Sharing my thoughts and putting my message accross
Jide Ajani’s article “Goodluck Jonathan: A President in need of help!” was first published in Sunday Vanguard of May 11, 2014. It is a must-read. It is a daring exposé in clear deviation from the contemporary norms defining the state or plight of journalism in today’s Nigeria. I find it an interesting masterpiece that is worth the follow-up it received in a Nigerian radio talkshow one week after. I will return to this issue later.
The reason I find this article exceedingly interesting is not because it said anything that no one else had said before in several strings of citizen journalism on blogsites and social media platforms. No. I find it interesting because it seems to signal a cautious break from the deafening collaborative silence of mainstream Nigerian media with the steady demise of all the opening gains made at the nascent stage of the current democratic experiment. There is simply no regular columnist in Nigeria’s mainstream newspapers or presenters of programs on popular radio and television stations, who stand out today for being blunt on the steady collapse that Nigeria has witnessed at home and abroad under the incompetent leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Whoever observed the bubbles and liveliness radiated by the Nigerian media during the second term of former President Olusegun Obasanjo will be forgiven for mistaking the Nigerian media of today since 2007 when Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, for a media training ground where aspirants are having some trial internship for the real thing that observers expected. After all, the dominant trait of a vibrant system is the insignificance of individual characters and the importance of the whole. Prolific denominators emerge with the speed of light and the disappearance of any individual character is hardly ever noticed in the scheme of things.
Where then today, are those media operatives, who wrote the entertaining serial stuff of a “Gbolekaja” president dancing naked in Public Square with all the despicable abuses and vilification that cared little about the sanctity of the office they disparaged? Where are those writers who wrote eloquent narratives of dreams and fantasies demonizing a President for daring to dream of a third term in office when the reality of today has now taught us better than we knew then? Jide Ajani had a view on this and I will address it further down this essay.
It will not help us any further now to look back at the days of Tai Solarin, who was not cowed by the forces of the barrel in a military dispensation. It will not help us now to shed tears over the demise of Dele Giwa or Gani Fawehimi, each of whom we would have all successfully abused and denigrated with varying adjectives if they were still alive today, to tell the tale as it is in all bluntness.
In a nutshell, the hope that the departure of Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 aroused in the dawn of a new era of political accountability to be spearheaded by the Nigerian media quickly faded away when the media instinctively stayed dumb and watched Umaru Musa Yar’Adua dismantle one Obasanjo policy after the other without any viable replacement. The drawing back of the hand of the clock was also applauded even when it meant the celebration of a criminal James Ibori as the de-facto Vice President and the fight against corruption grinding to a halt. The vindictive tenor amongst media operatives was “serves Obasanjo right”. This rapid drift by the media from the role of the aggressive gatekeeper to that of a collaborator-in-chief and unprofessional role model for future media aspirants drove me to write my first book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”. Unfortunately this tradition has continued and has even been consolidated in the present dispensation.
What we now have is the celebration of Jide Ajani almost as a hero for expressing cautious discontent in words that were very carefully chosen. A far cry from the abuses that Olusegun Obasanjo suffered in the hands of Reuben Abati, Okey Ndibe, Simon Kolawole and also Jide Ajani himself. It didn’t matter to any of them at the time that the office of President was sacred and that Olusegun Obasanjo would come and go. Except for Reuben Abati, it is compelling to ask today where all these prolific writers have forgotten their poisonous stinger voices in full glare of Jonathan’s destruction of anything left of political and diplomatic sanity.
Under the skilful pressure exerted by the radio host Jimi Disu (one week after the publication of Jide Ajani’s article) to come clean on his obvious but poorly disguised critical view on the present administration, Jide Ajani shifted once again to the comfort zone of laying the blame of today’s political problems on the one punching bag that is safe to hit – Olusegun Obasanjo! On the face of it, his reasons sounded plausible. But in truth to fairness, here are the naked facts:
It is no secret that Olusegun Obasanjo had to step on toes very brutally and recklessly to wrest power from the northern oligarchs that installed him in the Presidency. Else, there would have been no such opportunity like the badly misused Jonathan Presidency today. It is no secret that President Obasanjo fought people he did not like and those that offended him using their corrupt practices against them. It is also true that such people were very bitter seeing people who were friends with the former President getting away with the same corruption that he crucified his enemies for. In other words, corruption under Olusegun Obasanjo was not a free-for-all act for friends and foes unlike today where even enemies of today’s President were virtually pacified in the hope that they would help bring Boko Haram to a quiet end and enhance a second term.
