By Moses Akarhan
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), its affiliates, key media and civil society organizations met at the Obi Wali International Conference Centre, Port Harcourt in Rivers State between June 6 and 8, this year, for the 3rd NUJ National Conference with the theme: The Media, Insecurity and National unity.
After a careful watch, media professionals observed that national politics has degenerated to the extent that it is threatening national Unity and the peaceful coexistence of the country. The situation is being compounded by frightening insecurity across the different geopolitical divides.
Addressing the conference, The National President of NUJ, Comrade Chris Isiguzo, noted that, “The primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property of its citizens and it appears that Government is overwhelmed and unable to perform this responsibility creditably well. Certainly, it will be disastrous to allow citizens to lose confidence in the ability of Government to deal with the situation decisively.
“In the past 25 years or thereabouts, the architecture of the global system had witnessed tremendous transformation, caused primarily by the collapse of the bipolar World order which had hitherto pitched the West against the East. This development led to the emergence of other threats around the World. These trans-border crimes include but not limited to human trafficking, drug trafficking, environmental and refugee problems and the related racketeering by criminal gangs and freelance elements, kidnappings and banditry.
“If Nigerians had initially thought that they were outside of the vicious grip of some of these threats, then the Boko Haram Conundrum and other festering crimes have changed this mindset. The NUJ realises that Nigeria is part of the world order and Nigerians must rise to the challenge which the insecurity poses to our national integrity.
“It is instructive to note that the very same policies that work to bring about open, democratic, pluralist societies and open markets also make trans-sovereign threats possible. These new factors that transcend boundaries and threaten national stability present a very difficult dilemma for policy makers.
“The Union believes that in going forward, we have to operate against the background of the opportunities and problems associated with the information age, and we hope that this conference will provide the veritable platform to achieve this national agenda for Nigeria. The advent of the internet poses another dimension to this problem as terrorists also exploit it for their maximum benefit”.
The theme of the Conference is apt because of the pivotal role of the media as an effective tool for addressing issues of National Unity and Insecurity. Although, the fight against terrorism and banditry are extremely difficult, it is believe that the media can contribute immensely in this regard using the media framing and Agenda-setting theories.
According to the media framing theory which can be said to have derived its theoretical base from the precedent domain of the Agenda-setting theory, it is predicated on the thesis that the media and more specifically journalists, give their own interpretations to news stories through the angle they choose to write or tell the news stories from; which in turn influences how the public understand, interpret and form opinions about social issues.
The media can foster human security and be a useful instrument for peace and conflict management, which promotes peace, messages strategies that can lead to peaceful agreement and tolerant behaviour in a given society. For example, in Northern Uganda, where the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) has camped for decades, media was used to create the common goal for the people to promote peace.
According to Prince Tony Momoh, in his publication: The role of the media in national security & crime management, he quoted Prof Oshiote Andrew Okwilagwe, as having stated that “Communication is central to the start, growth, maintenance, decline and eventual death of nation states. This is because communication process and its elements are responsible for the dissemination and sharing of information among the composite population of a nation state….”
Similarly, Prof Oshiote notes that, “The Nigeria Media structure is strong and powerful. It is the most influential tool and instrumental in persuasion of national policies and interests. It has become evident that government desperately needs enhanced support in projecting its national security objectives through careful analysis and efficient and effective dissemination of information to various audiences…. The potential of media as a force multiplier and weapon of war must be realised. Failure to recognise and counter enemy’s usage of media could lead to unprecedented military and national failures….”
In his keynote speech at the conference, Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, Governor of Abia State acknowledged the fact that, “Nigeria is at the moment, unfortunately bedevilled by one of the most intense security challenges of her existence. Virtually every region of the country is grappling with one issue of insecurity or the other. We have coined different names and titles to describe the assumed culprits of the different incidents of crime going on around the country. The Media have played an active role in their propagation and proliferation by promoting their different names and titles and serving as a vehicle for their messages. Today, we have bandits, insurgents, terrorists, secessionists, pirates, kidnappers, criminal herdsmen and the most amorphous of all, unknown gunmen.
“In every region of the country, different categories of criminal elements are unleashing terror on the people and our newspaper headlines and other media outlets are daily filled with gory details of their activities”.
He challenged the media to, “Rise to the occasion. Our newspapers and other media stories are dominated by narratives from those benefitting from this crisis who seek an escalation of hostilities for their nefarious objectives. The Media has a duty not to amplify those voices and not to undertake their task for them. If someone says the sky is brown, it is not for the media to report verbatim that A said the sky is brown. The Media also have a role to fact-check and see for themselves the actual colour of the sky if not, you are helping propagate falsehood and division.
“If you are fighting insecurity and criminal elements, the oxygen with which they thrive is propaganda and reportage of their activities so the Nigerian Media needs to decide to what extent they want to continue being the propagators of the actions of criminal elements. The media has a responsibility to save this country by de-escalating the reportage of the activities of criminal elements”.
Addressing the conference, the host, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, observed that, “Today, the unity of the Country is threatened as a result of self-destructive tendencies like ethnic chauvinism, religious intolerance, brazen disregard for the rule of law and nepotism and it appears the Federal Government of Nigeria seems to be fanning these embers of disunity through its perceived actions and inactions. For instance, how could we explain a situation where almost all the heads of security agencies as well as critical national institutions are headed by people from a particular ethnic nationality and religious faith in a country which prides itself as a secular state and believes in Federal character when it comes to the appropriation of positions?”
“A situation where some sections of the country are treated as privileged group while other sections are treated with disdain and impunity leaves much to be desired and must be quickly addressed to engender equilibrium and a sense of belonging to all”.
The primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property of citizens. The State also has a responsibility to protect the economy and economic resources areas, critical infrastructure, environment, including forest reserves and national assets. Against the backdrop of prevailing situations that government is overwhelmed and unable to effectively carry out this onerous responsibility, citizens should assist in community mobilisation as a way of addressing insecurity. It will be disastrous to allow citizens to lose confidence in the ability of Government to deal with the situation.
Government should in enforcing security policies, carry stakeholders at all levels of governance along and ensure good governance.
The Conference rightly noted that more than 60 years after independence, Nigeria is still battling with ‘State of Origin’ in our National Data Collection System taking into cognisance that ethnicity and tribe played a negative role in the cause of the RWANDAN war.
It also stressed the need for the adherence to the rights of the people to freely express themselves and comment on the affairs of state and conduct of government as an intrinsic part of democracy that demands accountability of rulers and public officers to the citizenry, adding that a factor we cannot ignore is the fact that Nigeria is a country that fought a civil war. Those who were active players in the war, from children that were born after the war to those who experienced the war, have not gotten a closure.
The conference did a retrospect on the role of journalists with regard to their core mandate of informing, educating and holding government and leaders accountable and noted that more is required of practitioners as watch dogs of the society particularly, at this trying period in which a balanced reportage is more than ever before desired.
The Media should mediate with its distinct role of being between the governed and the rulers, particularly in situation of existential threats. Media practitioners should prioritise mediation in the prevailing tension that pervades all geo-political zones and the threats to Nigeria’s unity. They should exercise caution in their reportage and analysis of unfolding events as well as play the role of a mediator between contending forces and actors. The media should be a partner in de-escalating tension instead of being a party to the conflict.
“Today, the unity of the Country is threatened as a result of self-destructive tendencies like ethnic chauvinism, religious intolerance, brazen disregard for the rule of law and nepotism and it appears the Federal Government of Nigeria seems to be fanning these embers of disunity through its perceived actions and inactions. For instance, how could we explain a situation where almost all the heads of security agencies as well as critical national institutions are headed by people from a particular ethnic nationality and religious faith in a country which prides itself as a secular state and believes in Federal character when it comes to the appropriation of positions?”