Rethinking the Transformation Agenda from a Cultural Perspective: The Imperatives of the Media

on


Rethinking the Transformation Agenda from a Cultural Perspective:
The Imperatives of the Media

By

Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, PhD
Executive Secretary/CEO
National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO)
Abuja-FCT
Website: www.nico.gov.ng
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Being a Keynote Lecture Delivered at the
NewsRay Public Lecture & Leadership Awards
Banquet Hall, Government House
Yenagoa, Bayelsa State

On

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Introduction
It gives me great pleasure to present the Keynote at the NewsRay Public Lecture and Leadership Award Series today, here in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, “the glory of all lands.” It is even more gratifying, when I recall that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, presented the 2005 edition, titled, Unequal Nigeria - Environment and Development: The Semi Deserts and the Nigeria Delta in Perspective. So, I can confidently say that I am following the footstep of Mr. President himself. Who knows? Maybe when I grow up, I will be like him.

Let me state quickly that I was requested to speak on, “The Reformation Agenda and the Nigerian Media.” But, as an artist, I have taken advantage of what we call, “the artistic licence.” This is, simply, the freedom to turn things around, my own way, because I am the one under the spotlight. This explains the rephrased topic: “Rethinking the Transformation Agenda from a Cultural Perspective: The Imperatives of the Media.” I am not aware of any “Reformation Agenda,” in contemporary media practice; but then, we are very much aware of the Transformation Agenda of the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Administration.

It is pertinent to also note that this paper is not a critical assessment of the Transformation Agenda, per se; rather, it is the application of the basics of the Agenda and the supportive role the media could ideally play in the administration’s desire to impact positively on the lives of the citizenry. It surmises that adequate funding, good facilities, strategic capacity-building, good remuneration, effective programme planning, conducive environment for the practice of journalism, and inter-sectoral partnerships, will, to a large extent, enable the media to be responsive to the role of effectively propagating the policies and programmes of government.

About the Nigerian Nation
Nigeria, a geo-political entity in the West African sub-region, covers a landmass of about 923,733 sq km, and occupies a vantage position at the eastern part of the West Coast of Africa. It is bordered on the north by the Sahara Desert, the south by the Gulf of Guinea, which is the Atlantic Ocean, Cameroon to the east and Benin Republic to the west. It is one of Africa’s most populous countries, with an estimated population of about 160 million, out of which about 110 million are said to be living below poverty line. Since gaining independence on October 1, 1960, and the present day, the country has seen as many as fifteen leaders, namely:

1. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe – President (Oct. 1, 1960 – Jan. 15, 1966)
2. Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa – Prime Minister (Oct. 1, 1960 – Jan. 15, 1966)
3. Maj-Gen. J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi – Head of State (Jan. 15 – July 29, 1966)
4. Gen. Yakubu Gowon – Head of State (July 29, 1966 – July 27, 1975)
5. Gen. Murtala Muhammad – Head of State (July 27, 1975 – Feb. 13, 1976)
6. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo – Head of State (Feb. 13, 1976 – Oct. 1, 1979)
7. Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari – President (Oct. 1, 1979 – Dec. 31, 1983)
8. Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari – Head of State (Dec. 31, 1984 – Aug. 27, 1985)
9. Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida – Military President (Aug. 27, 1985 – Aug. 27, 1993)
10. Chief Ernest Shonekan – Head of State, Interim National Government (Aug. 27, 1993 – Nov. 17, 1993)
11. Gen. Sani Abacha – Head of State (Nov. 17, 1993 – June 8, 1998)
12. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar – Head of State (June 8, 1998 – May 29, 1999)
13. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo – President (May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007)
14. Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua – President (May 29, 2007 – May 6, 2010; and
15. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan – President (May 6, 2010 – to date).

The country depended largely on agriculture as at independence in 1960. Unfortunately, over the years, the agricultural sector had been gradually abandoned in favour of crude oil, when the latter was discovered in commercial quantity in 1956, in Oloibiri, here in Bayelsa State. With the over-dependence on oil, the country has been reduced, more or less, to a mono-economy and a beggar nation, so much so that we had to celebrate a debt relief of about $18billion from the Paris Club in June 2005.

