Government Blackmail And Delusions Of A Free Press By Japheth J. Omojuwa
There are probably 149 million All Progressives Congress members in Nigeria. That is if you go by the logic of Nigeria’s ruling class and their social media minions. If you have been paying attention to them, you’d by now know that PUNCH newspapers, SaharaReporters, Premium Times, Omojuwa.com and indeed all the news platforms and blogs that do not praise the government daily for what it is not doing and what it is doing are “agents” of the APC. If you have a social media account, sharp and expressive enough to attract government minions, you dare not express your feelings about the direction of the government; if you get caught, you will be labeled an APC member. Seeing as most Nigerians complain about the direction of their country and the spate of impunity, we’d have to say they are all APC members! They just need media platforms to amplify their voices to have the government label them such through their proxies.
The argument is simple; if you are not for them, do not in any way take a contrary stand from them. To them, you are better off quiet. If you dare voice a contrary opinion, you are for the APC! The Nigerian economy has been rebased and Nigeria is now Africa’s biggest economy. That is all they want you to relay to the masses. Once you start letting the masses know that the rebasing will not mean that insecurity will become security, and that corruption will not evolve into accountability to the point the $20bn alleged to have been stolen by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation would suddenly be discovered and duly accounted for, you are a government hater. In their books, letting the public know that the paltry minimum wage will remain virtually useless in the face of biting economic realities; that despite the rebased economy or debased economy, Ghana remains the home of even some of our secondary school students not to mention university students, you are not patriotic. Except you help the government sell the lies and deception it wants sold to the people, you are an APC member. Anyone who complains about the government is an APC member. Anyone who dares challenge the government to do better, get more open and transparent must have been paid by the political detractors of the government. Their motto is; after all else fails, try blackmail!
While this is the mode of operation of the Jonathan government, it is not limited to them. “Who do you work for?”, was ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s direct question to me after I had asked him questions relating to his tenure as Nigeria’s president during a lunch event organised in his honour by a German organisation in Berlin sometime ago. As far as the ex-president was concerned, it was not in the place of an average Nigerian to question him about the 2007 elections (otherwise called a debacle) or his responsibility as a man who had led Nigeria for about one of each of its every five years of independent existence, with its attendant failures and poverty. Having fired several shots at the current government during the session, I bet he thought the Jonathan government paid one to have a go at him. The irony of that thought still rocks me. Is it not sad, that in our country, for one to have an opinion, especially a strong one on how these men and women have run our country aground, one must have been paid? That those who rule us refuse to believe that they are accountable to us the ordinary people and that we have all the rights to demand good governance, better service delivery and accountability at all times. Mr. Waziri Adio’s recent article in a national newspaper titled, “Demonisation and Blackmail as Official Policy”, best sums it up nicely. You can find it via Google.
Those that want to be silenced can choose silence. People like myself have since realised that we have to become our own force of opposition to make the government do the right thing. Citizen journalists have in my opinion pressured this government and put it on its knees than the conventional political opposition put together. We can’t trust political parties to fight our battles, especially parties where the people who say the same government is bloody, useless and worthy of impeachment wake one morning to say the same is responsible and worthy of praise. Average Nigerian politicians are like molecules in a political solution, they move from a point of less influence, power and money to one where they get more of that. In Nigeria, the membrane separating the two main political parties is so permeable; you cannot say who belongs where at any point in time at times. How can we trust such people to fight our battles in a world where power has been deregulated through new media tools and we can be our own voices? This is why government blackmail has failed and will continue to fail! We will not be blackmailed into silence when the destiny of our country demands that we speak out, act and get it to work or get it out of the hands of those who insist it must be chop-I-chop till Nigeria quenches!
There is a blackmail that works though. Have you noticed that phone-in programmes on radio and television are always quick to cut off callers who start taking on the government or specific personalities in government? If you haven’t noticed, please pay attention. Do not blame the presenters or producers of these shows. They either stylishly silence strong voices against the government or have their programmes shut down by the host television or radio station itself. This is because the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission never misses any of the political shows at least. The NBC has boundaries for not just presenters but even callers. Callers are not aware of these boundaries but presenters being aware are often conscious and they end up at times even being rude to their callers by cutting them off. Ask a presenter of any of these shows like I did over the last couple of days, the fear of the NBC is the beginning of whether your show will air the next day or not.
We all sleep and wake thinking and assuming we have a free press but that is a delusion we must jostle ourselves out of immediately. There is no free press in Nigeria, only some form of pretence at freedom. Even some news platforms that you trusted in the past have now been compromised into silence. Do not take my word for it, listen and watch your favourite news platforms differently this week. You will see what you are being used to watching and listening to them everyday made you miss. Nothing is what it was, highest bidders have the spaces and those with political power are trading everything to ensure the media do their bidding. If you run the media, you run what the people see and listen to. If you run what the people see and listen to, you have the people exactly where you want them. Did you really think that the Nigerian Television Authority was so important to Nigerians government kept it under its watch and control? No! The NTA is so important to Nigerian rulers, they need it to keep the people watched and controlled. There is another side to this coin called Nigerian democracy; we must turn that side to truly have a country where freedom and liberty are not just delusions and lies but everyday realities. It is the responsibility of us the citizens to make that happen or we perish in our common poverty and seeming weakness.
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