In the end, the corporate interests that President Obasanjo decimated and rendered irrelevant were indeed powerful forces in the political, judicial, economic, military and media sector. Bola Tinubu, James Ibori, Orji Uzor Kalu etc. were names in the media sector with corporate policies. Funny and illegal court judgments for vindictiveness were no rarity. Military pensioners training Niger Delta militants that were financed by economic powers featured on contemporary agenda. When finally Vice President Atiku Abubakar seized the moment to rebel against the President and advance his political ambition, a non-palatable salad of political opposition was conjured to rally behind the Vice President. No one really liked him. No one really wanted him to succeed President Obasanjo but the “enemy of my enemy” was an automatic friend until the enemy is defeated.
Indeed while many fought the battle supposedly rallying behind Abubakar Atiku, a strong majority did not wish to have this Atiku-type of insubordination setting an example for the future democratic tradition. Even a frontline hater and critic of Obasanjo – Simon Kolawole – acknowledged at the time, that a Southern Vice President would not have dared so much insubordination against a Northern President as Atiku did against Obasanjo. The field of presidential candidates in 2007 had characters that all sought to devour the incumbent President. Muhammadu Buhari had vowed openly that he would jail Obasanjo if he won the Presidency. Atiku didn’t even need to say it. Atiku only declared his intention to jail Maurice Iwu.
It was therefore a “do-or-die” battle for Olusegun Obasanjo and he outsmarted his opponents by choosing a son of the respected Yar’Adua dynasty after eliminating many capable alternatives including Nasir El-Rufai that was long seen as the anointed successor. This is the excuse used today by Jide Ajani to justify shifting the blame of today’s incompetences on Olusegun Obasanjo while comfortably negating the media’s own share of the blame in unprofessionally attacking Obasanjo in all vehemence and in the service of interest groups, which ended up trapping the incumbent President in a corner from which he had to break free.
Everyone knew then that the choice of Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President resulted from the search for a calm and cool-headed deputy with no exaggerated ambition of his own like Abubakar Atiku to avoid repeating the scenario of a Vice President stabbing the President in the back and heating up the polity. Many observers saw the wisdom in this at the time. It was even the clearest proof that Olusegun Obasanjo did not pick on Yar’Adua in the hope that Yar’Adua would die soon and make way for an incompetent Jonathan. Goodluck Jonathan was simply the opposite of everything that Abubakar Atiku stood for and that was paramount to his thinking as the former President subsequently confirmed to me in one of my interviews with him.
On the other hand, if as critics like Jide Ajani would choose to say, former President Obasanjo truly ‘deliberately’ imposed Goodluck Jonathan on Nigeria without all the hostilities and challenges that he was personally subjected to, are we not talking here about a highly learned Doctor of Philosophy for God’s sake?
Events that unfolded after the departure of Olusegun Obasanjo from the Presidency are characterised by the concomitant disappearance into perpetual oblivion, of the vibrant mass media that made the presidential throne a hot seat for Olusegun Obasanjo. Today, the only heat that President Jonathan feels is from citizen’s journalism that is beyond his control. How did the mainstream media get so caged so easily? Jide Ajani made no secret of consequences that are feared if a journalist in a presidential media chat in today’s format, tried to play the ‘hero’ by asking hot questions that could make the President look stupid. Yet, in the poorly disguised sentiments that Jide Ajani expressed in carefully chosen words, the President had already succeeded in presenting a not-very intelligible image of himself even without hot questions.
In the end, we are seeing a strongly impaired Nigerian President surrounded by exploitative interest groups of his own choosing. In front of him stands a professional mirror to show him what he looks like. Unfortunately, this mirror, which is the Nigerian media has been craftily manipulated to distort the image reflected under the pretext of not desecrating the Presidency. Since the professionals that the President should ordinarily take seriously are operating within this mirror, he is also badly misled by this same mirror that will not show the facts in all bluntness. The citizens package that is full of non-professionals but comes up with the necessary bluntness is not taken seriously and is fought hands-down with loads of paid ‘counter-insurgents’ as the presidency would choose to see it. It is the first Presidency to appoint a Special Assistant on New Media, while Obasanjo simply stopped reading newspapers. Now Nigerians should be able to understand why Obasanjo would not listen to advise from sycophants and acted as he pleased within the confines of his presidential powers.
It then beats my imagination, why media operatives who were privy to their own failings in contributing immensely to the emergence of the predicament that Nigeria now faces can simply not sit back and do the vital soul-searching. The need to survive in a collapsed Nigeria where jobs are hard to come by has now made Reuben Abati a dog that simply turns back to lick and enjoy what he had previously vomited. The courage to speak out bluntly will not secure the jobs of employed journalists as it did during Obasanjo’s days. The few that are paid to do the yeoman’s job often struggle to sound convincing in the face of so much presidential dumbness and incompetence.
Therefore much like President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerian journalists in the mainstream media need all the help they can get to salvage what is left of virtue in this unique profession.
Further details of the failings of the Nigerian media can be found in my book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism”