NIGERIA MEDIA MONITOR
#03-02 MONDAY 12 JANUARY 1998* ADMINISTRATOR THREATENS TO SACK RADIO MANAGEMENT * JUDGE WITHDRAWS CASE AGAINST JOURNALIST * JOURNALISTS REGAIN FREEDOM * DELTA RADIO ON TEST TRANSMISSION, BAYELSA PLANS STATIONS * RADIO KUDIRAT ON VACATION * COUP: THE DANGER ON THE BEAT * EXPECTATIONS OF A JAILED EDITOR'S WIFE * 1997: ZEST AND THE MEDIA NEWSREEL UBAH THREATENS TO SACK RADIO MANAGEMENT Kebbi State Administrator, Col. John Ubah, has threatened to sack the management of the state radio station. Speaking during an unscheduled visit to the broadcasting complex in Birnin Kebbi, Co. Ubah said the management would lose its job soon if the station was not heard beyond a 10-kilometre radius. "It is better not to have a radio station than having one that does reach anywhere," he said. He also said the corporation's management had always blamed the problem on its grounded second transmitter, but lamented that no improvement had been made even after it had been repaired. Responding to explanations by some staff that the absence of a 50 kilowatt transmitter was causing the station's outreach problem, the administrator said the management had never brought that issue before him. Ubah, visibly angered by the situation, remarked, "You don't have to wait until I visit you before you tell me your problems." The corporation's General Manager, Alhaji Bello Ribah and other management staff were not at the station during the administrator's visit. CHIEF JUDGE WITHDRAWS CASE AGAINST JOURNALIST The Chief Judge of Ondo State, Mr. Justice Sydney Afonja, has withdrawn an allegation of false publication for which the state correspondent of The Daily Monitor, Mr. Femi Afolabi, was recently arrested and detained. The paper, in its lead story of December 15, published that the Chief Judge refused to go on leave contrary to the "practice for retiring Chief Judges to go on three months' retirement leave" before vacating the judiciary. He allegedly told the government that he had the right to stay in office until the last day of his retirement. The following day, December the reporter was arrested and detained until December 18, when he was charged to an Akure Magistrate's Court which released him on bail and adjourned the case till January 22, this year. But Afonja, in a letter to the Police commissioner, Mr. Iliya Lokadang, titled: "Withdrawal of Complaint" and dated December 29, (1997), said: "Upon further deliberations on the matter, it has been decided that the complaint and the charge against the said reporter be withdrawn in furtherance of the usual good relationship between the state government, the judiciary and the press in a common cause of maintaining peace, social justice and fairplay within the community." It said: "In view thereof, it will be appreciated if you will kindly ensure that the said decision is carried out by the police prosecutor and the presiding chief magistrate on the next date to which the matter was adjourned." Copies of the letter were sent to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Secretary to the State Government, the Chief Registrar, Magistate's Court, Chief Press Secretary to the Administrator and the chairman of the state chapter of Nigeria Union of Journalists. TWO JOURNALISTS REGAIN FREEDOM Two journalists, Jenkins Alumona, editor, The News, and Akin Adesokan, Senior Writer, Post Express, were released from detention January 1, 1998. Alumona was picked on Saturday, November 9, last year, at the premises of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Victoria Island, Lagos, where he had gone to present his live sports programme, Masterports. Adesokan was arrested at Seme town, on the Nigeria - Benin Republic border on November 6, 1997 while returning from a Writer-in-Residence programme in Austria. DELTA RADIO ON TEST TRANSMISSION; BAYELSA PLANS STATIONS The radio arm of the Delta Broadcasting Service (DBS) has commenced test transmission from the state capital, Asaba, six years after the state was created. The test transmission of the outfit tagged "Rainbow Station", which has been on for some days, is being received on 97.92 Megarhertz on the Frequency Modulation (FM) band in Asaba and environs. The test transmission has featured musicals mainly from albums released in the 80's and some gospel tunes combined with cultural music from ethnic groups in the state. The transmission is interrupted at irregular intervals with recorded message informing listeners that the station was on test transmission and that they should be free to write to the station on how the signals were being received. Reception of the signals in Asaba has been clear and loud in the morning hours but it fades off as mid-day approaches. It was gathered that the test transmission would be on for some weeks to give room for perfection before the official commissioning. The Commissioner for Information and Culture, Miss Olivia Agbajoh, said that the establishment of the station was a fulfilment of the state government's promise to the people. About than N178 million ($2.09) has been spent by the government to set up the radio and television station. Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State Government has said it is considering the establishment of radio and television stations to help publicise its activities and programmes. The state Information Commissioner, Mr. Paul Orieware, journalists since the state government was trying to put some infrastructures in place, the people of the area should be effectively carried along by making them aware of the intentions and actions of government. The Commissioner, who said Bayelsa State currently relies on the Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation, Rivers State Newspaper Corporation and private newspapers for the coverage and dissemination of its information, urged journalists in the state to be very discreet in the handling of information meant for public onsumption. Bayelsa was carved out of Rivers State in October 1996. RADIO KUDIRAT GOES ON BREAK Nigeria's opposition radio, Radio Kudirat Nigeria is on a 2-week break for maintenance in preparation for improved services in the "crucial months ahead," reports THISDAY newspaper on January 7, 1998. The recess, it said, would also allow for the re-packaging of the station's programming, introduction of new broadcasters, improved scheduling and several surprises. The station went off the air on January 1, 1998, for what the operators termed "required maintenance work for the crucial months ahead." The main mouthpiece of the opposition, Radio Kudirat came into being in 1995 as Radio Freedom International and has been broadcasting on and off, from band to band. Its name was changed later in honour of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola who was gunned down in Lagos on June 4, 1996. LET MY HUSBAND COME HOME-Bunmi Ajibade With her hopes buoyed up by the announcement on November 17, last year, by the Head of State, General Sani Abacha and later complemented by Chief Alex Akinyele, the National Reconcilliation Committee NARECOM Chairman, that some detainees would be released, Mrs. Olubunmi Ajibade, wife of Mr. Kunle Ajibade, erstwhile Editor of The News magazine and one of the four journalists serving jail-terms for alleged accessory to the fact of the March, 1995 coup plot, had looked forward to celebrating the new year eve with her husband. In fact, people had already been congratulating her in advance! But that was not to be. Her hopes were dashed as had been the case several times in the past. She spoke to The Punch newspaper. Excerpts: Q:There is this information that the Head of State would soon release the detainees of whom your husband is hopefully one. Did you hear it? A:Yes I did Q: Where and when did you hear it? A: I think I heard it on November 17 from the speech read by the Head of State, General Abacha. Q:So you listened to his fourth anniversary speech. AYes I did. Q: How are you then planning to recieve him? A: He would come back and meet us, no special plan for his reception. I am not really bothered about how he would come back. My prayer is that he should come back alive and very soon too. Q: Assuming he is released today, won't you rush to Makurdi to meet him? A:Not at all. That has been settled, His people, I mean, his collegues at The News would arrange for his homecoming. I will be excited to receive him. I will be greatly happy but I would not go to Makurdi to bring him down. Q: How have you been coping without Kunle around. A: Coping? Q: Yes A: God has been by my side and I have been coping. I thank Him for His mercies. Q: Can you relate your experience? A: It has not been a pleasant one. It has been tough and tough but I have adjusted to the situation and I regard it as one of the experiences in life. Q: Kunle is seen by many people as an almost perfect gentleman who could not hurt a fly less being a coup plotter as alleged. What do you think led to this unfortunate incident? A: Like you said, he is a gentleman but the Nigerian government says he is not, then what can anybody do? This is a government which would call you a thief and so you are one without being given the opportunity to defend yourself. Q: Recently, the acting Director of Defence Information, Colonel Godwin Ugbo warned journalists to be cautions of what they write about the alleged coup plot involving the chief of General Staff (CGS), Lt.-General Oladipo Diya and 11 others so that they would not find themselves in Kunle's shoes. What do you say to this? A: That is unfortunate. You mean journalists whose primary function is to inform the public should stop doing so because somebody has threatened somewhere? What I want to advise is that journalists should tell the truth, so long what they write or say is the truth, as long as they should not be intimidated. All I know is that journalism is for the coward. At the point of death journalists should still stand by the truth. But if you say because Kunle Ajibade, George Mba, Chris Anyanwu and Ben-Charles Obi are in prisons and as such others should not say the truth to avoid similar experience, I believe that would not help the profession and the country. Q:Given the traumatic experience your husband and his family have gone through, if he is released today, whould you encourage him to go back into journalism? A: Kunle loves the profession very much. That is his chosen career. I don't have any other job for him. I know it is a job he enjoys much and so he should continue with it. Q:If he should remain as a journalist would you want him to go back to The News/Tempo? A:There