One thing is clear from the above – Nigeria has experienced serious political instability since independence, which has adversely affected the economy, despite the huge revenue from the oil and gas sector. The general feeling is that the oil boom of the early 1970s has become “oil doom,” because despite the over-dependence on oil revenue, the lives of the people have not been the better for it. The value of the naira has fallen, so much so that the dollar and the British Pound Sterling, which had exchanged for about 66 kobo and N1.25 as at 1980, now go for about N160 and N250, respectively. With the ethnic, religious, social, economic and political realities in Nigeria, investors have not been forthcoming because of the fear that their investments may not be safe. This underpins the popular saying that, “there cannot be meaningful development in a crisis-ridden atmosphere.”

Another peculiar thing is that most of the past leaders had come out with one programme or the other, supposedly, to develop the country socially, culturally, politically, economically, and so on. From Gowon’s “To Keep Nigeria One is a Task that Must be Done” and “Go on with on Nigeria;” Obasanjo’s “Operation Feed the Nation (OFN);” Shagari’s “Green Revolution,” to Buhari’s “War Against Indiscipline (WAI);” and Yar’Adua’s “7-Point Agenda,” to mention a few, successive Heads of Government had pursued a number of visions and policies, all aimed at making Nigeria a better place. Little wonder then that on May 29, 2011, when President Goodluck Jonathan took oath of office, amidst high expectations of a new dawn, a breath of fresh air, he was quick to come out with his Transformation Agenda. This development plan, driven by a team of 28 technocrats, under the Chairmanship of the President himself, is coordinated by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a world renowned economist. The Transformation Agenda is, to a large extent, consistent with the country’s Vision 20:2020, which aims at concretizing the national aspiration of becoming one of the Top 20 economies in the world by Year 2020. 

For purpose of clarity, let me state here that the Transformation Agenda envisions strong, inclusive and non-inflationary growth, employment generation, poverty alleviation, and value re-orientation of the citizenry. In it, the President adopted some key sectors to serve as the spring-board, which include Security, Infrastructure (including Power), Agriculture, Manufacturing, Housing, Entertainment, Education, Health, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Holistically, the Agenda anticipates potential financial, human and political resource base, and growing maturity of major institutions of governance, such as the National Assembly, the Judiciary, an unbiased electoral umpire, and dependable Armed Forces (Gyong 1). This explains the concept of Independence of the Judiciary, the National Assembly, as well as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Olisemeka Obeche rightly observes that the Agenda presents great opportunities for institutional renewal and performance in the public sector. This is premised on the fact that, generally, it emphasizes that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government must deliver intended products, services and programmes to the people. As such, key institutions in the executive arm of government are driven by some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), to ensure they keep pact with the Administration and deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. This informed the signing of Performance Contracts: Mr. President with the Ministers; the Ministers with the Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives of parastatals; and expectedly, Permanent Secretaries and CEOs with their Directors.

Nevertheless, political analysts have deduced that a number of threats and challenges have faced the realization of the Transformation Agenda. These include bad governance, lack of accountability, corruption that has become endemic, insecurity, parasitic public service, poor development projects, and lack of synergy between politicians and public servants, among others. Unfortunately, the media that should play a vital role in keeping the public abreast of the dynamics of the Agenda appear not to be doing that effectively, rather focusing attention on the negatives. So, the question is: how do we ameliorate the situation? Since the public has every right to know what is happening in government, the media, as the fourth estate of the realm, need to perform the statutory functions of informing, educating, and enlightening Nigerians on the merits and demerits of the Agenda. The essence is to take it (the Agenda) beyond mere sloganeering. This underpins James Watson’s position that,

Increasingly the media have found themselves positioned at the heart of cultural, social, political and contexts; and these contexts both influence media performance and are influenced by it. The media are part of trends, responsive to them and often instrumental to publicising, and therefore influencing, the direction and extent of such trends (1-2).

However, it is pertinent to briefly examine the cultural context under which the media operate in Nigeria, for us to appreciate the essence of rethinking the Transformation Agenda from the cultural perspective and the imperatives of media organisations.

