By Akin Owolabi
The Federal Government of Nigeria, right from the military, has always behaved as if the mass media of information outside the official circle could go to blazes. The Military administration of OlusegunObasanjo hamstrung the most vibrant print media conglomerate – Daily Times of Nigeria – forcefully acquiring 60 percent equity shares in the company thus signing its death warrant.
Yakubu Gowon’s eight-year military junta felt the heat of bad press during the: “If you Tarka me, I Dabo you” that precipitated the inglorious exit of Joseph S Tarka from the Federal cabinet but naively dubbed it character assassination and vowed to fight back. The various military juntas repressed the independent press which, predictably succeeded them all. Even the ShehuShagari four-year democratic government leaned heavily on the crippled Daily Times and the official mouth-piece of the North – New Nigerian.
The Federal Government of Nigeria as currently constituted is a military hangover and is the most vulnerable ever – operating in a hostile environment without a single trusted ally outside the lame-duck official mouth-pieces. And President Goodluckjonathan appears to be totally oblivious of the hefty media forces pitched against his administration. We behold a nascent democratic government at the mercy of the mass media in the firm grip of the opposition. When the chips are down and they will be shortly, Jonathan and his fair-weather group will be clinically plucked like an overipped apple and tossed away like a rotten one. The media position today is that if Jonathan should contest and win next year, he definitely must have rigged. Is that not curious? How far will he and his group hold out in the face of intense hostility?.
Jonathan will soon discover that he is that proverbial general without media troops and by that time it would be too late. Reliance on party cum predecessor Obasanjo’s legacy would only lead to perdition since the party is a military hangover and Obasanjo’s second coming lived up to his anti-press creed encased in his inscription on the post of his now comatose farms in Ota, Ogun State – ‘Dogs and Journalists Are not Wanted Here.’ That is the heavy burden Jonathan inherited without realising its enormity.
The government is sadly going about its routines as if there is no cause for control despite that everythIng is under alarm. One such routine is the appointment of practicing journalists as press secretaries from the presidency down to all manners of political appointees. Sadly though these professionals view their appointment as unique opportunity to blend with the hotchpotch system; a golden chance to improve their individual lots in life. The press representatives soon distance themselves from their ‘unconnected colleagues,’ esconced as if in cocoons and starve themselves of the much needed collective wisdom to navigate the new terrain. Journalists are probably the worst enemies of their interest in public figure image management. They are content with the issuance of press releases strewn with bogus lies, half truths and vitriolic name calling which further pitched their bosses against formidable opponents, and when they boomeranged panickly resort to belated damage control mechanism only after severe media storm hard wreaked hefty havoc. They rarely look ahead, think ahead, build bridges across the rivers separating their clients from opposition mediums.
Federal Government under Jonathan cannot and must not establish any print medium, for such venture would be dead on arrival. It is still possible to burrow into truly independent mediums and broker alliance with some influential practitioners in opposition media. Essentially, Jonathan should encourage his political co-travellers to establish starstudded, boisterous, not sneaky print and electronic mediums capable of commanding international respect. Individuals in the society have their prices as General Ibrahim Babangida exemplified during his eight-year presidency as he lured the likes of iconoclast Tai Solarin, fire-brand Wole Soyinka, first rate academic AlabaOgunsanwo to do his bidding. The president certainly urgently needs the specialised services of external media relations managers cum consultants as complements of the official machinery. He must not forget to cultivate, cajole or motivate proprietors of striving mediums chased away by party hawks to return to the fold.
Yesterday, it was Stella AdaezeOduah. It is today the turn of Diezani Alison-Madueke and Abba Moro is feeling the heat of bad press. Next may be NgoziOkonjo-Iweala. Tomorrow, flak would fly at the president with relentless intensity. Jonathan’s army would have been badly depleted thus rendering him quite vulnerable. His top aides are being pilloried and chased out as corrupt or incompetent. The opponents have an array of media arsenal for a grand coup de jure and Jonathan is naively playing the ostrich; a lamb well dressed for the slaughter. He must beat a fast retreat. Any organisation of minds in any clime without a vibrant media outfit is only a sitting duck that will be plucked with utter ease. This is a truism Jonathan and his men must grasp and fast too.
Owolabi, a veteran media practitioner, writes in from Ota, Ogun State (firstname.lastname@example.org)