is no problem with the organisation. He is one of the founding team of the communication outfit. People should not make the mistake of thinking that he is in the present predicament because he works with The News. Not at all, his colleagues in other media ae facing similar experience. Q: With Kunle's experience, would you encourage any of your children to be a journalist? A: Why not? If any of them wishes to be a pressman I will not discourage him. I want to believe that the profession is a noble one if it is allowed to be practised. Q: It appears the experience has strengthened you. A: You are right. I did not initially think I could cope. It was so difficult at the beginning but I must say I am used to the whole thing now as I now play the role of a mother and a father to our two sons, Mayowa and Folarin. Q: When last did you see him? A: July last year (1997). Q: It appears your predicament has made you closer to God? A: I am a Christian and I am my usual self I have always been close to God who never fails me. Q: How have Kunle's colleagues at work been relating with you? A: They have been wonderful. They have proven to be friends in need and indeed. If friendship makes man rich, I must say that Kunle is one of the richest persons, in the country. His friends have been supportive and I am quite thankful for this. They are fantastic. Offten times, Kunle's brothers and sisters come to cheer us up. My mother and mother-in-law do come to this place too to play with us. I thank God for the glory and protection over family. Source: Punch, January 1, 1997. FEATURES DANGER ON THE BEAT The saying that governments come and go while the people always remain has a salient instruction: The people always have a stake in every regime's transition. In a democracy, transition is treated as a necessary ritual during which the people renew the legitimacy of representatives by granting them mandate in elections. The role of the press is crucial. It informs the people of the choices available in terms of parties, programmes and candidates and serves as the forum for contenders to contest ideas. The press also monitors the political process providing the civic education necessary for citizens empowerment. The disruption of the constitutional order by military rule radically changes the context and process of regime change. First, the military runs a command system and operates laws geared towards strict discipline and obedience to orders. Second, because of its unified structure, regime transition under military rule operates as surprise attack on the ruling faction by the rival power-seekers. Since regime change under the military is an intra-organisation affair and the military places premium on security, the only role alloted to the press in such changes is marginal. Essentially the military uses the press to inform the public what it thinks the public ought to know about the regime change. This, evidently, conforms with the military's traditional definition of its information department. As far as semantics go, the Directorate of Army Information and Defence Information are by the totalitarian culture of that institution mega-phones, not watchdogs of the military establishment. Their officials can only release information eared "from above". To illustrate, recall the role of Brigadier General Fred Chijuka, former Director of Defence Information during the alleged Gwadabe coup on June 5, 1995. Briefing reporters that morning, he stated that the trial would be in batches and instructed Col. Godwin Ugbo, then his deputy to distribute the list of suspects. Long after the briefing was over, the military spokesperson got a different brief and recalled the reporters. This time, he informed the journalists of the decision of the tribunal to take all the suspects at once. He ordered the journalists to return copies of the list of suspects earlier circulated. On another occasion, Chijuka said he could not attend the trials which was going on. His words: "I have been there again only once and I did not enter .. I didn't want to because they would not allow me. I didn't carry my tag. Do you want one corporal to harass me saying oga, you know you are not supposed to be here?" If military officials charged with information are under such restrictions, one can understand why they relate to the press the way they do. Col. Godwin Ugbo's statement urging the press to crosscheck information before publishing is better understood in the context of his military environment. But the obstacle to reporting intra-military regime changes or coups is not limited to the institutional limitations of its information machinery. It is also influenced by the penalties which failure to stage a successful coup attracts. There are two basis laws which govern coup investigation and trial. These are the Military Court (Special Powers) Decree of 1984 and Treason and Other Offences (Special Military) Decrees of 1996. Offences under those laws include concealment of knowledge of treason and accessories after the fact of treason. Any action which in the view of the tribunal could aid the execution of a plot could be used to make a case of accessory after the fact. Although these laws have been criticised, there has not been any serious move to review them. For instance, Major