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MY PROBLEM WITH JOURNALISM IN NIGERIA 2

Note: First published on April 30, 2020. The “published” date on the tab is the date that it was uploaded on this new site. Though some issues in this piece may still be current (depending on…), this info is to avoid mistaking the piece as current news.

This is “No Bullshiting,” by Harry Agina.

Once upon a blog, I talked about my frustration with journalism in Nigeria. It was more or less a general overview. But don’t get me wrong, though; my people Nigerians excel in journalism just like in other professions. Um huh, you’d better believe that our journalists are among the best in the world. But that’s under normal circumstances, without the Nigerian Factor. Today’s Nigerian environment is far from normal; it’s greatly encumbered with the Nigerian Factor. And, journalism has certainly gotten it’s own share of the abnormalities that exist in the abnormal Nigerian-Factor-circumstances of the day. I hope you haven’t bitten your tongue trying to read that last tongue-twisting line of mine. You may want to read my first overview before you continue with this one. If so, here’s the link to it: https://nobullshiting.com/my-problem-with-journalism-in-nigeria-1/

Anyway, this time, I want to expatiate on the “No-Fear-No-Favor” creed of journalism. I touched it in passing in my previous blog. Thanks to Nigerian leaders, this creed is the biggest casualty in the abnormalities of today’s Nigerian journalism. At the top of the list of the abnormalities that confront a typical journalist in Nigeria are poverty and fear. Take the “favor factor,” for a start. Nigeria’s economy is so terrible that too many journalists often sell the soul of their reportage to make a buck or two to survive. The highest bidder often gets the best reportage on issues, regardless if the bidder is the worst crook around. But, before we start heaping blames on my “typical” Nigerian journalist for “selling out,” I’m gonno have to play a little of “the devil’s advocate” here.

Try and imagine a hard-working brilliant journalist, a reporter, who is unable to put any dinner on the table for his/her family tonight. He or she has nothing called money in pocket or anywhere else, because the last salary that he/she received was three months ago, maybe even longer. The media company that he/she reports for, has Nigeria’s rotten economy to blame for the failure to pay salaries. And, let’s face it; in some sincere cases, you really can’t quite blame the media company. Besides, Mr. or Ms Journalist does have the choice to quit; but, where the hell is the next job coming from, huh? Jobs are hard to come by, so, he/she stays in the present nonpaying job and keeps reporting. Now, try to put yourself in the position of this brilliant but hungry journalist. Some big bucks are placed before him/her, well wrapped up in a nice envelop. And, all that he/she has to do is to lie “a little” in favor of the dude that has placed the envelope before him or her. So, he/she grabs the money, and that makes him/her “brown-envelop-journalist” in Nigerian parlance. This means that he/she compromises his professional integrity to favor a source of money that feeds his/her family.

Jesus Christ put a task to the Pharisees in defence of Mary Magdalene over 2000 years ago. She was accused of adultery, and was about to be stoned to death for adultery. And, Christ said, “He who has no sin, throw the first stone.” Now I ask, would you blame my “typical” journalist that breaks the “no-favor” aspect of the journalism creed? Would you reject the “brown envelop” and let your family starve? In other words, would you sell-out, or would you let your family to starve? , over two thousand and twenty years ago

I will keep my own response to myself as topic for another day on balancing morality and hunger. Presently, I heap my own entire blame on the doorsteps of Nigerian leaders who created/create the rotten economy for us in the midst of plenty resources. And then they capitalize on the hunger in the land to destroy journalism. To make the matter worse, some of the really bad leaders go further to intimidate the journalists that they cannot buy. Their intimidation options include unlawful imprisonment, and even threat to life. The governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, in southeast Nigeria, apparently employ both financial inducement and unlawful intimidation for favorable reportage. The undemocratic governor had the audacity to announce that he banned two journalists from the state house “for life.” Their sin was that they reported facts about his state, which are embarrassing to him. That’s Nigeria’s demo-crazy for you!!!

Mind you, State Houses are our public property. Yet unlawful Nigerian leaders believe that they have the right to ban us from our own property, and with such laughable unlawful reasons. The man was obviously too ignorant or too power-drunk to know that he does not possess such power in a democracy. So, yes indeed, too many Nigerian journalists are too afraid to operate professionally well because of fear. Some Nigerian leaders victimize those who address issues that do not favor their political rascality. And, too many journalists are compromised, and their reportage favors whosoever that pays them enough to sell their souls.

My present problem with all this is that Nigerian press fails too often to represent (present and defend) opinions of the people in the society. In particular, I am pissed off that too many Nigerian journalists fail to confront our leaders with tough questions that represent the mood of the public that they represent. They are either too afraid, or too compromised. I have two instances that inspired this writing, thus:

(1) Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force (PTF) on covid-19 summarily dismissed the recent (April 2020) public uproar against the multiple acts of lawless impunity by the body. For one, they released the dead body of President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari,for private burial and funeral. This is in contravention of two of their own rules. One is the rule against gathering of crowds, and the other is the rule against having infectious corpses of covid-19 victims near people. So, the PTF flagrantly violated the covid-19 law that it announces to us every doggone day. Several Nigerians have been killed for lesser covid-19 lawlessness.

