine (TSM); it was her exploits at the TSM that landed her in jail during the Abacha junta.
There is also Sola Omole, another popular NTA 9 O’clock news caster in the 80s; Mr. Omole now heads the corporate affairs division at Chevron Nigeria. Another member of the pack, John Momoh now runs his own television company, Channels. Dan Akpovwa, erstwhile Quality magazine and This Day reporter and later Press secretary to the Minister of Aviation also did stints as the corporate affairs manager of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) before returning to what he describes as his first choice profession as the publisher of the Abuja Inquirer.

On the lighter mood, there are also others, especially women whose media careers have earned them second careers as wives of the rich, famous and the mighty, most notably Jennifer Iwenjuora, Yes, the Jennifer Abubakar, one of Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s many wives. There is also Ronke Ayuba, the wife of General Tanko Ayuba (Rtd.), former military governor of Kaduna state and minister of communications during the Babangida regime and also Folake Doherty, who is now famously married to Wole Soyinka as wife number 3. Chief Segun Osoba, former governor of Ogun state and also former managing director of the Daily Times group rode on the back of his journalism career all the way to the Ogun state government house, and so did Honourable Abike Dabiri, the ex – NTA presenter who is now an honourable member of the federal House of Representatives.

There are others whom space won’t permit me to mention, who have done the migration from a career in journalism to careers in government or in the private sector, people should be allowed to make their individual career choices without having to feel guilty or be made to think that they sold out.

It is a natural expectation and occurrence in every profession to trade favours, of course these journalists build up friendships over the years such that sometimes they are expected to suppress or ‘kill’ certain stories especially if such stories will affect the publisher’s advertisers or their friends in government who indirectly pay the bills, such demands though unfortunate are nothing but a basic reality in life, it is the kind of challenge that face working professionals daily, there is usually no textbook answer or solution to it, it is every man to his own conscience, there have been cases of journalists who will not bulge and have chosen the honourable way out by resigning from their jobs. This phenomena is universal, In the UK, newspapers are known to be either pro labour or pro conservatives, also in America, newspapers and media houses are known to either be sympathetic to the democrats or to the republicans, hence their liberal or conservative classifications. They will therefore tend to publish news stories that will only reinforce their political ideologies or those of their owners and their friends/stakeholders. Again, this is a basic expectation in life, for one to know where one’s bread is buttered.

At journalism school at the University of Uyo, I remember Professor Desmond Wilson recounting all the known media theories to us, and how starry eyed we were hoping to come out and change the world, armed with our knowledge of the theories such as the social responsibility theory, development theory, the agenda setting theory etc. However no one ever bothered teaching us the most realistic and practical media theory ever, the one you learn in the field, which is the ‘He who pays the piper, dictates the tune theory’. This unfortunately seems to be theory that the media houses abide by, likewise it is the theory that govern most professions. You can not be eating a man’s dinner and at the same time be insulting him, like they say; those that can not take the heat are best advised to leave the kitchen

Back to Mr Oduyela’s beef with, who ever they may be, the owners of the website definitely have their own agenda, and if they don’t want to publish the people he mentioned in his article including himself anymore, that is their business and choice. I have always believed that a mutual relationship exists between the owners of some of these websites and their many freelance writers, anytime the relationship begins to tilt more in the favour of one party, then it is the time for the party less favoured to move on. I see it as a no-strings-attached affair, since there was no contract signed, either of the parties could take a walk anytime. Mr Oduyela mentioned in his article that the mentioned writers helped build the website, but he failed to mention the ‘gratifications’ the writers were receiving, gratification doesn’t only have to be financial, it could just be the opportunity or platform for one to showcase his or her writings, I have always likened writers to artists and exhibitionists, what is the point of a work of art if there is no platform to exhibit it? This is a two way street for me, the website owner gains, the writers gains, if the website owner gets advertising support in the process, fine. That should compensate him for his time, and investment in technology and other resources. If further down the line something trickles in for the writers financially, better still.

Personally my articles used to appear on and but at some point, the website owners called in time and stopped publishing my articles, I quietly moved on. I don’t think that anybody suffers by no longer publishing his and the articles of the mentioned writers, these Nigerian oriented websites are not really many, its is easy to carry your ardent readers with you, if they want to read you, google is only a click away, where ever you may have berthed next they will find you. I agree with Mr Oduyela that freelance writers commit time and resources in putting together their stories and articles but then, no one has put a gun to our heads to do that, some of us do it for the love of it, as a hobby or just because we may have been journalists in our past careers but still don’t want to completely lose touch with the profession. Some of us enjoy the freedom and independence to write what we like and publish when we like, there is no newsroom pressure or deadlines to meet, as would have been the case if we were contracted writers.

Alternatively, if one feels so aggrieved, there is always the option of setting up one’s own website or media house, just like many journalists have done in the past, but then with that option comes its own problems. But no matter what happens and the options Mr Oduyela decides to consider, the reality is that the show must go on.

Not surprisingly, Taslim Anibaba was the first to rubber stamp Seyi Oduyela’s essay; this is to be expected because Mr Anibaba himself had in the past called the Nigerian press a disaster in an article. I remember commenting on his article that as a chartered accountant, and fellow of the accounting profession for that matter, he should first take off the log in his profession’s eyes before attempting to take off the speck in the eyes of journalists. He may have his issues with the Nigerian press but I still believe in the saying that ‘monkey no fine but him mama still like am’

Uche Nworah is a freelance writer and lives in London.

Posted by Administrator at August 31, 2005 12:36 AM


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