General David Jemibewon, former Adjutant General of the Army who is now a lawyer, stated in his book, An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Military Law in Nigeria" that: "Proceedings of courts-martial consisting of non-legal men and having with them no judge of law and applying a code that, though penal, is not specific either in defining the offence penalty or procedure must be expected to be and presently they are wrong from beginning to the end: wrong in fact, wrong in law, wrong in the conduct of the inquiry, wrong in the findings...wrong in everything. Although Jemibewon has faulted courts-martial this has not encouraged the civil courts to exercise their judicial function in protecting public interest during coup trials. An example is the case brought before Justice Vincent Eigbedion of the Federal High Court, Lagos by the family of Akinloye Akinyemi, a dismissed Major of the Nigerian Army who was alleged to be suspect in the alleged Gwadabe coup plot, urging the court to stay his trial. Responding on the arguments of the counsel to the plaintiff, the learned judge said "I will not make an order, but I am not refusing your application. I just want you to serve them. You should not push me to make an order. This matter is very sensitive. What if they (the tribunal) do not obey the order?" The above landmines have made independent reporting of coup bids a dangerous undertaking for the press. Considering that the press has no specific protective legislation on which it could rely to defend its efforts to inform the public, a journalist seeking to report coup bids independently can only rely on his sense of social responsibility and the watch-dog role of the press as a public trust. To date four journalists Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, Ben Charles Obi and George Mbah - are still languishing in jail on charges of being accessories after the fact in the alleged Gwadabe coup. Certainly, the press needs laws to fall back on. But until that happens, it would have to continue to be the proverbial man whose head must be used to break coconut. Source: Midweek Concord, January 7, 1997. 1997: ZEST AND THE MEDIA by Odia Ofeimun In all the hoopla and festivations about the end of year 1997, one hardly-mentioned event is the shock of the new represented by ThisDay in Nigerian newspapering. Not just its propensity to break news and its colour-seduced face that had drawn the general love of colour in other newspapers out of the closet. It's also about its back page burner. All of it adds up to a stylish concept that advances the business of informing and entertaining to a top notch. ThisDay, for this and more, deserves to be celebrated in the manner in which the arrival of The Guardian, blurbed ever since as the flagship of Nigerian journalism, has deserved its hype. ThisDay may give the impression of transience that The Guardian has never given, but its innovations are clearly figments of our reality that won't go away. This needs to be said because it is not good for a profession not to know how to celebrate its own; even if the maverick pedigree of new directions may raise fears about how well the new directions will last. On this score, as 1997 passes away, one wonders why there is so little self-celebration of the media in a country where no other formality, institution, or agency has been able to represent the country any better. Call it narcicism. But, looking around, the political terrain calls for it: with so many journalists jailed for knowing and writing about allegedly attempted coups! Editors and reporters detained, not for lying, but writing impressively about events that have actually happened! And, with news magazines being threatened with dire consequences for playing like the ombudsman, political party, and human rights counsellor, in a country where prefects with horsewhips act the ombudsman and political parties dare not have visions, aggregate opinions, or articulate goals! Or where it now requires a special certificate granted by traducers of human rights for a human rights group to exist! The press may well play like the lizard, in the proverb, who nods gloatingly as if to say I've tried, I've tried after successfully leaping to firm earth from a high-branched Iroko tree. The nod that the media can afford does not however amount, nor should it be allowed, to amount to gloating. Let's keep it modest. As it happens, the war in which the media is engaged is never fully won although so many battles may be won. The media, so to say, may succeed in demonstrating the hollowness of a government pronouncement but it still must leave the job of a changing government policy to pressure groups, political activists and gladiators in the field. The press may paint the picture of a better society or a better world but those whose job it is to actualise that better world are out there beyond the precincts of the Editorial Board or News Conference. As the saying goes, newspapers do not take over governments although stupid governments have always essayed to take over newspapers. The particularly purblind amongst them have, in fact, always sought to determine what should appear on the pages of newspapers or on radio and television. Because they have no respect for reality, they seek to turn their