Fellow Nigerians, one of my favourite jokes often credited to Chief Moshood Abiola is the one in which he says: “The Holy Bible tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves, it didn’t say more than ourselves!” Nothing could be truer. The thesis I am about to propound is that journalists should begin to love and celebrate themselves more.
We do not seem to appreciate the power that God has endowed us with. We spend so much time chasing others that we forget ourselves in the labyrinth of news and events. We work so much that we even forget our families and friends. On top of this, we are among the poorest professionals in Nigeria. People generally believe that journalists deserve no more than little brown envelopes and of course this belief is sometimes confirmed by the speed at which some speedily receive and pocket the envelopes as if they were officers at some of our ubiquitous checkpoints. However, most respectable journalists are not like this. They simply want to be paid a fair reward for the work they do and not receive some kind of cheap gratuity for doing the work they are employed to do. Circumstances sometimes force people to be beggarly when reality bites ferociously.
The media business is a thankless yeoman’s job. We are not too different from the teachers whose rewards are expected to be in heaven. Our fellow citizens expect us to carry all the problems of the earth on our heads. They abuse us for all the challenges they created or facilitated. It is not uncommon to hear people say our journalists are too lazy; they cannot report news like their international counterparts who travel to dangerous places in search of exclusive reports. Such people expect world standards in an environment that is clearly archaic, if the truth must be told. Yet, even this is not entirely true. A journalist can only operate in the environment that he finds himself. There are several of us in the thick of things in Boko Haram territory. Even when the President and sometimes even soldiers did not want to visit or fight in some parts of the troubled North East region of Nigeria, it was our fearless journalists that brought reports of the barbaric and atrocious acts being perpetrated by the terrorists and insurgents that have held Nigeria to ransom in that region. There was a recent documentary on Boko Haram by our United Kingdom based journalist, Kayode Ogundamisi who risked going to the lion’s den. I read somewhere that the brilliant guys at Red Media also went to the same danger zone to show their love and solidarity.
Nobody remembers that many Nigerian journalists have risked so much for their country. Some paid the supreme price and they are not around to tell the story. Those who survived still carry the scars like a national emblem. No one thought of securing any insurance policy for them as cover in the days of tribulation. The salaries are miserably poor most times not because publishers and media owners are as wicked as many think but due to lack of constant patronage and dwindling income. Media owners have to maintain a certain profile in this modern time to keep their brand sparkling but those not in the know often see this as unnecessary. Unknown to them, media like showbiz is a make-belief, an abracadabra. I won’t put my advert in an unknown platform. So the media must attract readership or viewership through all manner of stunts after all the serious work.
My biggest worry is that journalists have lost most of the influence they wielded in the past and this is a self-inflicted tragedy. Once upon a time, journalists dictated the tune and pace of events. I doubt if many of our youths remember that Herbert Macaulay, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Anthony Enahoro, and other renowned nationalists had media backgrounds and owned media houses. They would be joined later by great politicians like Chief Moshood Abiola, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu and Chief Bola Tinubu. They all realised the values and uses of media control. But suddenly things have changed.
The journalist has become his own worst enemy. He respects everyone except his own. The journalist is ready to accord all due respect to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria but he won’t grant same to a Senior Journalist of Nigeria. The inferiority complex is so deep that the first person to shoot a journalist down is a journalist who should appreciate how difficult it is to survive in this business. Some journalists even arrogate to themselves the power to determine who can be called a journalist and those who must be disqualified and ostracised. A lazy cartoonist cannot find anyone else to lampoon but his own long-suffering colleague. You would have thought dogs don’t eat dog.
But journalists must wake up. If you disrespect your own, you should expect the same treatment ultimately. The world is watching us. No one respects anyone who does not love his own. Today, it is much easier for any other professional to attain any height than a journalist. Retired soldier, police officer, customs officer, teacher, farmer and others can be President, Governor, and Senator before a journalist can be considered. Even fraudsters, criminals and others with suspicious backgrounds will be elevated for consideration into public office by journalists before they give consideration to a member of their own profession. It should not be so. We should be in the vanguard of national development and office like our illustrious predecessors.
The interesting thing is that it is the journalist who raises and enhances the profile of the politician or other celebrity. However, journalists do not seem able to cope with the idea of one of their ilk being seen as a celebrity or national leader. Yet it is to the journalist that the public looks to for the shaping of their views and opinion. No matter how jaundiced a journalist is in the views he expresses he will have some sort of following. Media proprietors recognise this and subtly affect the populace by their choice and slant of stories. With the correct media support a villain can be made to become a saint. Chief MKO Abiola was one of those Nigerians to first realise the power of the media and the way in which it could turn the fortune of someone previously vilified, even hated. I recall that when the Concord Group was first established it was seen as a pariah newspaper house by most “sensible” people because of the hatred and scorn visited upon the owner, MKO! However within 15 years the Concord Group of Newspapers had managed to turn around the way in which the owner was viewed such that by the time of the Presidential elections in June 1993 there could be only one winner, MKO. Chief Abiola had systematically and astutely utilised the media group he controlled to project him as the saviour that Nigeria had been looking for rather than the devil that Nigerians had sought to blame all their problems upon.
