• Friday, April 12, 2024
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Can good journalism save Nigeria?  


Journalism in Nigeria, news print in particular, is much older than the country. It played a prominent role in the struggle for Independence and guerrilla journalism, an innovation of Nigerian newspapers, emerged as the champion of democracy in the dark years of military dictatorship. Just as before, and more than ever, good journalism remains indispensable.

Henry Townsend set up the first newspaper in Abeokuta 100 years before the morning of 1 October, 1960 when Babatunde Ajose, editor of the state-owned Daily Times, wrote: “A nation conceived in faith and unity is born today.” And newspapers like the West African Pilot and The Tribune stoked the fervour and amplified the call for Independence.

The unity of Nigeria may have wavered and weakened since then but faith in its potential of being a great country remains. Faith in what is possible in a united and free Nigeria, where the common good – the economic, social, and political dreams and yearnings – of every citizen can be fully and easily attained made journalists resist military rule in the mid-1980s and for most of the last decade of the 20th century.

Journalists in those times ran the risk of being assassinated or detained. When the soldiers banned a paper or confiscated all the copies published on a certain day or a mysterious fire burned down their printing press, reporters adopted guerrilla tactics to survive. Suppression of press freedom and assault of journalists were the norm under Sani Abacha until his dictatorship ended and his successor ushered in a democratic government in 1999.

Journalism in Nigeria, through its pro-Independence and anti-military rule campaigns, won a measure of political freedom for what can be called the independence and democracy generations. After two ex-generals as president, democracy is still a stranger in Nigeria; militarism, its command structure and a bad habit of excessive government interference curb political freedom and imitative. Hence, the foremost task of journalism today must be to lead the battle for the economic freedom of present and future generations.

At Independence, Nigeria had a population of 42 million people; today there are 190 million Nigerians. Nigeria is projected to be the third-most populous country in the world by 2050. Given its size, location and resources, the country is underperforming. Other oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and Angola are reforming in preparation for a future beyond oil. Meanwhile, the rabid resistance to reform of President Buhari retards development.

Nigeria pumps as many barrels of oil as Norway, a country of 5.32 million people, which has grown its savings from oil revenues to $1 trillion, whereas in over six decades squandermania, corruption and fuel subsidy consume every dollar Nigeria earns.

Anaemic economic growth is failing hundreds of millions of Nigerians; it has pushed nearly half of the population into extreme poverty. If anything at all, a young and growing generation of Nigerians is certain of nothing except debt and despair – if nothing is done urgently.

Those born when Nigeria returned to democracy 21 years ago fall within the third-largest age bracket (15-25-year olds account for close to one-fifth of the population). Democracy, or a semblance of it, may be the order of the day; stories of pro-Independence and anti-military journalism may seem from a long time ago – BusinessDay which began 19 years ago stands on the shoulders of what good journalism achieved in this era.

Read: BusinessDay Refreshed Mandate

In a world where technology is rapidly changing our social, economic and political lives, the future of this teeming and young population, the real asset of Nigeria, is at stake. Nigeria needs good journalism, more than ever.

More than ever, in a world where there is a multiplicity of voices and an increasing volume of data, where fake news is rupturing trust, stoking divisions, and spreading despair, readers need the right information to decide, to make sense, to know what matters and why. They need solutions.

Good journalism serves as a reliable map that helps readers navigate society, highlights pitfalls to avoid, gives prominence to promising terrains and does not hide dangerous regions. Stories must be reported responsibly, with accuracy, with care, with fairness, with thoroughness, with transparency, with the reader in mind.

Journalism can’t thrive (much less claim to be good) without a commitment to providing the right information and reporting it with courage. Journalism has an obligation to tell the truth, however uncomfortable it makes those in power.

Journalists have a moral obligation, as Chinua Achebe says of writers, “not to ally with the powerful against the powerless… decency and civilisation would insist that you take sides with the powerless”.

Today, as we at BusinessDay recommit to our ethos – journalism that provides solutions, the promotion of economic and social policies that rapidly transform the finance and business landscape, and mechanisms that eliminate corruption while promoting high levels of corporate governance across the board – we take heart in what good journalism has done in the short history of Nigeria. It has, against all odds, called to order the powerful, found common ground, catalysed debates and united voices.