• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Media and Democracy in Nigeria: The divisive struggles for hegemonic supremacy (2)

Nigeria’s “Performance Democracy”: Transcript of my keynote address (2)

In 2010, Muhammadu Buhari, five years before he was elected the nation’s president in 2015, gave a major speech in the United Kingdom ahead of the 2011 elections.

Then being sold as a converted democrat, General Buhari called the story of Nigeria, “a depressing story of a democracy without democrats, and of elections without the electorate having much say in the process.”

Sadly, Buhari’s analysis in 2010 is truer today than it was in 2010 and 2015 when he was elected. Today, the nation operates under an intricate web of antagonistic ethnic colonies engaged in an all-against-all, bloody, open and bloody feuds everywhere across the land, actively nurturing puzzling existential questions.

With the above in mind, it is a wonder why such an erudite and astute group of professionals who became the first generation of political leaders produced such an ethnicised and divided nation, where virtually every group feels disaffected

Every part of the nation is at war with poorly defined insurgents and bandits. In November 2021, the media reported chairman of Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume, saying that the Nigerian Army is currently engaged in an unconventional war in 32 states of the nation’s 36 states.

By the first week of June 2022, insurgency and banditry had moved to Nigerian cities. Killings in Abuja and Owo were brazen.

As a student, and a teacher of media history, I have had recurrent moments of pride in reading or hearing about the role that journalists played in the “struggle for independence.”

The often repeated and fascinating narratives of the historic roles that newspapers and journalists played to secure independence from an unwilling and unyielding British Empire, have always been told with enthusiasm and drama.

The Nigerian media history is littered with stories of heroic exploits of early nationalists like Herbert Macaulay, Anthony Enahoro, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Samuel L. Akintola, Obafemi Awolowo and several others who used the media to wage the nationalists war against the British and their cronies. The Colonial British government could not intimidate them.

The list of leading nationalists easily duplicates itself as the list of remarkable journalists before they became prominent politicians. The exceptions on the list were Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello. (Awolowo trained and practised the journalism trade for six months with the likes of Babatunde Jose. He went on to establish the Nigerian Tribune in 1949. Bello’s actively championed the establishment of the New Nigeria).

With the above in mind, it is a wonder why such an erudite and astute group of professionals who became the first generation of political leaders produced such an ethnicised and divided nation, where virtually every group feels disaffected.

While the struggles against the colonial rule and for independence were crucial and important, not much attention has been paid to what may have been the other fundamental role played by the press in the internally divisive struggle for hegemonic supremacy by these leaders against each other.

Adewale Adebanwi provides an insight: “These nationalists often engaged in a two-pronged struggle that, on the one hand, involved winning independence for a united Nigeria and speaking to the imminent glory of such a putative African nation state, and, on the other hand, mobilizing for or against the domination of their ethno-regional group in the emerging Nigerian political union.”

Where has all this led us as a united nation? Over 15 years ago media experts like Ogundiya and Osaghae, foresaw signs of looming implosion; they predicted that a great and gifted nation that may fail – all of which are the result of a long history of ethnic distrust and divisions, regional loyalties, corruption, and inept leadership.

Question before us then is this: how did Nigeria become a democracy without democrats, and what role the media played to get Nigeria into the company of pseudo-democratic nations?

We cannot speak about democratic consolidation until we unclad how we got here in the first place.

What went wrong and at what point did the nation go wrong? And how did the dream of nationalist-journalists quickly transform into so deeply polarised front-line politicians?

Why was it that the dream for a united nation died so early? Did the struggle against the British consume the energy that was needed to build the nation?

The media contributing to democracy

In 2010, McQuail contended that in virtually all democracies, “the media have a complex relationship with sources of power and the political system.”

Scores of media researchers, the likes of Herman and Chomsky, and Francis Nyamnjoh, have established the fact that media have capacity to shape society for good or for ill.

Aside from their role as the national record keeper, the media also serve as the society’s mirror – in what Chief Obasanjo and Prof. Mabogunje called, reflecting the society back to itself.

The newspaper-press, in particular, provides information and essential knowledge for people to participate in the activities of their respective societies meaningfully.

In the case of the Nigerian media, Prof Omu and Dr. Dare agree that they cannot absolve themselves of their contribution to the formation of today’s Nigerian nation, because of their relationships and closeness to power.

In the quest for domination of one by the other, weaponised media and ethnicity became principal tools for self-definition and for campaign for elective franchise” For Aimufua a divisive Nigerian press mostly promoted the sectional aspirations of their owners.

In Dare’s view, the Nigerian press “operated primarily to strengthen the grip of (political) leaders over their followers, and thereby the fragmentation of the country”. And Omu wrote that the newspaper-press provided “a remarkable example of over-zealousness and irresponsible partisanship”. ,

The Nigerian media became as polarised and as divided along the same political and ethnic fault lines that divided the politicians and the nation. The coalition of convenience between media and political elite in the pursuit of non-integrative ethno-cultural interests produced a detrimental political culture.

Recent events have proved that their failure to decouple themselves from the political class, according to Nyamnjoh has meant that they became a “vehicle for uncritical assumptions, beliefs, stereotypes, ideologies, and orthodoxies… that blunt critical awareness and make participatory democratisation difficult?.”

The media indeed help to construct an ethnicised political culture. There are strong and directly links between elite ethno-regional exclusionist politics and the media. However, the press neither acted alone nor was it always a willing accomplice.

Press owners sold the soul of the press to service their own political interests, being often a cohort with political elites through common ethnic interests and power pursuit.

As it turned out, the newspaper-press has not by any measurable yardstick been a mass medium, rather, it has served for most of its history as an instrumentalised, predominantly urban-based, elite-to-elite medium. It is safe to say that Nigeria does not have a populist media.

Read also: Media and Democracy in Nigeria: The birthplace of disunity (1)

Fortunately, the media can still be deployed to counter in-bred antagonism and re-imagine a more democratically productive ethno-federalist nation. In the struggle to foster democracy in cultures in where such concept was alien, it is not unusual to find the media willing and useful collaborators.

Even in homogeneous or developed societies, the media are frequently used to moderate democratic processes.

Conflict and consensus are essential elements in democratic politics, and the press provides a platform where opposing views should find (near equal) expressions. Dr. Larry Diamond has noted that “democratic politics embraces, inevitably and inescapably, an uneasy tension between conflict and consensus” And as Claude Ake once wrote, “politics entails conflict of claims, of values, of interest, and of goals; if there is no conflict there can be no politics.”

In other words, democracy cannot exist without some sort of conflicts; but it can exist with bitterness and blood-letting conflicts. This is a realisation that our political and media elite need to come to terms with and accept.

Ikiebe, Ph.D., chairman of the Board of BusinessDay, writes from the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos