Let’s speak truth to power

By Dan Agbese

BEING CHAIRMAN’S OPENING REMARKS AT THE BIENNIAL CONVENTION OF THE NIGERIAN GUILD OF EDITORS, LAGOS, MAY 4, 2019

I am pleased to join the president and the members of the executive committee of the Nigerian Guild of Editors in welcoming this very distinguished audience to the 2019 biennial convention of the guild. I am grateful for this golden opportunity to chair the convention. I promise you fun and seriousness.

Permit me to appreciate some of our distinguished guests who left their very busy schedules to be with us. I appreciate in a special way the presence of His Excellency, the vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and His Excellency the governor of Lagos State, Chief Akinwumi Ambode.

The vice-president surprised everyone when he turned up at the biennial convention of the guild in Asaba last year. That he took time off then and took time off now to be with us must be an eloquent demonstration of his high regard for our very honourable profession. I would suggest that we take advantage of this and make him a formal member of the guild with the title of Editor-at-Large. I make the suggestion for a selfish reason. I want to turn up at the gates of Aso Rock and tell the security men I want to see my professional colleague, the vice-president. I am sure I would secure an easy passage into the seat of power.

I know that the governor does not answer chief but I thought it would be unfair to refer to a whole state governor as simply mister. Given his impressive reconstruction of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road, if Lagos were an Igbo state, he would have been conferred with the distinguished chieftaincy title of the High Tech Road Builder One of Lagos State.

I heartily welcome some of our senior colleagues who ought to have the suffix, SJN, Senior Journalist of Nigeria, after their names. The one and only Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu is here with us. His commitment to journalism as a life-long public service inspired me to commit to it too. Thank you, Uncle Sam. You showed the light, I found the way. Chief Segun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State, has never forgotten his roots in journalism. The presence of these two distinguished gentlemen at journalism functions is always an inspiration to younger men and women engaged in the tough task of pushing the pen. Their humility and modesty are qualities I would commend to our younger colleagues.
Nor should we forgot such redoubtable journalists as Prince Tony Momoh, Ray Ekpu, Dr Doyin Abiola, Ben Lawrence, Dr Dele Sobowale, Yakubu Mohammed, Mohammed Haruna, Kabiru Yusufu and Soji Akinrinade. I know I have not exhausted the list. But if you insist, I would add yours sincerely.

Let me most heartily congratulate the president of the guild, Mrs Funke Egbemode, for successfully organising this convention. The presence of so many distinguished men and women in and outside journalism attests to her reach and her inclusive approach to managing the affairs of the guild entrusted to her. I now agree that what a man can do, a woman can actually do much better.

At the biennial convention each year, the guild chooses a theme that reflects the societal or media challenges of the moment. This year’s theme is Media Convergence as strategy for survival. If, like me, you are wondering what it is all about, I assure you that we are in some luck. We have with us a distinguished media scholar, Professor Ogwezzy, head of the department of mass communications, University of Lagos. She will take on the task of doing justice to that topic. I extend my warm welcome to her.

When I saw the word survival in the title of the theme of the convention, I sat up. Survival is the critical challenge our country faces today in all areas of human endeavour. The media have been struggling with that challenge for as long as I can remember. Look around you and you would see that the once verdant media landscape in Nigeria is now a long stretch of brown grass. The machines have stopped humming and Africa’s once most vibrant media industry is now partially covered with the dust of history.

Compare where we are today with the 1980’s when Newswatch magazine blazed the trail in newsmagazine journalism on the continent and inspired the birth of a plethora of newsmagazines that together redefined journalism in our country. The newspapers are bravely struggling to survive in the midst of something called cash flow. The cash trickles rather than flows because the management of our national economy has not been particularly kind to the media industry.
I believe the guild chose this theme wisely. Businesses devise strategies for survival. The media industry, given what it faces now, cannot but strategize too to weather the storm. We have reached the tipping point in the industry. It is wiser for us to co-operate now for collective survival rather than compete for individual survival. Every newspaper that goes down takes something away from the survivors.

On a larger national scale, our country faces myriads of existential challenges. Take three of these, namely, unemployment, insecurity and poverty. Unemployment is bad because it denies our young people the opportunity to make something of themselves; or to put it another way, if you like, they cannot put their degree certificates to work for them. We now know that by next year, the unemployment rate would about a third of our population. The sight of young graduates pounding the pavement for years in search a job, any job, no matter how menial makes the eyes go rheumy.
The Buhari administration inherited, if that is the world, the Boko Harm insurgency in 2015. The Nigerian state has failed to win that war against these stateless murderous actors. It is now worse because the Nigerian state must contend with other security challenges such as kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry and herdsmen. Bandits and herdsmen are new lethal additions to our national security challenges. How did we get to this sorry, bloody pass? Blood flows daily in towns and villages in most parts of the northern states. Yet the Nigerian state feels almost helpless. I hope it only feels so but it is not helpless because a government with all the security resources should not feel helpless.

The security challenges are clearly compounded by the 90 million people in our country who are classified as extremely poor. That is about half of our 198 million population. These problems did not just happen. They crept up on the nation slowly but surely because we did what we should not have done and left undone that which we should have done in the past. The chickens never fail to come home to roost. So, they came.

Our nation must be saved. The primary responsibility for that lies with the federal and state governments. But as citizens, we have a duty to assist in whatever way we can to end the reign of the guns and make our country safe again for everyone.

With the nation faced with these critical challenges, what should the media do to help the country help itself? That question requires a critical examination in order to establish the role and the responsibility of the media at such a critical point in the life of a nation. We cannot just sit on our hunches and take comfort in the traditional role of the media to inform, educate and entertain. We must do much more. We can start by speaking truth to power. The media can and should prevent this country from degenerating into a nation of hypocrites in which we all wear plastic smiles on our faces because we choose to live a lie about the true situation in our country.

To those of you who are in for election or re-election this afternoon, please remember that the guild is not permitted by law to set up an election tribunal. Let us commit to free, fair and credible elections, if only to show our politicians that election rigging and disputes were not wired into our DNA as a people. I wish you good luck.
My duty as chairman is to make remarks, not to deliver a lecture. So, I am done. I appreciate your patience.


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