by Tonnie Iredia
One of the headline news of the week which ended yesterday was the story that the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari had directed his aides to ban the Africa Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities. From my personal knowledge of Buhari, I out-rightly disbelieved the story.
But I was however dead sure that because the statement validates the hate documentaries directed at the man during the last electioneering period, many Nigerians would have cause to wonder aloud if truly, a dictator has not been thrust on them. I imagined that civil society groups, human rights activists and publicity conscious politicians would condemn the policy and for the better part of the week throw missiles at Buhari and his political party-the All Progressive Congress (APC). I was not proved wrong.
Luckily, the tension the subject generated was doused by two developments. First, the APC established that no such policy was discussed and agreed upon making it quite easy for her to promptly disown it. Second, the President-elect himself similarly disowned the story. But not many people believed the denials because the rationale which Buhari’s media aide who first disclosed the plan gave for it showed that the party was up to some reprisal that some people expected would happen considering the hate campaigns transmitted by some broadcast stations including the AIT. It would be recalled that during the electioneering period, Buhari’s media aides had cause to worry over the high level of media partisanship against their principal particularly the allegation that they were denied advert spots by the media to put across Buhari’s messages to the electorate. If this happened, the acrimony between them and the offending media may take some time to heal, but we plead for maturity, magnanimity and remorse on all sides.
If the truth is to be told, we will not hesitate to reject any attempt to gag any media organization in Nigeria. But we will not stop there. We will in addition continue to deprecate the transmission of hate speeches by the media during the last electioneering campaigns. This is because hate speeches can dismember the very society we all seek to live in. As a result, truth cannot justify hate speeches which can incite insurrection, genocide and fratricidal killings. We also denounce the failure of the media to provide a level playing field for the last Presidential election. But although such unethical behaviour was done by the media, we know as of fact that such media were coerced either by ownership control or outright purchase. For this reason, we believe that the nation should blame not only the media; a large share of the blame ought to go to such sponsors who often play dirty at elections. It is on this basis that we see as laughable the statement credited to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) condemning the alleged ban on AIT.
Nigerians have always looked forward to a strong opposition party that would keep the ruling party on its toes for the benefit of the governed. If the PDP would do so to the APC on the people’s behalf as from May 29, 2015, it would be a welcome development. However, it appears rather too early to see the PDP frowning at a culture it invented and heavily invested in for so long up until less than a month ago.
Any objective observer would agree that the ruling party has always coerced broadcast professionals in government owned media to act unprofessionally. The argument that the professionals should not have allowed themselves to be willing tools in the hands of government is unrealistic. It is because government can intimidate virtually everyone that journalists transmit hate speeches at its command; it also explains why our security agencies watch as ballot boxes are snatched at election venues just as it shows why supposed men of proven integrity in our electoral body announce fake votes the same way men of courage and wisdom in the judiciary give jaundiced judgments.
Government can in fact push soldiers to speak from two sides of their mouths about the school certificate of their former commander in chief. What then can government not do? In other words, government has powers to manipulate any public officer, just as it has enough resources to buy people in the private sector to do its bidding. As recent media reports suggested, even the self-acclaimed men of God saw divergent visions because of materialistic considerations and could not be surpassed by traditional rulers who were paid to lose their ‘father of all’ status.
Thus, the government that has just finished doing all of this should be scorned for purporting to condemn others because as the saying goes only those with clean hands are allowed to come to equity. A government that can relieve a tested statesman like General Martin Luther Agwai of his job few hours after exercising his constitutional right to hold an opinion and canvas it should let our wounds heal from its assaults before delivering its ‘wisdom after event’ treatise.
Meanwhile, the denial by the APC and the President-elect of any attempt to gag the media ought to be taken in good faith. Even if they had earlier planned to do what they have now denied, it is a sign that a government which would be sensitive to public feeling is on its way. Indeed, the reaction of the public to the subject clearly suggests that Nigerians cherish a free press that can help them make government accountable to the people as envisaged by Section 22 of our constitution bearing in mind that for the aggressive posture of the media, independence in 1960 and all that we have today would have been hard to achieve. Any anti-media disposition at this point when Nigerians are hopeful of societal regeneration would be against the run of play. Therefore, neither Buhari nor his party is expected to engage in ‘tit for tat’ or to be as petty as their predecessors; rather, what we expect is leadership by example that can throw forth not just strong individuals but strong societal institutions.
– this Best Outside Opinion was written by Tonnie Iredia/Daily TrusT