Another man who has used the power of the media to good effect is the publisher of Thisday, Nduka Obaigbena. The Duke as he is fondly called by his admirers has taken the media in Nigeria to a distinctly higher level. His involvement with the media started whilst he was a student at the University of Benin. He was a major correspondent and contributor for the world renowned Time Magazine and obtained many scoops and business opportunities for that magazine. He followed up by establishing a magazine, Thisweek which crash landed but was to be the framework upon which Thisday was eventually built. The lessons he learnt from that ill-fated foray into magazine publishing has stood him in good stead and he is now the accomplished guru of the industry. That brand has now come to stay and has spawned several offspring including Style Magazine and the international and world acclaimed Arise Televison. Nduka’s success has meant that he is globally respected for his uncommon audacity. The success of the Duke is an outstanding feat that can and should be readily emulated by Nigerian journalists. Nduka’s success comes from the fact that he was diligent, focused and above all unfazed by the cynical crowd that litters our landscape. It was not for him the chicken change handouts given to our impoverished journalists by those they interview.
An icon who has clearly understood the importance of the media and benefited significantly from his masterful orchestration of news and events is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. His foray into journalism began with buying small interests in newspapers and magazines but he always knew that his ultimate destination was to become a newspaper proprietor and media mogul like Chief Abiola. He had been a close and keen observer of how Abiola had re-engineered himself through the use of the media. Asiwaju himself had received some strong battering from the media in the early years of his governorship. However all that began to change when he acquired the Comet Newspapers with a group of other investors. When the Comet was rebranded as the Nation Tinubu’s stock rose spectacularly. Asiwaju’s media interest has now grown to include a television station, TVC, and a radio station, Radio Continental.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the recent success of APC at the polls owes a lot to the activities of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his media group. The media group consistently and powerfully canvassed the viewpoints of that Party and challenged the Opposition. It is noteworthy that the Nation newspaper and its sister organisations were largely fair to the opposition during the last elections but they portrayed APC with a passion and ardour which endeared the Party even more to its supporters. By being a media proprietor, Tinubu was also able to garner the support of fellow media proprietors and practitioners for the APC. This was an added bonus and advantage not open to most of his contemporaries.
I cannot also fail to mention the successes of very able and respected media proprietors of the electronic genre of our profession. In particular, the Nigerian electronic media could not be where it is today without the salutary efforts and substantial personal resources deployed my private entrepreneurs like my dear ‘egbon’, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi of AIT, Osa Sunny Adun of DBN Tv, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion of ITV, Chief Steve Ojo of Galaxy Tv, Alhaji Murtala Busari Gbadeyanka of MITV, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce of Silverbird and John Momoh of Channels, Prince Bisi Olatilo of BISCON Tv, Alhaji Tajudeen of Soundcity, Mo Abudu of Ebony Life Television and Ayo Animashaun of Hip Tv plus a legion radio owners. Senator Ben-Murray Bruce is one journalist who has bucked the political trend that I am talking about but by so doing he has shown what can be achieved by a dedicated, diligent and astute media practitioner. His contributions to national debate have been seminal and highly instructive and he must be applauded for his feats moreso as the Silverbird group celebrates 35 years of services to fatherland today.
The lessons to be learnt from these personalities I have showcased is that the media can be a highly successful venture which can elevate anybody involved with it into national prominence or greater national prominence. However, this will not be the lot of the average Nigerian journalist unless they first realise that they must love and support their own. They cannot continue to deprecate and denigrate their colleagues and expect their own lot to be improved or bettered.
It is also important for media proprietors to appreciate that the quality of their organisations will improve if their employees are satisfied and content. This will come not just from providing better remuneration and welfare packages but also by giving them a sense of belonging. This can be by way of incentives, bonuses and even share options. Once the journalist realises that he is indeed worth something it is likely that he will appreciate that there is no level of attainment in the polity that is not open to him or even his colleague. A realisation of this fact and the impact that the Nigerian media practitioner can have on policies through extensive participation in the political process will hopefully engender and garner support for this embattled class.
It is my hope and expectation that our colleagues will come to realise that we are the opinion makers and moulders and it is important not only for us to do this through the medium we operate from but we must also do it through the regular and proper political channels by championing the cause of our colleagues who choose to participate as politicians. We are no lesser human beings. We already have a voice. Let it not be confined to the pages of newspapers but spread to the hallowed chambers of parliament and the esoteric corridors of the seat of government.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.