By Alex Enemanna
It was Thomas Jefferson who declared: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”. This goes a long way in highlighting how critical the media is to the sustenance and survival of any democratic government in the world. A government without newspaper could be likened to that beautiful Porsche car, equipped with state of the art gadgets, radiating comfort and affluence, with a perfect touch of interior and exterior deco, yet no single kilometer road to move it from one point to the other. It becomes stagnated, under-used and near valueless. Paradoxically, this paints a perfect picture of the ugly situation our dear country has been mired into today. While this may be a discourse for another time, let’s go straight into the business of the day.
The media has four cardinal roles to make a democracy robust, potent and functional for the overall good of citizenry. It plays the watchdog role, acts as information tool to help the populace make informed decisions, do the job of agenda setting ie serve as a forum for discussion and debate among citizens and be the peace and consensus builder and not a tool for division and hate. This has led to it being termed the “fourth estate”.
Despite the barrage of environmentally imposed hurdles militating against the effective performance of an average Nigerian journalist, he has struggled to keep his heads above waters and ensure that his constitutionally defined role does not suffer a backseat relegation.
Apart from Nigeria, where else do you hear that media workers are owed ten to fifteen month backlog of salaries? Where else do you hear journalists buy their working tools including computers, midgets, internet data et al? Yet the cry of unpaid salaries from the tummy of the media owners, their family members and concubines has risen to a deafening stage. Even those who are paid, they’re being conveyed in the same vehicle with that civil servant who has a wife and two kids, whose survival is hinged on a meager 18k salary that may just disappear in two charges from his bank.
We have seen how the media has steadily enriched our democratic culture through voters’ education which has led to a geometric increase in the number of registered voters from about 68 million in 2015 to over 84 million this year. The media throughout the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise that commenced in January 31, 2018 was not only visible but was seen to be. Journalist were watching the process, like a farmer watches and waters his crops, moving from one registration point to the other with little or no motivation, giving minute by minute reports, from where we knew that the electoral umpire was dwarfed by their inability to contain the number of people who indicated interest to register for voting.
During the actual voting and declaration of results, the confidence of the people has been engendered by the window of transparency the media provides. Today, is a common practice for media houses especially the electronic to mobilise their equipment and manpower and bring to our homes live transmission of election result declaration. Who would want to manipulate the results in the full glare of the cameras? This is a clear pointer that the media gives democracy a life.
As days turn hours to the election, it is heart warming to note that INEC has sounded a note of warning to the security agencies who myownise (apologies to Rev. Kukah) if not hijack the electoral process, arrogating to themselves the power of imaginary senior stakeholders, from whom all powers in heaven and on earth must be dispensed to other stakeholders at their own discretion before they could function, as we clearly saw in previous elections. This is very unacceptable.
The Sensitisation Forum for the Media in Awka on Friday February 1, in which the electoral umpire warned that accredited journalists must be granted unfettered access by the security agencies to voting, collation and distribution centres is no doubt a welcomed development. Hear Mr. Festus Okoye, INEC Federal Commissioner in charge of Anambra , Enugu and Benue states: “It is a matter of common knowledge that a majority of the Nigerian people rely on the media for information on the electoral process , so it is fundamental and in the national interest for the media to be on top or be reliable”.
To ask for a fair and dignified treatment for journalists, like their mates in other professions, will it amount to asking for too much? No matter what your reservations are about the journalists in the discharge of their “he said he said” function, their role in enhancing our democratic norms and overall national development must not be undermined.
Enemanna is an Abuja based journalist.