The President and the Press By Matthew Abah-Enyi

In April 1961, when the 35th president of America, J. F. Kennedy, was called upon to address the American Association of Newspaper Publishers at their annual meeting, and he chose not to use a heading similar to the one above as the title of his talk, he said it was for the simple reason of the fact that every discerning minded American knew that there was a nation-building,- even if it was a no-love-lost- relationship between the Presidency and the Press, and so there were not many issues to ponder over on the watchdog aspect of the relationship. I choose to use the title late President Kennedy avoided because, far from the comfort-zone of a nation-building government-press relationship that he referred to fifty-three years ago in America, the Nigerian Government-Press relationship in the 2nd decade of the 21st century has very much to be pondered over. Of course, the Nigerian Press has contributed more vigorously to the nation’s development history than most other segments of the society, but this has been achieved mainly through the public education and information tripods of the traditional duties of the Press.

Every day of his life, the senior Nigerian journalist who feels patriotically compelled to ask God to grant him the richness of mind to enable him make development-enhancing public analysis of issues germane to the welfare of the masses goes to bed feeling unsure if God had answered his prayer or not. Yes, one of his best pieces of Public Affairs Analysis had hit the streets, and fans had reacted in various ways. Agents of the government might also be hunting for him and his publication in the usual Nigerian governments reaction to certain hues of Public Analysis. But some-how, the God-motivated peace of issues-based Public Opinion came out in a sea of the writer’s and the Nigerian modern day Editor’s dilemma- editorially efficient and beautifully designed copies fraught with proof-readers’ unsaved spelling errors and miss-effected editors’ inputs that out- rightly discourage readers, (possibly including the president) from “daring” into long drawn columns as well as ownership-motivated headline castings that put off discerning minds from being drawn into perceivable falsehood on one hand, and the conscience-ravaging MAIN issue (capital letters mine) which handling is outside the precincts of the profession, on the other hand. The professional home-front problems are ones that on-going self-pruning steps have set out to address. So, if the writer asked God for divine motivation and his request was so generously granted as is usually evident on the pages of Nigerian newspapers, what else is the fertile-minded Nigerian senior journalist complaining about? Does he too want to be “paid off” with the infamous “brown envelope”? Far from it.

The resource-minded Nigerian journalist’s worst dilemma is the one no professional self-pruning can change. It arises mostly from what is believed to be the product of laziness on the part of Press Affairs advisers to Heads of Governments at states and national levels who fail to effectively handle development-friendly Public Opinions/News Analysis by failing to track their effects on national development Policy Formulation and implementation. In the fullness of time, the writer realizes that there are actually no rooms for his good-intentioned writings to have made any positive impacts on the lives of Nigerians because the Nigerian System does not have the capacity to ensure these positive impacts.

Now what is the essence of a writer whose computer is the equivalence of a Development Banking Policy warehouse but whose compatriots craw to bed every other night in hunger amidst plenty?

The Nigerian Press, or its conscientious practitioner is at a cross-road on the issue of his duty to country and conscience. His lot is not unlike that of the town-cryer whose voice is about to go hoarse mid-way through his nightly duty because he had to booster his own nerves with some spirits before setting out for the tasking duty, again because of his awareness of the resounding futility the whole exercise would amount to on the quality of lives of his community dwellers.

If the Nigerian Press undertakes the needful self-pruning that would effectively rid it of the inexplicable presence of the army of incompetent and/or lazy invaders who rubbish the ingenuity of the Editor by allowing unacceptable proof-reading errors to assault the sensibilities of readers; and the publishers’ influence on editorial contents are narrowed down to an acceptable level, the nation’s Prints media can stand shoulders above its international counterparts. But where does that greatness stand the Press on the platform of real partnership for national development? Of course, the pebbles that have come to lodge themselves between the toes of the Nigerian Press in the form of the virulent and ungovernable social media must be seen as necessary visititudes that visionary giants must encounter during purposeful marching into the future.

The periodically held Presidential Media Chat comes and goes; African Independent Television’s Gbenga Aruleba and other TV high-quality talk-shows are spell-binders out of which the Press derive incisive headlines, and you cannot beat the Nigerian journalist to second position on news sourcing, all of which combine to make the nation’s Press to stand admirably up to its social responsibilities on the contents and quality-measuring scale. But after a long walk down the road, can the Nigerian Press look back and node its head in satisfaction for the improvement it has brought to bear on the quality of life of Nigerians? If not, why not? The question is institutionally challenging, but the answer is individually conscience-probing. A personal scenario can suffice.

Challenged by the unsightly pictures and personal interactions with voiceless   Nigerian masses who depend on the use of Dkp, popularly known as kerosene, for their daily energy needs who virtually sleep at fueling stations in efforts to procure the product at government “subsidized” rates and failing, I wrote a Public Opinion material and titled it “Jonathan’s Rating and the Kerosene Connection”. It was published on page 8 of Saturday Sun newspaper of 15th February 2014. The crux of the issue under scrutiny is the dilemma of Jonathan-loving Nigerians whose hearts have refused to fall out-of-love with the president because of the trust they have in his ability to successfully address those economic problems that seek to perpetuate their state of abject poverty. The piece posits that they have refused to let go this deep-sited feelings because of the great similarities between their own life histories and that of the former shoeless-footed President Jonathan, symbolized by his likeable inaugural speech cliché, ” If I can make it, you too can make it”. More than four years down the road as Commander-in-Chief of the economy and armed forces, the piece pointed out the fact that since it is obvious to the average Nigerian TV watcher and newspaper reader that the president has expended mind-boggling amounts on Power Policy Reforms, it was high time regulatory agencies’ officials were whipped into ensuring that, at the least, kerosene scarcity’s humiliating lines were taken off the scene of Nigeria’s public life.

Almost one year after the column hit the streets, and all the necessary encomiums were poured on me by friends and other members of the public, as the Idoma rueful adage would say, “ the lazy man’s piece of cushioning cloth meant for the heavy load he is expected to carry still lay in its position”. Then few months ago, somebody called me to say the piece must have made its impact after all, seeing as the Group Managing Director of NNPC had just launched what they christened “Kerosene Correct”. But almost six months into Kerosene Correct, Mr. Goodman, the cool-headed and respectful young man who deals in black-market kerosene in my neighborhood still collects his cool N700 for a 4 liter gallon of kerosene. And then, a few months ago, Nigerians spoke through the ballot box.

Mohammadu Buhari President, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Mohammadu Buhari
President, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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