Nigeria’s Cultural Background
With about 400 ethnic groups and an estimated population of about 160 million, one strong point of the Nigerian state is its unity in cultural diversity. The reasoning is that if we exploit our rich cultural heritage: diverse languages, traditions, festivals, artefacts, cultural and tourism sites, among others, the African continent, and indeed, the world have a lot to learn from Nigeria. Unfortunately, unlike the Asian Tigers, like China, Japan and South Korea, the potentials of culture in national development have been ignored by successive Nigerian governments, so much so that the culture sector gets mere stipends as budgetary allocations every year, which do not give room for meaningful development.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the promotion of the cultural elements in a society is best done by the media as the instruments of mass communication through which information are communicated to the general public. That National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) has effectively partnered the media at various levels in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. This is out of the deep-seated conviction that culture itself envelopes national greatness. Just as oxygen is to man’s existence, so is culture to our national interest. Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, speaking at the inaugural edition of the World Decade for Cultural Development in Paris, in 1988, noted the importance of culture thus:

One of the reasons why the international community failed to attain some of the aims it had set for itself was because the importance of human factors – that complex web of relationships and beliefs, values and motivations, which lies at the heart of culture, had been under-estimated in many development projects.

The point being made here is that culture has to be identified, excavated and decorated to fulfil the development initiative of government. Furthermore, the media are strategic to achieving this, as they hold the search-light to the promotion and propagation of culture. They are veritable channels for soft power diplomacy, whereby the cultural, political and socio-economic values of a nation are transmitted, both to the local and international audiences, endearing such packages to their hearts. In fact, nothing aptly points to the enduring strength of the media, like the saying that, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and that “information is power.” The blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikileaks, radio, television and newspapers, are conglomerates of the social media that have billions of consumers and their influencing powers are immeasurable, especially since we now live in a borderless and seamless digital world. This explains why there has been a meteoric rise in the number of media outfits in the nation, ranging from the print to the electronic.

Basic Cultural Concepts
Culture, according to Edward Tylor, is that complex whole, which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, law, morals, customs and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Culture entails the way of life of a particular society or group of people, including patterns of thoughts, beliefs, behaviour customs, traditions, rituals, dress and language, as well as art, music and literature (Webster’s Dictionary). In the most simplistic term, culture is, as noted above, “the totality of the way of life of a people.” A new-born baby can, in algebraic terms, be referred to as possessing “zero culture,” since his/her mind could be viewed as a clean slate. As the child continues to grow, the constant interaction with the society gives birth to a new phenomenon in him/her: the phenomenon of learned uniqueness. The child imbibes the norms of the society, such as, what to eat, how to eat, how to talk, how to interact, what to wear, and so on.

Since Nigeria is multi-ethnic nation, having diverse cultural groups and orientations, and variety, they say, is the spice of life, it could be said that the synergy of these cultural permutations is a veritable road-map for national development. The culture of any society is not static but in a state of constant flux and evolution; hence, the saying that, “culture is dynamic.” The social imperatives coupled with pressures from all stakeholders within and outside the local group also exert pressures on the form of culture that will best suite a people at any particular period. Thus, there is no arguing the fact that the media constitute a prime pressure group and stakeholder in the moulding of culture. For instance, the media were at the vanguard of the crusade for the stoppage of the callous culture of the elimination of twins in Calabar, in partnership with Mary Slessor. In the same vein, the promotion of our laudable cultural values has been consistently spearheaded by the media.

Declining Cultural Values
Presently, an average Nigerian citizen is at a cross-road. He is torn between his ancient traditional belief system and general world-view on one hand, and his faith: Christian or Islamic views, on the other. This has engendered an ethical dissonance. The influence of globalization, like the constant bombardment of our air-waves with half-nude (baring almost all the essentials) or full-blown pornographic pictures, pictures of musicians sagging their trousers, ladies dressed in lies (false lips, false eye-lashes, false nails, false breasts, false hairs, and, of late, false hips and buttocks), among others, by broadcast television and satellite cable networks, have resulted in the gradual displacement of our cherished cultural values. In other words, the increasing negative trends of the Nigerian society, characterized by trial-and-error economic, political and social development programmes have deepened the moral value dilemma among Nigerians.

