The way the Nigerian media largely ignored the Centenary celebrations underscores how a government and its public can see things differently
The media, as scholars have argued over time, represent the nearest approximation of public opinion because they, as interactive members of the society, affect the communities in which they are found, in the same way they are affected by them.
This lesson was brought clearly home following the big mistake made by the government, of using the commemorative events of the country’s 100 years of existence as a huge self-justification exercise. They looked as if they were more interested in defending themselves against criticism than in defending the lives of citizens we continue to lose. This mayhem was accentuated by the slaying of 40 innocent pupils as they slept in their dormitory at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, in Yobe State.
I don’t think there was any conspiracy by the media to largely ignore the government’s centenary events and concentrate their coverage on what, in their view, matters most to their readers. It was clear to all that throughout that period, the media seemed only interested in talking about the insurgency and the sack of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Governor of the Central Bank.
The issue of the killing of the 40 children had attracted enough befitting flak in the country and abroad so the government did not do themselves a favour by giving it a short shrift. It was instructive from their coverage of the incidents, therefore, that the media were determined to give the country leadership on the matter.
In doing this, the media appear to be speaking to the new political mantra of Nigeria as we head towards an important election in 2015, that craves for a corruption-free government and a better, more competent campaign against the raging insurgency.
It is difficult to say, from my disadvantaged standpoint, if and whether the President had weighed the political cost of their knee-jerk reaction to criticism of the festivities. If they did, they may somehow have minimized the political damage they inflicted upon themselves by their demonstrable aloofness and ignorance of ground realities.
In search of a hollow political gain, the Special Assistant to the President on New Media, Reno Omokri, even saw a political opportunity in the slaying of the innocent pupils and sought to use the incident to black-paint the suspended Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi. As it turned out, the new technological platforms we have found cheaply accessible and useful have a way of exposing our hidden secrets. The official was unmasked as the hidden internet hand fabricating falsehood against the perceived enemies of government.
It was equally distressing for a grieving nation that one of the most powerful ministers in the government, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was staged to pat her government on the back at the banquet meant for the centenary award. She made a big deal of highway construction and the soon-to-be assembled made-in-Nigeria car. The reformist minister was fairly impressive on the platform even where eulogies and accolades as per development indicators of the world seemed way out of what the public was thinking. She looked much like someone trying to breathe life into a rotten corpse. This was the same evening when the U.S. government issued that damning report classifying Nigeria as a corrupt country.
What Dr. Okonjo-Iweala missed throughout was that the thing that weighed the most on the minds of Nigerians was why and how killings have continued unabated in the North-East. They are getting confused about who gets what value from the slaughtering of children. Why is Africa’s best army at a crossroads over the menace by a rag-tag, barefooted army? Are these Boko Haram? Or are they Obasanjo’s death squads? There is also a feeling that all those poverty alleviation programmes she talked about have not added a reasonable succor to the lives of the targeted people. There is very little skill enhancement acquired by the people, many of whom are just getting cash which in the long run is detrimental to them and to the economy.
As media coverage continue to show, the thing on the public’s mind, the saliences of the news wasn’t about how successful the organizers were in bringing this huge presence of foreign leaders. In normal times, putting that together would have passed for a definitive masterstroke. For the citizens and their critical mass media however, this auto-eroticism was a non-event. The nation wanted to talk about the increasing massacres in the North and the steps they want to see taken by their government to bring it to a close. A government that ignores all these only shows its thick skin. Foreign leaders who assembled too have a moral question to answer. Their presence was no less than an implicit endorsement of the lackadaisical government attitude to the insurgency. Even though they have restrictions imposed upon them by principles of non-interference in domestic affairs, they should have assumed responsibilities, even tangentially, to prop up our government to do more than it seems ready to do. Life shouldn’t be that expendable as we have come to accept in the country.
This country’s Senate, under Senator David Mark, too has some waking up to do. They seem to be toying with and shielding the government as many have come to see, and wondering if Ken Nnamani’s Senate would have sat akimbo as this country is going to the gutters.
The press as a reflective mirror has the duty of showing the thing that is on the public’s mind. In this case, it is Boko Haram and corruption. That is what they expect their government to deal with. Changing the subject as they have tried and failed to do with the centenary celebration won’t just work.