          Our journalists have been in press conferences with the operatives of the PTF since those lawless acts. And, I have waited, in vain, to hear constructive condemnation of the lawlessness by the journalists. It is imperative in journalism to ask tough questions that reflect the anger of the people about the lawless impunity. I personally got even more insulted by the simplistic way that the PTF dismissed the lawlessness with a simple wave of hand. Their apology was very brief, shallow and disdainful. It was anything but apologetic in nature…no true remorse at all. I was not proud of the journalists in that press conference where the pitiful PTF apology was rendered. Nobody was bold to tell the PTF that the tone of their apology for such huge lawlessness, was disdainful and insulting to Nigerians. I was aching to hear a journalist to ask PTF why they broke such serious law in the first place; but nobody was bold enough.

(2) I also feel insulted as a Nigerian, by a recent statement of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouk. She implied that all Nigerians are fake news mongers because we talk about rotten rice that PTF and she gave out to people as covid-19 palliative. I mean, for kingdom sake, we all saw/see the videos of the completely rotten rice. And, many of us have recipients of the rotten rice, who we know personally. But one woman had the audacity to sit high and mighty somewhere to insult us that we are all propagating fake news. She happens to be a Minister, so she was talking down on a population that has millions of persons who are far more intelligent than she. We hear that some states have rejected or returned their own palliative rice because it is not fit for consumption. And yet, the high and mighty woman is insulting us with words that imply that we are all liars, or idiots. We don’t know the difference between rotten rice and good rice.

Now, here is my annoyance with our journalists that attend the daily covid-19 PTF press briefings. They face this woman everyday, and nobody has the balls to give her a serious constructive challenge that she is the big liar, and not Nigerians. They should have told Farouk that nobody, not even the president himself, has the right to call the entire nation liars that way. They should have retorted to Madam Farouk (nicely, mind you), that she is actually the fake news creator. They should have told them that the news that she gave us that the rice in question is fit for consumption, is actually the real fake news. Yes, indeed, under normal circumstances, a good journalist should nicely and bluntly tell a leader the truth without cowardly fear, meeeeeen!!!

As Nigerians expected, innocent citizens could have been executed if we had allowed the NASS to pass their evil fake news bill into a law. Sadiya Farouk could have initiated the arrest of some people over the rotten rice, with her fake-news claim. And, before we say Jack Daniel, some persons could already be murdered as fake news bearers, for a fact that we all see with our own eyes.

Sadly, the duo of journalistic “sell-out” (favor) and intimidation (fear) phenomenon in Nigeria has gone beyond the “starving” reporters who accept “brown-envelops.” Some Media Houses are apparently put on “retainer fees” by our crooked leader, to propagate their rubbish. Others scared shitless with threats of unlawful sanctions. All this is to ensure favorable reportage for the government of the day. This is topic for another day. But I have to say it now that local media houses did not satisfy my expectation of tenacity in the Covid-19 PTF saga.

Do you know one of the things I hate most? I guess not, so I’ll tell ya. A reporter asks a leader a question. The leader gives the reporter an answer that the reporter knows to be quite contrary to what Nigerians (including the reporter) know to be facts. But, the reporter is too compromised or too scared to challenge the leader. They should say, ‘No, Ma’am (or sir), your information is wrong. We know persons who have seen the rotten rice. As long as it’s done with due respect; why not, huh? That’s journalism without fear or favor.

Anyway, if I said it once, I said it a gazillion times, that President Buhari’s aides and ministers are his problem. He would not be so unpopular in Nigeria, if only he had surrounded himself with sensible, democratic and humane team. A good team of image-launderers could have managed all the errors of this government with a lot more maturity and professionalism. Instead, he has media handlers and Ministers who consistently insult Nigerians with foul languages. We can’t open our mouths to criticize or even critique this poorly performing government without being barked at by Buhari’s mad dogs. For kingdom sake, when are these people going to learn that even the best governments of the world must be criticized. Somebody should inform the idiots how sane agents of any responsible democratic government must behave. They need to know that they must be cordial with the people who criticize the government.

What do those idiots take us all for, anyway?  Idiots like them, and slaves who must not talk about the rot we live in? President Buhari’s team should learn a thing or two in public relations in a democracy from the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Nigeria Police Force, Frank Mba. I have never seen that dude insult the critics of Nigeria Police. God knows that there are millions of NPF critics, too. Instead of rudeness and insults, Frank nicely, humbly, intelligently, diplomatically addresses every criticism or question…no bullshitting at all!!!

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