A critical assessment would reveal that our cultural values have declined over the years. The entity, Nigeria, despite its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural diversity, was guided by certain norms and values, which accounted for the peaceful and harmonious co-existence of each distinct group. Negative vices like stealing, lying, cheating, killing of innocent citizens, and other forms of deviant acts, were seen as abominations in the society and attracted punishment. In our rural communities, people left their doors open, or at best had only mats as coverings, because there were no robberies; yam barns were left unguarded; human lives were seen as sacred; and people never imbibed the get-rich-quick syndrome. In fact, if you became rich under questionable circumstances and acquired property, you father would sit you down, probably as early as the first cockcrow, and ask how you came by such wealth. He would tell you bluntly that he would have nothing to do with such property – a house, a car, or whatever – unless you told him the truth.

Community leaders, who, today, are the equivalent of public office holders, were appointed as representatives of the people before the gods and deities. These individuals always stood for truth, honesty, equity and justice. Developments in the communities were driven by their exemplary leadership and behaviour. There was integrity in service and accountability in handling communal property. Funds entrusted in the hands of such leaders were safe. Though the communities had their fair share of crises, the youths respected the wise counsel of the elders of the land. Nowadays, the reverse is the case. In communal uprisings, the perpetrators are usually rampaging youths, who brazenly move about, wielding dangerous weapons, often aimed at destroying lives and property. We also see hate-induced attacks, where raids are carried out by armed mobs that kill law-abiding human beings and destroy property. This informs the thinking that the Nigerian society is bedevilled by lots of problems occasioned by globalization and westernization (Anele, 2008: 11). The norms and values, which formed the bed-rock of our communal existence are gradually dying and, in some areas, non-existent.

The youth of any society are seen as potent agents of change, because they are the dynamic segment of the population with appropriate physical and mental qualities needed for setting goals, envisioning possibilities and actualizing them (Anele, 2008: 2). But they are nowadays often cajoled and used by selfish politicians, as agents to fight for political power and disrupt government policies and programmes. The activities of such politicians are well known: they are fortune-seekers, who can go to any length to create artificial hatred to feed fat. Little wonder then that the recent spate of violence and growing insecurity in the country carried out by different groups. These groups, with violent ideologies, are manipulating the minds of some youths towards crime and violence, as means of resolving disputes. The militancy in the Niger Delta, kidnapping which has been turned to a lucrative business venture in the South Eastern states, the Boko Haram insurgence in the North, for example, are all clear cases of cultural decay. It is therefore unfortunate that former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who is still aspiring to come back as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, feels that the “Ombatse,” the alleged killers of several policemen and state security operatives in Nasarawa State, should be brought to book, but he construes the onslaught of the Federal Government against Boko Haram insurgents, who have exterminated the lives of thousands of Nigerians, as being anti-Northern Nigeria (Shiklam 1, 8). The fact remains that some of the inherent values in our culture are being “your brothers’ keeper” and showing hospitality to strangers. That a sect will indiscriminately bomb and kill fellow citizens is alien to our culture.

There is no gainsaying the fact that our youths no longer have respect for elders. They even address their parents anyhow, telling them that their time had passed. Some of them even bully their parents to submission. Elsewhere, I had cited the case of a young man, who flogged his father mercilessly over certain disagreements; and another had flogged his father’s wife. These are all very abominable acts! What kind of leaders do such young men hope to become in future? The so-called modernisation has so much infected our societies to the extent that even our ladies find it difficult to genuflex for elders. The culture of honesty among public office holders has long been replaced by lies and dishonesty. Corruption, like cancer, has eaten deep into the blood-streams of people. Unfortunately, no sector of our society is spared. Thus, there is serious need for re-orientation and the role of the media in this process cannot be over-emphasized.
The Role of the Media in Society
The advent of the media in Nigeria cannot be divorced from the struggle by the founding fathers of Nigerian nationalism, such as, Herbert Macaulay, who started Lagos Daily News in 1926, as the first true Nigerian newspaper, to articulate a clear Nigerian position. Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe’s West African Pilot, founded in 1939, was also a popular indigenous newspaper, which expressed very critical views against British Colonial rule and imperialism. But then, the Missionaries had played an importance role because the idea of media practice in Nigeria began in Calabar, in 1847, by the Presbyterian Mission, when they started producing pamphlets. The first recorded attempt to formally use the mass media to influence the society was by Reverend Henry Townsend in 1859, when he started the publication of Iwe Iroyin, which turned out to be the first newspaper in the country.

