Lawrence Chinedu NwobuWednesday, March 28, 2007
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Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland



he historical role of the press, for which they have been respected and honoured through the ages, includes the struggle against oppression, the protection of the fundamental rights of citizens, the holding to account of leaders, the enthronement of justice, reconciliation and nation building, promoting a culture of constructive dialogue, setting and or influencing the election and agenda of acknowledged progressives on individual track records of merit.

But the Nigerian press (mostly concentrated in the West) like everything Nigerian has mostly deviated from these lofty ideals and benchmarks. What represents the press today is a corrupt, tribal, biased, exclusionary and compromised amalgam of tribal and personal interests. During the campaign for the 2007 presidency, the tribal nature of the Nigerian press was at it's very best as it sought to almost totally exclude candidates from the southeast from the process, while loudly hyping candidates who were not necessarily more qualified from elsewhere. It took the personal intervention of Governor Chimaraoke Nnamani of Enugu state before there was an effort to correct this intentional anomaly influenced by crass tribalism and unnecessary rivalry in the South.

Before then, the likes of the infamous Reuben Abati of Guardian newspapers, had mounted the rostrum arguing against Igbo presidency in several of his articles. It did not matter to Reuben Abati, that there are many Igbo even in the present administration who had perfomed meritoriously and who could be considered on individual merit. As far as he was concerned, the persons tribe is more important than the potential good leadership that could come from such an acknowledged progressive or achiever. This is the shameful extent to which the Nigerian press has descended.

The press today, led by divisive figureheads like Reuben Abati who has largely abused his position as a chairman of the Guardian editorial board, by using his platform to preach hatred and ethnic divisions, no longer protects the fundamental rights of citizens. Instead of promoting reconciliation and nation building, the press in Nigeria now promotes inter-ethnic divisions and hatred, and rather than setting the agenda for the election of progressives on individual track records, the press panders to tribal divisions as exemplified by many articles from the stable of Reuben Abati and others.

The recent barbaric murder of Ms Oluwatoyin Olusesan, a school teacher by marauding Northern Islamic fanatics, who happen to be just 12-14 year old SS1 students on accusation of having desecrated the Koran in Gombe state is a grim indicator of how far the Nigerian press has failed. Religious riots has been a long standing uncivilised, and shameful spectre in our sorry nation. The un-abating religious riots and killings in the North is in Justice Oyewole's words in his judgement against reverend King "a throw-back to the dark ages and an assault to the gains attained by humanity in the areas of respect for human dignity, freedom and liberty".

In spite of this obvious shameful acts of barbarism ever so frequent in the North, I am yet to see the Nigerian press hold any of the top leaders in the North to account. It is common knowledge that whenever there are riots in the North, claiming hundreds of lives, notable Northern leaders usually maintain a curious silence. Their silence in the face of evil indicates their tacit support for such barbaric acts in the 21st century.

The onus should ordinarily lie with the press to expose such Northern leaders and put them to task, over their silence and inaction on continuing incidents of religious riots, but rather than do this, the tribally biased press, over the years has gone to sleep, probably because of a false misconception that only people from the East are killed in such riots. The gruesome killing of Ms Oluwatoyin Olusesan confirms a long standing truth, that all Southerners including Western Muslims and indeed even Northern Christians have severally been targets and victims of marauding barbaric Northern Islamic terrorists.

It is ironical and so shameful, that an average Southerner would have more security of his life and property in Ghana, Togo, or even Senegal, than he would ever have or contemplate in Northern Nigeria, and yet we continue to claim to be citizens of the same nation. Truth is; there was never any Nigeria, there is now no Nigeria, and there would probably never be any Nigeria. What we inhabit is a "mere geographical expression" as rightly described by late chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Instead of hyping corrupt bankrupt candidates like Ibrahim Babangida and others who have encouraged and supported Northern Muslim fanatics, the press could have done better by exposing their conspicuous silence in editorials and columns and engaging them in interviews on the problem of religious riots. The likes of Atiku Abubakar, Col. Umar who has a progressive bent, Muhammadu Buhari, Musa Yar'Adua etc should be ideally involved in the debate to bring a final end to the shameful and barbaric spectre of religious violence.

It is the duty of the press to set the agenda, especially in this electioneering period. Presidential candidates should be specifically asked what they plan to do to bring an end to such episodes of bloodletting. Those hypocritical Northern leaders who shout "one Nigeria" the loudest, should be exposed and made to account for their hypocrisy and silence in the face of wanton bloodletting. Religious riots have continued unabated largely because the killers don't get punished, and the top Northern leaders have remained silent, signifying a tacit support. Once the leaders are forced by the press to condemn such acts, and be openly involved in initiatives to put an end to such riots, there will automatically be a massive reduction of such riots which more than anything else threatens Nigerian unity.

The press has so far failed Nigerians because of the corruption, tribalism, and narrow sectional interests within it's confines. It is often said that "a people deserve the kind of leaders they get". Perhaps if the press had lived up to it's responsibility of electing and shaping the agenda of potential leaders, we would probably have had more progressive candidates irrespective of their tribe vying for the presidency in the respective political parties.

Maybe today we would have had known achievers and progressives like Dr Dora Akunyili, Prof. Charles Soludo, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Donald Duke, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Chief Gani Fawhehinmi, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Adamu Muazu, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala etc vying for the presidency in leading political parties, giving Nigerians a good choice and opportunity of electing a true progressive. Because the press has failed in this regard Nigerians are confronted with limited choices and condemned to electing the same bunch of failed, unprogressive status quo politicians who created the environment of impunity in which the killers of Ms Oluwatoyin Olusesan thrive.

Moving on, it is not too late for the Nigerian press to retrace it's step, and wean itself of the vices of tribalism, and corruption to concentrate on the lofty ideals for which journalism has long been a respected and revered profession. They must protect the fundamental rights of citizens, hold the leaders (particularly Northern leaders) to account especially in regards to continuing religious riots that has recently claimed the life of another innocent victim and compatriot Ms Oluwatoyin Olusesan.They must begin the process of reconciliation and nation building, if there can be any hope that our deeply fractured nation can survive. Above all they must engage in the agenda and election of meriting progressives irrespective of tribe, in order to ensure that in the near future, the interests of the larger suffering Nigerian public can be truly served.