To Save Nigeria, We Need A Whistle Blower Or A Courageous Town Crier – Tinubu
Brief Remarks by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu at the launching of the building fund of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, in Abuja. April 10, 2014
1. It gives me great pleasure to be with you today. I feel comfortable being among one of the great constituencies of our body politic. What you do is dear to my heart. As I scan the hall today, I see familiar faces many of who fought during the dark moments of dictatorship to free this nation so that democracy could take root in our land. When the nation needed you, many of you answered the historic call by braving the oppression to stand as beacons of conscience, freedom of speech and human rights. The media served as an advanced guard for democracy.
2. Where would we have been without those who demanded a free press? What would have become of our democratic destiny if the media had not stood in defense of our rights, our freedoms and constitutional rule? Nigeria would have become a huge barracks run by the men in uniform and their civilian confederates. Because you manned the barricades alongside pro-democracy activists and progressive civil society, the reign of the jackboots ended. Nigeria rediscovered constitutional rule.
3. l am tempted resign all of that to history, but I cannot because history more often repeats itself than it slips quietly into the past. This is so because the character flaws and the political footwork’s of our present leaders are similar to the jackbooted- back steps past leaders took when we suffered dictatorial leadership. The approaching sounds of the drum of ethnic tension are now heard, religion has become a tool of hate-thy-neighbor politics. An imperial yet parochial presidency arrogates to itself the powers of national assembly and the courts. meanwhile, it withholds funds from state and local governments in order to bring them under heel and to quash political dissent and opposition. As long as it persists in this effort to use the enormous resources and powers of the federal government to intimidate or impoverish those who are not in their camp, the federal government has wedded it’s to the path of arbitrary rule and an over-concentration of power. These bear the marks of dictatorship and they imperil the sanctity of the Nigerian national project.
4. The people need to understand that a great change is underway but not the change they want. Instead, of wobbling slowly forward, the government is taking us steadily backward. We move not toward the future but toward the past. The people are being feted on a false feast of true lies. To save Nigeria, we need a whistle blower or a courageous town crier to alert and wake us. In this vein, the media remains the one vital institution upon which we depend to play the role of watchdog. You, as an institution, must hold the political system under your gaze and hold those who operate it accountable to the people. The Guild of Editors should be in the vanguard to build a new Nigeria. As an organization for journalists who have achieved the exalted position of Editor at their various publications or media organizations, The Guild possesses the caliber of people that can lead other journalists in the right direction towards crisp investigative and reporting and political analysis. If you maintain your integrity and that of your publication, if you show the way by example, If you remain objective, open and uncompromising, you will show the path for the media, the political class and others to follow.
5. However recent events brings into question the purported non-partisan stance of the organization when one considers how many editors have turned their publications over to select interest groups. Servicing interests at variance with the sacred oath made to the public to disseminate factual and comprehensive news and information is not the way of professionalism. The hijacking and distortion of news reports by powerful interests has turned the media into a commodity with a price tag. It has made a mockery of the very notion of non- partisanship to which the media subscribes. Editors and newspapers that willingly turn over their pages or wittingly publish misleading and false stories that serve narrow interests or spike the more accurate reports dealing with an alternative viewpoint have lost their way. They may be making money but they choke democracy just to curry favor and gain a few pieces of silver. he only partisanship allowed of the media is neutral partisanship that stands on the side of truth.
6. As far back as 1972 during your annual conference, you launched your Code of Conduct. In that document, among other things, you committed to firm journalistic ethics and nationalistic ethos. Part of the preamble states, “But experience has shown many lapses in the practice of the profession and it has for long become apparent that a code of conduct must be established as among practising journalists themselves, if they must fulfill their true functions and if a standard below which journalists may not be expected to fall may be laid down”
The NGE made these solemn declarations among others to:
– That the public is entitled to the truth and that only correct information can form the basis for sound journalism and ensure the confidence of the people.
-That it is the moral duty of every journalist to have respect for the truth and to publish or prepare for publication only the truth and to the best of his knowledge.
-That it is the duty of the journalist to publish only facts: never to suppress such facts as he knows; never to falsify either to suit his own purposes, or any other purposes.
– That once information has been collected and published the journalist shall observe the universally accepted principle of secrecy and shall not disclose the source of information obtained in confidence.-
-That it is the duty of every journalist to correct any published information found to be incorrect.
7. While a section of the media have performed creditably well, a growing section seems besotted with power, often crossing the line. The lines have been crossed. The newsrooms have become shopping centers where interests shop for the most pliable editor or reporter to push their point of view or story. Investigative knack is gone. The fire of patriotism continues to be extinguished and that of professionalism is now only a flicker. Journalism has become not just a danger to itself as a profession but now inflicts harm to the republic by knowingly feeding the people half truths, innuendos, and outright falsehood. when reporting and reality are too far apart, journalism has ceased and propaganda has begun. A nation awash in propaganda is a nation dry and devoid of democracy much like a desert is devoid of water.
8. I have chosen today to strike at the heart of the perils confronting journalism and the dwindling influence of the media because no matter how big and beautiful the physical edifice we build, unless the practitioners of the profession and the occupiers of the building reform internally and commit themselves to be professional, the building becomes more of a symbol of wasted opportunity than a model of right and justice. It serves to extol but to indict.
9. NGE has the responsibility to ensure that our media leaders are held to the highest standard. It must lead the crusade side by side with the NUJ to tackle this problem. Once an editor is upright, it will be difficult for his reporters compromise.
10. You must revive the spirit of courageous and non compromising journalism that described the fight against military rule. Then, the media became the last hope of the common man. Even the judiciary had caved. Those were days when dictatorship reigned supreme and impunity was the order. Under a suspended constitution our rights, freedoms andprivileges were taken away. All opposition groups and points of dissent were decimated. Only the media remained standing. You the journalists, the editors will not stand down. Rather you stared dictatorship in the face until it blinked and returned to the barracks. I will never forget what Prof Wole Soyinka said of the media after that struggle (1986-1999). Iparaphrase, “When it is all said and done, we shall erect a monument to the Nigerian media for their positive role in seeing to the exit of the military and a return to democracy….”
10. Today, that monument is at risk because of a weakening foundation we approach a sober moment in the nation’s history. next year, elections will be had and they will pit the incumbent conservative elite against a band of reformers. If things go as they are, many of you will meekly report what the government suggests. Or you will report at the superficial level regarding the various personalities and interests groups that comprise both camps. However, few of you will get to the core issue: that the two sides have vastly different visions for the nation. we are engaged in a ideological battle for the soul and future of the nation. Yet, you report as if such a struggle does not exist. Those of you who say this battle does not exist are simply being disingenuous, lazy or cynical. The contrast is there but you must have the intellectual courage to report it. that is your job. Once you have done so, the people will be amply informed and they will make the choice according to their collective wisdom. Lets us try to rescue this democracy by giving the people a chance to exercise that collective wisdom by giving them your best journalistic product at this time.
If you do less than this, you fail your national mission. If Nigeria fails, if democracy falters, your profession is again endangered. Why risk a return to a time when being principled journalists made you an enemy of the state and placed your life and limb at risk? As editors you hold the key to change our society. The media has a role in upholding the rule of law, justice and fairness for all. Let us build this democracy together. Then, the edifice you launch today will sand the rest of time.
The storm of change is blowing. There is change in the air. I urge you to be part of that change. I leave you with these two quotations:
“Let us resolve to be masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions.” — John F. Kennedy
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama
Thank you for listening
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. April 10
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