As noted earlier by James Watson, the media content in any society is always deeply-rooted in the existing cultural values of that society. For instance, a media practitioner in Nigeria would dwell less on writings that extol the virtues of homosexuality since it is alien to our culture. A case in point is the recent Bill by the National Assembly to Same Sex Marriage in Nigeria. In the same vein, an American writer would hardly be found eulogizing the extended family system practiced in Africa. Furthermore, one would not expect a Nigerian media practitioner to express his/her views in Chinese language, because it will defeat the whole purpose of communication for local consumption. Perhaps, I should also reiterate my earlier denouncement of the policy on foreign languages, like Chinese, in the school system in Lagos State. Why should our children study Chinese when they have not learnt the mother tongue or other Nigerian languages of their immediate environment? Elsewhere, I had captured the power of language in media expression thus:

The broadcast of Hausa language programmes on Voice of Nigeria, BBC World Service and Radio Kaduna, among other media organs, have been invaluable in enlightenment of the average Hausa/Fulani in Nigeria. The typical Hausa/Fulani may not be “literate” in the English sense, but they are abreast of developments around the world, as they are relayed in the media (23).

The role of media as watch-dogs and preserving our endangered cherished cultural values, which are ingredients for the Nigerian project, cannot be over-emphasized. The media are good platforms for projecting our political and traditional justice system, land tenure, customs, the hairdos, tattoos, drumming, singing, dancing, indigenous food, drinks, as well as religious beliefs, past history and factors of unity in diversity as Nigerians (Sheriff 7). These elements constitute the fibres of culture.

It is also note-worthy that a sizeable proportion of the populace makes a living from media arts and beyond the immediate cultural, political and social gains. The creative industry has direct bearing on national economic development, wealth creation, poverty alleviation, social stability, as well as international relevance and respect. It has become necessary that players in the media should understand their strategic role in image-making, national development, as well as being cultural ambassadors. Therefore, a clarion call is more than overdue for the media to be objective, given to research and ensure deep sense of fair-play, patriotism and respect for truth, since they are at the forefront of moulding opinions and shaping lives. They play a vital role in opinion moulding and shaping the behavioural pattern of the people, because they are the eyes, ears and mouth-pieces of the society, given to dissemination of information and ideas to the people; they can create and monitor both friendly and hostile environments in any society. The perception, mindset and view of a given society, which, in most cases, translate into negative or positive actions, are very often the products of media information. The media contribute to national development by promoting the projects and achievements of government. In disseminating information, the media ensure that such information is authentic and balanced. According to Herbert Schiller, communication

includes more than the messages and recognition currents through which the messages flow. It defines social reality and thus influences the organization of work, the character of technology, the curriculum of educational system, formal and informal, and the use of “free” time – actually the basic social arrangement of living (Isa 45).

Furthermore, section 22 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that, “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media should at all times be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” Though the Freedom of Information Bill has been promulgated and the Nigerian press enjoys relative freedom, it must be noted, however, that, “freedom in itself is not absolutely free.” It must be guided within a framework of professional ethics to produce maximum results. A situation where journalists and the opposition derive pleasure in virtually abusing Mr. President’s person or a Governor’s person is objectionable. In fact, it appears as if some persons are jostling for awards as to those who have launched the most vitriolic attacks and invectives on Mr. President or Governors, just because of the freedom of expression.

It is pertinent to note that everywhere, around the globe, nations (small or great) have learnt to blow their trumpets. It is said that if you refuse to blow your trumpet, it may never be blown by anyone else. Despite the challenges experienced by the so-called advanced countries, many hardly believe they do have problems. This is because they do not magnify such problems; rather, they blow out of measure their achievements and areas of progress (or strategic advantage) for all and sundry. It is common knowledge that the United States of America has a very high crime rate; but the media have successfully rebranded the country and it is today perceived as an epitome of greatness, socially, politically and economically. They use every available media and opportunity to sell their country’s prowess, anytime and anywhere, in the world.

