Afflict their conscience | Dailytrust

Afflict their conscience

Students of two post primary institutions, Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Zamfara State, and Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna, have been held in captivity by bandits for close to six months. By the time you are reading this on Sunday, November 18, they will be spending 168 days and 150 days respectively in captivity. 

Information about them is scanty. We do not know for certain how many they are or the conditions under which they are being held. We know, of course, that captives are subjected to inhuman and harrowing treatments in the hands of their captors. The children are in as much agony as their parents who sent them to college to prepare them for a better life in the future. It is our agony too as fellow Nigerians.

The Trust titles must be commended for keeping the fate of the captive children in the public space. In the best tradition of public service journalism, the newspapers do not want the public at large and our leaders in particular to forget the fate that has befallen these young people. It is a campaign for their freedom. In a panel beneath the masthead each day the newspapers tell us the number of days these unfortunate children have been held captive. The newspapers are waging the free-the children-campaign in the hope that it would prick the conscience of our political leaders and rouse them from the stupor of power without responsibility and take steps to free the children and end their trauma and the agony of their parents. And the shame of the nation.

The Daily Trust and other newspapers in the country waged a similar campaign when more than 200 students from a government secondary at Chibok, Borno State, were abducted by Boko Haram in 2014. At Newswatch magazine we carried out a similar media campaign after our first editor-in-chief/chief executive, Dele Giwa, was killed by a parcel delivered to him in his house on October 19, 1986. 

Media campaigns of this nature constitute the social responsibility of the news media best captured in the phrase, public service journalism. In waging the campaigns, they seek to achieve two objectives, namely, a) to contribute to, in the case of these children, the official search and rescue mission and b) be good and responsible corporate citizens by identifying with the afflicted. 

Giwa’s killer or killers were never found; the Chibok girls were never returned and the students of the Federal government College and those of Bethel Baptist College have not been rescued. Two questions, therefore, arise: a) if the campaigns fail(ed) to achieve their objectives, are they worth the while for the news medium waging them? and b) what else can the newspaper(s) do to realise their objectives?

The unequivocal answer to a) is a loud yes. We cannot blame the newspapers for the failure of the campaigns to achieve their desired results. The responsibility for their success rests squarely on the shoulders of our political leaders and our security forces. The newspapers can only wage the campaigns in the fervent hope that doing so would prick the conscience of our political leaders who are under a clear constitutional obligation to make the people secure and safe in their homes, on the roads, in schools and in their places of work. 

If our political leaders have managed to build a wall to protect their conscience from being pricked, the news media have no means of forcing them. The media can do no more than constantly assault the wall built around their conscience and expect that someday it would be breached and there would be nowhere to hide for them.  If our political leaders ignore the plight of children whose parents cast the votes that placed them where they are today, then we cannot but wallow in self-pity. 

We came to this sorry pass as a consequence of our collective failure as citizens to hold our public officers responsible for our security, safety, weal and welfare. Our docility as citizens allows our public officers to get away with murder, both metaphorically and practically. In countries where the citizens know their rights, their leaders cannot fail to do what they are obliged by the law and the constitution to do because there are consequences that may not be pleasant for them.

The freedom of these children now lies in the hands of The Daily Trust. Its freedom campaign is the only hope the children and their parents have that they are not forgotten by their fellow country men and women. The newspapers should add something more radical to the campaign. This additional campaign is to make the abduction a running story and thus confront the public each day or week with a different aspect of it. It is important for them to humanise every story connected with the apparent abandonment of these children by our political leaders. I made this point about humanising a tragedy in an earlier column here. 

The newspapers must put names and faces to the abductees and make the public see that these children are not just numbers, they are human beings suffering in the hands of fellow human beings using them as bargaining chips for their easy and unmerited personal wealth. Numbers are cold and impersonal. They tell us nothing about people. 

For instance, none of us knew the names of the Chibok girls. We can chalk up their tragedy but cannot really relate to them because without identities, they are just numbers. Only Lea Sharibu, the lone Christian girl abducted along with her fellow students from a government college in Yobe State, is known to the public. It is easy to relate with her and vicariously share in her agony and the agony of her helpless parents. 

The children of the two colleges held in captivity have names and families. The Daily Trust can select one family a week or so and interview them and tell their story. Our political leaders who have the moral, ethical and constitutional responsibilities for the security of these children are parents too. Some of them have children as young as those in captivity and can relate to their trauma and the agony of their parents if the newspapers change them from numbers to human beings with dreams and hopes for their future just like the children of our leaders. 

The Daily Trust must not let our insensitive leaders forget the captive children. We can have no future without a secure present for our children. Their parents sent them to school to learn and prepare them for their future responsibilities as educated and informed adults able to drive the engines of social and economic development. That dream must not be turned into a nightmare just because the Nigerian state currently has problems with the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities of securing and protecting the people.

The Daily Trust must afflict the conscience of the comfortable; awaken their conscience; help them realise that leadership is much more than the protocol attached to a high public office. It carries heavy moral and constitutional responsibilities. Do not let them forget that.

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