It is not often that one agrees with a man threatening one’s profession. Information Minister Lai Mohammed has just literally threatened to revoke the operating licence of the Media Trust Group, publishers of this stable and owners of its electronic subsidiary, #TrustTV. As a patriot, one is expected to take the minister seriously on this issue and to be on his side. After all, this government technically defeated Boko Haram, but watching the #TrustTV documentary series either on the insurgency or the kidnapping menace, one is bound to question who is telling the truth – government exhibiting its wishes or incontrovertible reality.
President Muhammadu Buhari might be a born-again democrat, it is hard to forget that as a dye-in-the-wool dictator, he promised to deal with the press and fulfilled that promise. Media Trust has barely survived the relentless assault on its operations. The scars of these attacks have made any staff member elevate looking over their shoulders as a necessary rule for professional survival. The attacks have occurred in the past without this unprecedented threat from Mr Mohammed.
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Only people without a head would not pity the dilemma of those in government over their inability to control the mercurial news narrative. This administration has managed the economy so well in the past seven years that the price of a newspaper has gone beyond the inventive aptitude of Nigeria’s free readers association. While the effects of global recession might not have been designed to hurt newspaper circulation, it has been in government’s favour. It is easier to ruin a nation when the mass of its people are oblivious of the dangers around them than it is to control access to news that could save them in a 24-hour news cycle.
Mr Mohammed once announced how he wants to make NTA, government’s megaphone, overtake CNN’s reach. He submitted a budget in pursuit of that agenda. Unfortunately, TrustTV that only broadcasts in clips, appears to be threatening that delusion. It might be because Media Trust has connived with those who made the promise of efficient power supply a mirage. It shouldn’t be difficult to provide the proof except that in the past, Daily Trust has been accused of fuelling the insurgency using its circulation vans. The unsubstantiated accusation led to the ambush of Media Trust circulation vans, the seizure and destruction of its print run without apology.
In a country where individuals are heavily taxed for the darkness government generates, those who power their own gadgets are unlikely to join NTA’s moribund 30 million viewers that cannot be wrong! Unlike the government that runs on obsolete principles, Media Trust leapfrogs on shift in technology to maintain its relevance in a competitive news cycle without biting too deep into their Internet accounts. In a competitive news cycle, only news medium whose reports could be trusted gain traction with the public. It must be disheartening to run ineffective state-funded organs distrusted by the people.
TrustTV deserves the axe by a regime that is so threatened by freedom of expression it closed down Twitter because it could not control its contents and blocked interaction with the president’s handle because it could not handle the deserved vitriol. Nigerians should thank their stars that the supply of oxygen is not literally controlled by the government.
In the imaginary world of the ruining clique, Boko Haram was technically defeated in December 2015, yet it was able to launch an attack on Kuje Correctional Centre. It has threatened to abduct the president and a sitting governor!
It must be very much against state wishes to watch kidnap victims narrate their ordeals, something government megaphones have no professional capacity or will to source or transmit. It must be sad to bring to public notice the faces of those daily terrorising citizens or those directly or indirectly responsible for 20 school attacks this year alone. It must be seditious to know that they are alive and roaming free while government clicks glasses with their sponsors and supporters. Evidently, these are the state secrets that Minister Mohammed would have loved to keep from the people. How dare TrustTV expose state secrets!
That attacks occur without the usual tepid press releases, are reason enough for the ban of TrustTV and the BBC who would not submit their scripts to expert government censors. These must be cardinal sins punishable with the revocation of licences where they exist or fabrication of ministerial revocation orders.
In an era where mobile phones are integrated with camera and citizens have social media accounts, this is a clear and present danger. Every human with a mobile phone is a reporter. Every citizen with a social media handle is a publisher and electronic media proprietor – a danger to democratic dictatorship.
One must commiserate with Minister Lai over government’s inability to control the globalisation of interactive multimedia.
Where government has lost its trust with the people, it must invoke rules to punish media groups that fail to do as they are told.
Government should not stop at sanctioning TrustTV or the BBC it must control access to the president by a privileged few. How dare Governor Nasir el-Rufai use his access to the president to inform him of a kidnap threat? That must be high treason.
In future, governors with unimpeded access to the president should write an undertaking to discuss the president’s giant strides in governance only and the unflinching support from his friends. Any governor who deviates from such talking points should have their exclusive access revoked.
Imagine telling the president something that is best kept away from him. We should refrain from briefing the president on the state of insecurity under his watch or his failure might spur him into resigning. Buhari’s resignation inexorably unplugs the tap of privileges that shield the ruining class from the perks they currently enjoy and the semblance that all is well in Abuja.
As an unpaid adviser to this administration, one must however warn Minister Lai of the consequences of the threat against the BBC. It is more difficult to handle than the threat to shut down TrustTV. Her Majesty’s government does not take kindly to threats against its agencies.
While President Buhari has built the safest haven in Africa, he is not known to feel secure in it. Instead, he makes frequent visits to England. A belligerent attitude towards the BBC might jeopardise this privilege. This could constitute a clear and present danger to the president’s health and its records. Buhari does not trust any Nigerian doctor to take good care of him.
It is a habit that whenever the president has something important to say to Nigerians, he does not trust the reach of NTA’s 30 million viewers, he goes to the BBC. Minister Lai must be reminded that a bellicose attitude towards the BBC might rupture this wonderful pact between his administration and Bush House. Except of course that Kadaria Ahmed, a former BBC staff and now an independent media owner, has always been on the president’s side and a support on gagging the free press. Thankfully, Ms. Ahmed is on the minister’s side and that is additional 30 million listeners added to her audience.