In the Hollywood convention, for instance, the American dream is projected in such a way that America is seen as the ideal country regardless of the sovereignty or integrity of other countries. This explains why most of the Hollywood war/action films portray America as a dedicated country, ready to sacrifice everything to save just one of its own citizens. It is not surprising then that a negative image of the old United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was always portrayed in American war films. This is the case in First Blood I, II, & III, starring Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, the star role for which he is best remembered. This multi-million dollar film shows the lead character, Rambo, exterminating thousands of Russian soldiers, single-handedly. We see similar things in several war/action films – the Russians, the Germans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the West (Red) Indians, or the Africans, are always the vanquished. In other words, the American dream is well projected in all Hollywood war/action films, as reflected thus:

The cowboy is the archetypal American hero: in real life he conquered the West; in his celluloid form, he conquered the world. And with the cowboy came Hollywood and all it stood for in film economics and aesthetics (Sandford 103-104).

We are thus in agreement with Hyginus Ekwuazi that, “the ultimate function of any film and the auteur’s need to accommodate the exigencies of politics determine what aspect(s) of truth/reality to be mediated, and how” (Ekwuazi 33). This is because with the melange of foreign films, the thinking is that the bastardization of the African culture could only be checked if our filmmakers produced films that would adequately promote our lives. This is the challenge that faces stakeholders in Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, which has been adjudged the second largest in the world.

From the above, it stands to reason that the media could borrow a leaf in our fundamental quest for cultural orientation. They need to refrain from sensationalizing the dark side of the country and warm up to a patriotic style of writing and publicity. This undergirds the position of former Deputy Governor of the old Rivers State, Dr. Frank Eke, when he said,

When I was appointed to join the Royal fathers to Kaduna during the 2002 Sharia fracas, I made it clear to the journalists that half of our problems in finding lasting peace in this country were caused by them. If one imbibes everything one reads on the pages of our local and national newspapers hook, line and sinker, one may find it difficult to communicate with fellow Nigerians with trust and confidence. Sensational journalism has been the bane of that noble profession in our country. It is known that foreign cultures that I choose to call “borrowed culture” find their way into this country through the media. Home-made video films are riddled with horrors, robbery with arms, crisis and conflicts and these have adverse effects on the viewers especially youths and children in our society (Arinze and Ben-Iheanacho 76)..

Antagonizing government at all times is not a true test of courageous journalism. There is no doubt that media ownership is at issue here, but then there is need for media professionals to practice developmental journalism. With the Transformation Agenda, it could be argued that Nigeria is like a moving train, on the way to the “Promised Land,” and nation-building is a joint-task that requires the support of all, including the media. It is high time the Nigerian media started promoting the nation through enlightenment and sensitization on government programmes and policies. This is by using free space and air time to advertise, create awareness and educate the public, such as it is done in advanced countries. It will go a long way in enhancing the value and treatment of Nigerians, both at home and abroad. For instance, the CNN Freedom Project is an awareness campaign against the evils of slavery.

Also of importance is the role of the media in promoting and safeguarding our cultural heritage. It is instructive to note that in recent years, China has expanded the scope of the protection of creative works and has achieved significant progress in the protection of cultural relics. In the same vein, the media should agitate and educate the people on our value system and protection of cultural artefacts. For instance, the United Kingdom is believed to be in possession of some Benin artworks worth millions of naira and efforts are being made to retrieve such artworks. Obviously, the media could contribute invaluably to the cause to retrieve such items. Furthermore, it is imperative for the media to play greater roles in ensuring that our languages, as part of our cultural heritage, are preserved. Our languages are the vehicles for the transmission of our culture. Initiatives, such as NICO’s Nigerian Indigenous Language Programme (NILP), need to be given serious attention.

