• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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In defence of dissent

Press conference

There is growing repression of dissenting voices in the current All Progressive Congress-led government but the most pathetic part of this is that most young, uninformed Nigerians, whose future is being impacted, goaded by some amoral intellectuals who have bartered clear reasoning for a seat at the banquet table, are urging them down a path that will only have a disastrous outcome for Nigeria’s democracy.

Section 39 (1) of the 1999 constitution protects free expression and a free press. It is the same constitution from which the president gets his powers. The media is the fourth realm and holds a unique position helping the public hold government officials accountable. This critical role is being undermined by this government in active connivance with sections of the public.

Buhari’s four years in office have been marked by incidents of journalists harassed and detained for doing their job. Buhari may have claimed to be a democrat, his actions belie that claim. Taking a cue from him, state governors are now arresting and threatening journalists and bloggers and even citizens who criticise them on social media.

We have discovered an even more insidious pattern of press intimidation by this government through paid agents including his Buhari Media Organisation. These people have coalesced into a waiting army ready to be summoned at will to disparage media reports that appear critical of this government.

So far, social discourse has degenerated into virulent name-calling and savage attacks by these young people who have no idea what they are doing violence to their own future. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, who also drafted the Declaration of Independence said, “the only security of all is in a free press.” We are undermining this security fighting for the vision of old people who won’t even be in the future they are shaping for a country where over 65 percent are 20-year-olds.

To put things in proper perspective, Buhari is fallible like everyone else and his ideas like everyone else must be subjected to critical evaluation. Neither economics nor business are strengths of Buhari. Unlike some ex-generals who sit on the board of companies or run large industrial farms and ranches, he left the army to hibernate in Daura, his hometown.

Discourse about national issues should be civil and not always limited to puerile PDP/APC divisions. The United States, once a beacon of democracy is bogged down by partisanship that it can’t get much done. We are fast heading that way. Nigerians must learn to separate emotions and argue rationally. Since the education system is largely in tatters, this seems like a big ask. But each person has a duty to check his bias.

As Nigerians, it is our duty to demand better governance and the media is an important vehicle to articulate this demand. We should not buy the false narrative that elevates poverty to saintly status and disdain wealth. Pain is not a virtue; lack is not evidence of piety. In the last four years, about 90 million people have fallen miserably poor and the bulk of these people feed the army of paid choristers singing Kumbaya to penury.

We are saddened by the fact that otherwise intelligent people who serve in this government have reduced public discourse to personal attacks. Social media aides of politicians now engage in gutter fights with strangers. Professionals who point out flaws in government policy are called “fencists” and “roadside economists”, their cognitive abilities have since been impaired.

We warn that this vocal minority which includes false intellectuals are not only polluting public discourse, they are destroying the fabric of society and creating the conditions that will allow tyranny. Under this government, the roar of civil society has been replaced by helpless barks, the judiciary once thought of as the last hope of the common man is now need of redemption, the press is being muzzled and calls for protests are crushed with the fury of angry thunders. This has bred hairbrained policies like the plan to regulate social media.

The media who hold government account must also behave responsibly. News must be reported objectively removing the journalist’s bias which we have watched seep into reporting by every media outlet including ours. To earn the tag opposition media is not a compliment any more than to be called a pro-government when ownership is private. The haste to break the news does not remove the obligation to be balanced, fair and accurate. As criticisms follow poor policies, praise should be credited to the government when it is due. This way the media can maintain a devotion to truth while checking tyranny.