The press was used by these opposing groups to create enmity between various political groups. That notwithstanding the press contributed a lot, one, in fighting the colonial administration and, second, they helped in advancing democracy during the dark days of military era.
It is equally right to point out also that most of the political, ethnic, religious conflicts in the country and, to a large extent, the suspicion and resentment between the South and North, were caused by the press. As Hydele observed, after Nigeria’s independence, the media, having chased their common enemy, turned their weapons against each other. He said, at times, harsh and biased press reporting led to increased partisan tension to the point where many leaders found it impossible to cooperate with each other after having accumulated scars from highly personal press attacks.
While on the one hand the press contributed in chasing colonialists and military dictators, they have, on the other hand, contributed a lot in causing divisions we are witnessing in various places in this country even today. Although we should not generalised and attribute this to the mainstream media, but in actual sense, especially the Lagos/Ibadan axis press contributed a lot in drawing a line and causing divisions among different ethnic groups in the country, due to actions of some armchair journalists from that axis.
Writing in his paper, “1914 and Nigeria’s existential crisis: A historical perspective” a Nigerian born US academic Moses Ochonu said, “At this time the Lagos press had acquired an unprecedented vibrancy through the addition of more publications and this new potency was deployed to prosecute the Southern campaign against political fusion with the North’. He went further to say that ‘the Chronicle in its editorial stated that the south was not Muslim and that the principle of Northern administration was anathema to Southerners’.
On a similar note he also quoted the Times of Nigeria which in its editorial shortly after the amalgamation of South and North stated that the “unification was synonymous with a sell-out of the South. The subjugation of Southern Nigeria by Northern Nigerian laws, northern Nigerian land laws, Northern Nigerian Administration must be made to supersede every system in Southern Nigeria’. These and other statements coming from the Southern press even before the independence contributed a lot in creating a permanent division and resentment we are seeing today between the South and North.
Although the press in Nigeria are regarded as vanguards of democracy and good governance and they were at the fore front in exposing official corruption, however, as it is with any institution, the bad eggs among us continued to spread disharmony and became obstacle to national integration. These people were in the profession in the first place not to promote understanding among our hundreds ethnic nationalities and integrate them but, were out to promote ethnic and regional divisions. They are very dangerous and influential because they are seeing by their people as freedom fighters that are out to protect their people from the domination of an enemy.
This led to general misrepresentation of history, distrust and social disharmony between the North and South on one hand and the various religious and ethnic groups in the other. Media analysts and commentators have in several occasions attributed our political, ethnic and religious crises to the reckless, sensational and sometimes irresponsibility of the media in the way they address issues of national importance.
According to Sobowale, having gain political independence the press, went into petty jealousies, occasioned by political and ethnic differences. This beclouded the vision of media proprietors and media practitioners. He went further to say that ‘rather than promoting national integration and national consciousness, the media became sectional and a potent agent of disunity. They promoted inter-ethnic hatred as well as inter-ethnic distrust and acrimony that eventually led to the collapse of the first republic’.
In a society like ours, with ten of hundreds of ethnic groups and where the institutions of societal control are weak, we need an objective, fair and fearless media so as to check the excesses of government on one hand and inform the citizens what is their rights and how to fight for it. Nigerians need to understand the governance process, role of security agents in a democracy, rule of law and the role of the legislative arm and the judiciary. They need to understand why their economy is not functioning, or why the government adopt certain policies and whether these policies are good for the country or are just out to serve the personal interest of the policy makers.
Journalists need to understand that looking at issues, policies of government rather than personalities is what will ensure our transition from a backward nation characterised by tribal and religious sentiments to a country where merit, qualification become the determinants of who is saddled with position of responsibility.
Let us stop promoting sectionalism, tribalism and nepotism, let us try to address issues rather than personalities, let us stop looking at the governor of Central Bank as Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba but how far has he delivered. Let us try to increase understanding between Southerners and Northerners. I think changing the kind of mindset we have will go a long way in changing the course with which the country is placed on. It is very difficult, but we can start now. Can we take the challenge?
Kabiru Danladi Lawanti, Area 11, Garki, Abuja.