Culture in the Transformation Agenda
As Nigeria approaches the centenary of its birth, as a nation-state, this is an appropriate time for introspection. The experience of our recent times is revealing enough that we have not made significant progress in nation-building. For example, some advanced countries have been making trips to the moon and are strategising on the tourism potentials of such trips. Yet, Nigeria, with all its abundant resources, is still trying to get basic infrastructure development right, because of the many years of utter neglect. Why all these challenges? Why the political instability? Why the catastrophic rumour mill? Why the arrant corruption? Why the unmitigated violence? Why the high level of insecurity? When can we really say: “Proudly Nigerian!” and mean it with all our hearts?

The Imperatives for the Media
At this juncture, it is necessary for us to examine some of the imperatives, if the media organs have to perform their functions at the optimal level. The imperatives, which are by no means definitive, include funding, equipment, remuneration, capacity building, programme planning, conducive environment, inter-sectoral collaborations, facility visits, and media briefs, among others.

a) Funding: There is urgent need for media organs to be properly funded to empower them. Since they provide social services, they should not be subjected to the new craze of being self-financing. Even where there is superior argument for self-funding, the organisations have to be properly positioned for such operations. This is an essential for effective media performance. The popular sayings that, “Dis soup sweet, na money kill am,” or that, “Na money make iron float,” apply here. This is to acquire quality broadcast equipment, build capacity, and improve programming: news, drama, features, sports, documentaries, children’s programmes, educational programmes, and so on.

b) Equipment: The equipment situation in many of our media organisations is pitiable. This is reflected in the quality of the end products. The picture quality, transmission signals, and the coverage of our TV broadcast stations are nothing to write home about. The fact is that many stations have very few cameras to cover live events. If it is a football match, you end of having eye problems in an attempt to catch sight of the round leather. The end product is hours of a concourse of convoluted and confused pictures. You cannot compare it to the beauty of the numerous high definition cameras used by Super Sports to cover LIVE sporting events. Put succinctly, Government needs to spend money to reposition media organs to keep the public informed. It will also ameliorate the rumour mill and stem the spate of lies or falsehood

c) Capacity-building: Since knowledge is power, there is need to train and re-train the manpower in the media. There is no doubt that many of the staffers have been depending on their residual knowledge in operational dynamics of the system. Unfortunately, many staffers would even resist being sent for training programmes. They would even pay to have their names removed from such training schedules. I can say that authoritatively because that is what we face in nominations to NICO Training School. While many State Governments have not taking advantage of the platform the Institute provides for effective manpower development for improved performance in the culture sector, some staffers see such nominations as punishment. But then, if one has to be knowledgeable on the job, to be abreast of current trends, capacity building has to be taken seriously.

d) Remuneration: There is no arguing the fact that media professionals have to be given the right pay for them to serve diligently. It is not in packaging “brown envelopes” when the heat is on; and forgetting that they ever existed when there is calm.

e) Programme Planning: In marketing, the saying goes that, “every product must sell itself.” This is where the issue of packaging comes into play. The way a newspaper is packaged will impact on its patronage. The quality of programmes a broadcast station produces and its coverage will determine the number of persons that would stay tuned, because programmes are colloraries for adverts. Programmes designed around the Transformation Agenda would be well received once they are well-packaged.

f) Conducive Environment: Every media organ needs an enabling atmosphere for the practice of journalism. Whatever the nature of ownership, the operators need the proper space to perform in line with global best practices. There is always the tendency for state-owned stations to be over-regulated by the State Government. Where this is the case, the media organ loses the confidence of the audience.

g) Inter-Sectoral Collaborations: Football has unarguably become a major global sporting event. Our children would readily identify a football star before identifying the president, not to talk of a governor or minister. Incidentally, because of the coverage given to football by the media, our children grow up knowing more about foreign sporting legends, rather our local sporting champions. Thus, there is need to have the competitive edge through dynamic partnerships that will impact on the lives of the citizenry. For instance, involvement in community festivals and sporting activities, like football, swimming, wrestling, basketball, boxing, and so on, would be invaluable. The recent formation of Rural Sports Development Committees by the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, His Excellency Hon. Seriake Dickson is quite commendable. Sports development at the grassroots had been virtually abandoned in spite of the fact that there are abundant talents in the rural communities. Let me state here that our future swimming and wrestling champions are in the creeks. Once the enabling atmosphere is created for them, they will blossom. The recent Kids Soccer Competition in Delta State is also commendable. When these children are meaningfully engaged from their childhood, they will grow up thinking like champions. They will grow up being proud of their local sports men and women.

