Finally, this year’s dialogue. The reader will recall that in the second part of my review of Trust’s annual dialogue last week, I concluded with a couple of examples of how the Nigerian media often allowed partisan politics to get the better of its professionalism. This was in illustration of the consensus of last year’s dialogue which was on “Politics and the Media.”
The chair was former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida. The panellists were Senate president, David Mark, represented by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, the minister of Information, Labaran Maku, represented by his special assistant on media, Dr Kingsley Osadolor, and Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, the radical scholar and one-time head of Ahmadu Bello University’s Political Science department.
In his opening remarks the chair, it seemed, could not resist having dig at the minister who, as a student union leader, led violent demonstrations against the general’s increase of petrol price in the eighties. Wasn’t it ironical, the general observed with a knowing grin on his face, that several years on the minister would transform into one of strongest defenders of President Goodluck Jonathan’s unwanted New Year “gift” to Nigerians on January 1, 2012 of more than double the hitherto subsisting price of the commodity?
The reader will recall that I quoted Comrade Adams Oshiomwhole, the Edo State governor and one of the most regular participants of the dialogue, of accusing the media of often writing fiction. On that occasion the comrade governor was angry with the media for publishing a story that five mosques had been burnt down in Benin, his state capital. This was at the peak of the sectarian violence that had engulfed the country. He said when he confronted the reporter of one of the newspapers that published the story, the reporter disowned it and said it was his editors in Lagos that rewrote it based on information they got from a foreign news agency.
All three panellists shared Oshiomwhole’s concern about the integrity and professionalism of the Nigerian media. And all four barely stopped short of accusing the media of lack of patriotism. Among the four, Dr Mohammed’s criticism was strongest. Over time, he said, the media “have subjected this country to a sustained barrage of attacks like no other country in the world that is not at war.”
The Nigerian media, it seems, is a paradox of sorts; most Nigerians acknowledge that it’s been a bulwark against tyranny and misrule in the country, going all the way back to our colonial past, but at the same time it has been widely accused of being too negative about the country. It’s difficult to deny the existence of both virtue and vice in the character of our country’s media.
For me, however, Nigerians themselves are more to blame than their media. The media may often malign people and distort events in society. They may often even fabricate events. But if our media appear to harp more on the vices of our country than its virtues it is simply because our vices outweigh our virtues. In other words the fault is less in our media than in our selves.
So if Nigeria is yet to become a nation that its entire citizens can be proud of almost a century after it’s amalgamation in 1914, we should blame ourselves more than we blame our media – all its shortcomings notwithstanding.
For its dialogue this year Trust could not have chosen a more appropriate topic than that of the challenges of nation building. Likewise it was hard to pick a more formidable panel than that of Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, Mr. Femi Falana, Ms Ann Kio-Briggs and Dr Sule Bello, all of them accomplished figures in their various fields of religion, law, human rights and academia.
All four expressed unhappiness with the state of the nation but Ms Briggs stood out of the lot for her pessimism about the country’s future. “There is nothing to celebrate (about the country’s centenary),” she said, and in effect added that it may yet break up if the part of the country she comes from which produces oil as the main source of public revenue is not allowed to continue to lead this country after 2015 even though she admitted that President Goodluck Jonathan has been a big letdown as leader from her neck of wood.
If Ms Briggs stood out of the panel for her pessimism, Bishop Kukah stood out for his optimism. All the widespread talk about revolution coming to Nigeria, he said, were just that – talk. “No revolution,” he said, “will take place in Nigeria.” He also did not believe the country will break up.
I do not share Bishop Kukah optimism about this country’s future, even though I pray all the time that it never breaks up but neither do I share Ms. Briggs pessimism. To say, as she did, that there is nothing to celebrate about Nigeria is certainly untenable. If nothing else there is something to celebrate about the country’s unity. Several countries like the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and closer to home, Sudan and Somalia, which seemed more united and more stable than Nigeria at the time of our independence 50 years ago, have since collapsed.
We also have a lot to celebrate about our resilience and liberty. Few countries in the world, including Britain the oldest democracy, enjoy the kind of freedom that we do. That we take such freedom for granted is itself a cause for celebration.
However, for Nigeria to become truly a nation-state its citizens can be proud of we need more than the unity and the freedom that we enjoy and the resilience that is so much part of our character. Of all the other we need, for me the most important is individual introspection about our responsibilities to our communities and to society at large. And the time for that introspection is now, as we begin a year-long celebration of our centenary.
All too often we blame our leaders for the mess we are in. We are, of course, right to do so. In doing so, however, most of us hardly stop to ask ourselves how much of our own bit we have contributed to help our leaders do what is right by our society and by our country.
The reader will pardon me if I get rather preachy at this point. But in my own reflections about the ills of our society, I have never found a better solution than the words of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) about the concept of shepherd-hood which has its Christian equivalent.
“Everyone of you,” he is quoted to have said by some of the greatest narrators of his tradition, including Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud, “is a shepherd, and everyone of you is responsible for his flock. The Imam is a shepherd, and he is responsible for his congregation. A man is a shepherd among his family and he is responsible for his flock (his family). A woman is a shepherd in her husband’s home and children, and she is responsible for them. A servant is a shepherd over the wealth of his owner and he is responsible for it. Lo! Everyone is a shepherd and everyone is responsible for his flock.”
Each time we blame our leaders for the mess in our society, have we ever stopped to ask ourselves if we have done our own little bit in our own little world we control? When we jump queues in traffic, for example, are we not violating the time honoured principle of first come, first served? When we dump refuge in our gutters instead of properly disposing it are we not violating our responsibilities as shepherds over our environment? And so on and so on.
We cannot hope to transform our country into a land of peace and prosperity that we will all be proud to identify with if we do not think seriously about the saying that a country gets the leaders it deserves. This is staple food for our thoughts as we celebrate our centenary which comes up next year.