At The Mercy Of Small Men

Look around you and you will have a hard time trying to identify one exceptional political leader from the lowest level of government to the apex, which is the presidency. What you find is zero because there is none. That says it all about the poverty of political leadership, which is the conundrum that is holding the country down.

The Report
The Report

We are being led by little men with constricted minds, who have no business getting near the seat of power at any level. The result is a country cursed by the dangerous limitations of her leaders, who do nothing as she drifts more and more into violent chaos.

It was President Barack Obama, who, some years ago, warned that Africa was in danger of being left behind by the rest of the world. To avert this, he advised that Africa’s elites must focus on developing strong institutions of governance and do away with the culture of the rule of strong men. The politics of strong men creates only long-term instability, stultifies real development and growth of prosperity. Oftentimes, it generates the Somalia syndrome, when a country dissolves into permanent chaos, and the Rwanda tragedy that results in mass genocide.

We are being led by little men with constricted minds, who have no business getting near the seat of power at any level.

All institutions that constitute the engine of the machinery of running the government are populated by minions whose sole remit is to serve the whims and command of the strong man. They are there to defend and preserve his authority, even when fraudulently obtained, at all costs.

The expression of their loyalty to the big man is unvarnished sycophancy and unqualified endorsement of him, no matter his failings and whatever he does. So it wasn’t a surprise that Ibrahim Magu, the EFCC’s acting chairman, started wearing the political lapel pin, “Buhari 2019”, months before President Muhammadu Buhari officially announced his intention to seek re-election.

Magu was not the only head of a key public institution, who spurned all decency to advertise his support for his boss. Military chiefs and the controller-general, Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ibrahim Ali, who refused to wear Customs uniforms, proudly wore the campaign pin, as they all competed to show their loyalty. They ignored public outcry against their open display of political partisanship.

It is in this context that the National Broadcasting Commission’s precipitate withdrawal of Daar Communications’ broadcast licences should be viewed and understood. Ishaq Moddibo Kawu, NBC’s director-general, and his supine executive board members were acting true to type. They have to justify their appointment to high positions in a public agency that plays the most critical role of regulating the broadcast industry. And this is where the problem lies.

Seriously, how does the management of key public agencies end up in the hands of people who are least qualified to do the job? Once you have some academic qualifications and a well-connected godfather to lobby for you, that is it. You get the job. Nobody bothers about your capacity and competence or temperament, whether you are a fit and proper person to occupy a position and exercise the authority that goes with it.

Journalism deployed for noble causes, especially the defence of human rights and the fight for justice, cannot be neutral. It is like religion without faith.

It doesn’t matter whether you are not achieving the objectives and reaching the set goals of the agency and adding any value to it. Who really cares? You are not judged by your performance but your degree of loyalty to the cause of the big man and the value of the patronage you dispense to all the right people within his orbit. And you can generously feather your own nest while doing so.

Modibbo Kawu’s reasons for the NBC doing the hatchet job on Daar Communications on behalf of an increasingly intolerant government, are an illogical stretch and beyond laughable. One of the reasons is that AIT and Raypower serially breached the commission’s code of ethic on neutrality in their news and editorial commentaries. As the saying goes, give the dog a bad name so you can hang it.

Just as “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, political jobbers and aspiring tyrants, neutrality is the comfort zone of moral cowards and truth-benders. As Dr. Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi, founder of Daar Communications, pointed out in his robust defence of his media company, good and effective journalism is not about neutrality. It is about objectivity and fidelity to the facts. And, most importantly, it’s about deploying it to the causes that promote the common good of the people. In our own situation and given our history of tyrannical juntas and bad governments, the common good is defending our hard-won democracy and protecting our freedoms, including freedom of speech and association.

Neutrality in serious journalism is a misnomer, a sort of an oxymoron. Journalism deployed for noble causes, especially the defence of human rights and the fight for justice, cannot be neutral. It is like religion without faith. A neutered news report is sterile and useless. The primary obligation of the journalist is not just to report facts, but explain them, so that the meaning they convey is very clear. That is the only way the public can be well informed. Only well-informed people can make rational judgments about government policies and actions that impact their lives. When they wallow in ignorance, they are easily manipulated by their oppressors and usurpers of their commonwealth.

How can a broadcast regulatory agency, headed by a card-carrying member of the ruling party, be taken seriously when it pompously talks of neutrality in media reports? That is nothing but sheer sophistry. Modibbo Kawu ought to have resigned his appointment when he contested APC’s governorship primary election in Kwara State last year. That is what people of real character do. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s public-service spaces are populated mostly by little men, who have no sense of duty to the country. All they care about is preserving their undeserved privileged positions and keeping their juicy slices of the national cake.

Every unpopular and illegitimate government is hardly able to deal with inconvenient facts. The more you throw them at those at the helm, the more they get nervous. And their nervousness invariably leads to desperation. Once they are desperate, they can do anything to maintain the legitimacy of their power. And that includes burning down the roof and destroying the foundation of our fledgling democracy.

While the intervention of the Nigerian Press Organisation in fending off the NBC’s assault on Daar Communications is most salutary, it should not lure us into complacency about the true nature and real intention of our political buccaneers. Today, it’s Daar Communications. Tomorrow, it could be another media company identified as ‘an enemy’ that must be silenced. Once the media generally is intimidated into silence and restrained from reporting inconvenient facts about the government and the parlous state of the nation, tyranny, now incipient, would blossom and have a free reign.

The NBC is a public agency whose executives are appointed by the president. The commission is completely subjected to the whims and caprices of the executive branch of government and, therefore, not fit for purpose. Given the huge significance of its regulatory function, it ought to be insulated from manipulation by the executive, just like the Central Bank of Nigeria, to ensure its autonomy and credibility. This is one challenge the Nigerian Press Organisation must take on urgently. Otherwise, the truce it brokered between the NBC and Daar Communications will turn out sooner or later to be the ‘peace of the graveyard’.

There are many charlatans, utterly unprincipled and avaricious, incubating in the corridors of power and ready to strike at our freedoms. So let’s always remember that tyranny has many ugly faces and willing enablers. The price and pain of our liberty is eternal vigilance against those who have no qualms about taking it away.


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