h) Impact Assessment and Feedback Mechanism: There is need to gather key performance indicators on all government policies, programmes and activities. This is to ascertain how the policies had impacted on the citizenry.

i) Facility Visits: Facility visits like the “Good Governance Tour” afford the public the opportunity to appraise the performance of government. It will be recalled that “People’s Parliament” was a regular feature during the military regime. The platform afforded people to prove the “executive lies” of top government officials.

j) Media Briefs: The Ministerial Platform is a veritable platform to hold top government functionaries accountable, as far as they are not tele-guided. Such fora would ideally put the Ministers and the government functionaries on the Hot Seat, for them to give documented and verifiable performance. This is where programmes like “Meet the Press” need to be regular features. Unfortunately, there are some persons, who are occupying top government positions at Federal, State, and Local Government levels, not on merit, but just because of political expediency. It is my candid opinion that we give the media opportunity to put them on the Hot Seat and let them defend their fathers’ names!

k) Refreshing News: Apart from informing, educating and enlightening the mass audience, the approach to gathering and presentation of news has to be creative and refreshing. It is high time media professionals looked beyond the surface and explore the other side of packaging news that will be more than the ordinary.

l) Rumour Mill: There is the popular belief that in every rumour, there is an atom of truth; and that there is no smoke without a fire. The fact remains that when people are not aware of what is happening, the rumour mill will start to grind. If you doubt me, find time to study the journey of the Israelites in the Wilderness, to the Promised Land. People need to be abreast of what is happening; and the correct information should be disseminated too. Once the information is disseminated in tiers, rumours creep in. This could be seen in a theatre communication exercise: Line up between 10 and 20 persons; give an information to one while the rest are out of earshot; call the second person and let him (the first person) relay that information; the second person does same to the third; the third to the fourth, and so on. See the outcome at the end – the rumour mill grinding.

Conclusion
The media are partners in progress and, by extension, agents for the promotion and propagation of government policies and programmes. They are invaluable platforms in marketing the national image. The media, as the fourth estate of the realm, need to strive to jealously guard their important role. No doubt, many media organizations are privately-owned; hence, they subscribe to the adage that, “bad news is good news.” In order words, the media organization, which dishes out sensational and controversial information, stands to be patronized by the majority, uninformed and not too educated members of the society. In addition, bad news could also generate more sales, both in the print and electronic media. It is also important to note that most civilized societies today emerged as a result of evolution or revolution via media agitations or enlightenment in the overall interest of the society at large.

Nigeria has witnessed bad governance, moral bankruptcy and countless cases of ethnic and religious crises. Thus, we need men in this country that will stand out; we need leaders who are passionate about this country and are ready to align themselves with the goals of our founding fathers, as clearly stated in our National Anthem:

Arise O Compatriots
Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.

Nigeria is in dire need of men who can dream dreams, like the famous Martin Luther King Jr., who dared to say, “I have a dream!” It is high time the policy-makers and elites resolved to cleanse the stable and prepare a more united, prosperous and, above all, peaceful nation for future generations. The Transformation Agenda is a project that envisions the nation rubbing shoulders with other world powers. It portends socio-economic boom and a sound political system, founded on our cherished cultural values.

The Nigerian media should see their role in the promotion of the Transformation Agenda as a challenge to the noble profession. Media houses that are known for accurate, factual and investigative reportage often command a height, both in professionalism and integrity. Our nation, Nigeria, is presently at a point in history that calls for all noble men to stand to be recognized by virtue of contributions to peace and national development. The Nigerian dream of being among the Top 20 economies in the world, by Year 2020, that is, Vision 20:2020, will be just a dream if we fail to harness our vast cultural resources for equitable national development. It is imperative that media organisations contribute their quota towards the realisation of this laudable dream. It is then we can truly say that they have added value to the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

 

 

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