wishful thinking into popular norm; they, literally, pursue the day when they will dribble themselves, or drown in the torpor of their own retch. The pity is that, faced with government and a lot of seduced collaborators, who gambol in sheer unreality, the public is often forced to think that the media are being sensational. Put in another way, the media are pictured as dredging down to some form of magical realism. But not really. When core organs of central decision-making in a society have been overtaken by a zeal for sustaining unreality, it is they that ought to be blamed for creating sensationalism if only because they criminalise whatever the rest of us would have accepted as normal. Of course, those who buy into the offical sense of unreality do not always give the game away because they manage to give the impression of being smart and realistic. Their strength lie in drowing out, or keeping out of circulation, regular people, such as journalists and writers who simply wish to be allowed to practice one vocation or profession that they are happy to call theirs. No question about it: when this is the case, it is serious business being in a profession that can take you down a dungeon but does not necessarily put a full plate on your table. It can sometimes lead to self-doubt. Arguably, not every journalist knows how to beat his and her chest about the civilising influence which the uncelebrated media practitioner motivates to change the world, to change the country, alter moribund perceptions, set national agenda and prefigure that 'glorious down' which some non-poet, but very astute visionary, once made into the poetry of opposition politics in Nigeira. To think of it, there is every need to celebrate the untold, immeasurable influence that the journalist wields. It's narcission or ego-tripping only when it becomes a daily fare. And so, as one year passes, it seems perfectly natural to look around and thank Goodness that in spite of the financial squeeze that has cut newspaper buyers off the vendor and the newsstands, there are still large enough mercies to celebrate. There is still a newspaper called The Punch, punching away, revived, returned to popular favour after a forced-draft hibernation in limbo. It is strenghtening a resistant platform against tyrannical rule and joining in the hotyard that once made the Nigerian Tribune into a legendary tabloid. The Tribune had, very sadly, regressed, but true to the spirit of its founder, it has threshed comeback by re-learning old ropes and catching on to new ones. Of course, the Nigerian Tribune always manage, in hard times, to draw upon its captive consituency. Its trail of goodwill is re-demonstrated by the rejuvenating fervour of Uncle Bola's column on Sunday. Folksy, readable and forthright, it belongs to that redoubtable tradition of which Aiyekoto was a Godsend. Sorely, the platform misses a John West. Sorely. But that's the way of the world: to miss what cannot be re-couped. It invites nostalgic revisits to the days in Nigerian journalism when Ebenezer Williams, Peter Pan, Sad Sam, Allah De, Tai Solarin, Candido (of the first wave New Nigerian) kept humour and a flinty satirical eye trained on the public space. Well, you can't have the return of all yersters. Many may not have known how to keep afloat in the maelstrom of 1997. Of course, it would have been such a feast simply to be able to have on board all of them and those other enliveners of the media-Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Stanley Macebuh, Ama Ogan, Olatunji Dare, Sully Abu, Sonala Olumese, Haruna Mohammed, Sina Odugbemi, Eddie Iroh. Many of them seem so distant now even when like the Newswatch trio-Dan Agbese, Ray Ekpu, and Yakubu Muhammed, they remain-so present. One has to save oneself from the heartache of so dampening a year as 1997 by cadging on to those bright stars still undimmed by the fiat of power, dime, unbelief or exile. It was particularly heartening to have so many whose belief in the country kept them impinging on the media space in various ways. Of the outsiders, Wole Soyinka has been the easiest easy to take for granted. Exile or no exile, he is at home in the Nigerian media. In the same tradition, civic faith simply gushed from the pen of Reverend Father Mathew Hassan Kukah. Unflagging, relentless, his pulpit never failed the media. An interventionist of a different key, from a Pat Utomi, so much quieter in 1997, bristling all through the year as did Jide Osuntokun and the more desk-bound columnists across the newspapers and magazines whom I prefer to represent through my two favourite columnists of the year 1997. They are: Ocherome of the Vanguard and Reuben Abati of The Guardian -for their unstinting commitment to political good sense and style. Both have had the analytical savvy, really shaping up in sundry ways across the media, which makes you think of the surgery of drama among the literary arts. Or, of the fluid prose with which Harry Garuba sought to hitch me closer to the fledging Post Express whose literary supplement, I must say, lacked no competitor throughout the year. All the same, I won't let it pass that I do agree with Abati's kindergarten son who thinks that columnists like his father can be olodo who do not know that it is better education to know about an okada before the more generic motorcyle. It's for this reason that one relishes the consistency of conversations, like Bisi Lawrence's in the Vanguard which represents in folksy prose, the culture heroes who helped give local colour to days gone by. The matter was heightened for me on a work-a-day basis whenever I came face to face in 1997 with the culture and arts pages. Call it surfing in my proverbial turf. It's one area in which the Nigerian media have increasingly bested itself. A creeping professionalism in the area, still being resisted in some print and electronic media, was hamstrung through the year thus preventing fair representation of the vibrant creativity in the nation. But the spirit was always in ascent. For those who enjoy luxurianting in anything literary, there were so many saving graces. Layiwola Adeniji of The Guardian takes my Christmas turkey for adventurous literary reporting in the year. Unfazed by in-house tilt from brainstormers to more homely reportage, his fair stood up with Ibrahim Scheme's deft handling of the culture pages in the New Nigerian as prime ways of bastioning for the literary life. Were they and Obi Nwankama of the Vanguard, Oji Onoko of ThisDay and Nduka Otiono of Post Express to have slept through the year, some cynics would have been forced to boast that literary creativity in Nigeria died of military fiat, SAP, or rude Abachanomics. Thankfully, they presented widening peepholes through which we could visualise social potentiality outside the rampart sassiness of empty headed political propaganda and econo-babble. On the latter, the core legacy in the year came from the heady syndication from the Financial Times, New York Times-some consolation for a country where it ought to be possible to buy the whole loaf rather than chitty stuff from the foreign media. In spite of the valiant domestication that The Guardian and ThisDay attempted in wide-bodied articles, the truth is that they merely made us aware of how little is the capacity for innovative thinking at home and how much has been rubbished by the regressive economics of military politics in Nigeria. Anaemic analysis by captains and consultants of industry standing check by jowl with count-and-number columns on a dying economy completed the year. It all showed that there is no more "economics" only a taxonomy of untold robberies sucking up to the age of the World Wide Web. The media focus on economy simply turned good hands into embarrassed grooms without their brides. It was just same-same wastage of space reporting politics as if some rationality were still to be found in the business. For that matter, trying to write plainly about a denatured "economy" and a vastly denatured politics put the media in a form that either normalises the abnormal or frames a resistant ethic around work-a-day events. This is where the weeklies such as TheNews, TELL and TEMPO had to come into contention. Inexorably. It is fair to say that if you didn't read them during the year, you didn't really know Nigeria. Or that you knew Nigeria by delayed reflex. The good thing is that the weeklies never angled for respectability through undue silence or waffling. In a country where those who hide information are the first to attack the media for not doing their job, they unfettered the field of play for others to enjoy the pleasures of routine journalism. In a different environment, unspoilt by illiberal governments, they would have been map-makers and hard-drivers for the fulfilment of social goals. They would have allowed for the dind of whacky laughter that, these days, only the still vibrant but, largely de-humoured field of cartooning still manages to achieve. No question, it's a different field they plough from the so-called junk magazines. I'm a voter for the so-called junk mags because they often provide more acutely correct pictures of the Nigerian society than they are given credit for. They are unbeaten social historians on the run, digging from the unpleasant to the fatuously celebratory. They make meals of social graces and disgraces. With the political weeklies, they have formalised a manner in the public space that, whether we buy it or not, teaches all comers that no one in public eye ought to pretend to be an island with a code that we may not affect even if it affects all of us. Admittedly, not every citizen may wish to celebrate the media for what they got. But it is one agency and institution that represents this country in a way that no other institution, not the law-makers or administratios (all one and the same coin) nor the military nor the traditional rulers, nor the business community, nor name other professionals you like, do. It may be conceded that if they represent the country by representing all, they could also represent nobody. Which is really the point being made: that those who want the media dead may only therefore succeed in either defeating the whole country or defeating themselves. This logic makes occassioanl selfpraise for the media a celebration of the whole country. Ofeimun, Chairman of the Editorial Board of The News & Tempo magazines, was until recently, President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). Source: The News, January 12, 1998.
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