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The media in a political dispensation




Typical of Nigerian politicians, when they are seeking the people’s mandate during an election, just like the renowned African public speaker, Prof. Patrice Lumumba, would say, “They would hold babies, drink from dirty cups, snap pictures with the poor masses and walk on foot for long distances. They even dismiss their security details. They show uncommon humility and speak the language of the poor with a barrage of promises that may never be fulfilled.”

But as soon as they are voted into power, they no longer pick the telephone calls of these same people who voted them into power. If you are lucky and they pick your call, it may be the Personal Assistant (PA) or any other aide that you will have to contend with. They continue to torment the people with noisy sirens and the unfriendly security personnel around them do not allow you to even get close to the very leaders you have elected. At last, the poor masses become like the poor woman who has played into the hands of a wicked suitor who has finally revealed his true character.

The way politicians behave shows the varying degrees of their character – whether they have a conscience or not. Therefore, here is the fundamental question we should ask: Who should hold these politicians responsible for their actions and make them accountable?

According to Section 21 of the 1979 Nigerian Constitution, it is the duty of the mass media to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. This is also found in Section 23 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Because those who drafted the constitution had on their minds the need for good governance, they gave the media the task of serving as a check on the entire democratic system. Perhaps this also means that, while ensuring that there is accountability and the rule of law is protected, the media must also take up the responsibility of informing, educating and entertaining the citizens in order to have a sane democratic system.

The country has witnessed uninterrupted democratic rule from 1999 to date. Yet, the main political actors have deliberately refused to learn any tangible lessons. As a result, the culture of impunity is at its highest and corruption in all tiers of government remain very high. This cancerous ailment has created huge tumours in all segments of the Nigerian society which has reached advanced stage. The country appears to be waiting for doomsday.

But as in the case of any diagnosed disease, healing is still possible if those handling the patient can do the needful through the application of the right medication. The late Chinua Achebe declared: “There is nothing wrong with the water we drink nor the air we breath. Our problem lays with bad leadership.” This means that the media, which is saddled with the task of conscientizing the nation, must demand accountability from leaders, some of whom have abdicated their responsibilities and gone to sleep.

Therefore, the media should wake up to its civic duties so as to ensure that elected leaders account for what they do with the resources voted for projects and programs. Because accountability is one of the bed rocks of democracy, the people have the right to know how they are governed, and that is why there are implications when the media shy away from highlighting certain flaws in the system.

Although the media have been able to beam their search lights on elections, the economy, governance, budget implementation, the rule of law as well as fulfilling campaign promises, yet a lot seems to have gone wrong, a lot more still needs to be done.

This is because the media has not completely lived up to its constitutional responsibility as enshrined in Section 22 which requires the media to do a deep critique of annual budgets of all tiers of government as they affect implementation of projects and finding out whether funds were judiciously spent or not.

Also, because the media has failed to play its constitutional role, the country appears to be running on auto-pilot with no one in charge. The uncertainty it has created has brought more confusion than hope to citizens. Examples are the floating of the naira and the removal of petroleum subsidy which have brought the nation’s economy to its knees and made life for the average Nigerian a living hell while the country’s leaders remain aloof.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have been able to question these actions of government. Therefore, it behooves on the media to start asking questions about the roles of the president, governors, members of the National Assembly and other political appointees. The media must also interrogate them on whether they are in sync with promoting good governance, the rule of law and meeting the collective aspirations of Nigerians.

Failure of the media to act will further worsen the conditions of an already over-stretched 200 million people with a large army of unemployed youth and a huge contingent of bread winners who cannot bear the brunt of meeting their families’ daily obligations. These are the time bombs waiting to explode.

And with the added challenge of insecurity, the political class must be reminded that when the very people they have ignored and even played for fools are pushed to the wall, their reaction would not be palatable.

Therefore, as watch dogs of the society, it is incumbent on the media to closely scrutinize the way our political parties are run. This is because it is through the instrumentalities of political parties that leaders are elected to govern the country.

The electoral umpire must also be put under the spot light. And as custodians of the electoral process, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) must be constantly reminded of the need to weed out undesirable elements that seek to pervert the laws guiding its operations.

There is also the need for a paradigm shift aimed at promoting the culture of electing the right people into leadership positions. Transparency must also be injected into anti-graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to ensure effectiveness in the fight against corruption.

The National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), must be made to broaden its scope and operate without any interference from outside forces while the nation’s judiciary should serve as a beacon of hope for the common man.

Above all, the Nigerian media must set a new template for both the political leaders and the led which should be based on the rule of law, accountability, equity, fairness and justice. This is because Nigerians deserve a better deal from their leaders, and the media should lead the way.

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