The media has always been part of Nigeria’s political sailing ship since colonial era by contributing to her development in spite of hostility towards it. Men and women of the press have suffered humiliation and victimisation, and these were even more so during the military era.
Nigeria supposedly has a background of liberalism, which suggests free flow of information, yet the country’s media, according to Prof. Maduabuchi Dukor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, has been, for the most part, performing within an air of regulated freedom. Since independence, there have been several factors encumbering the right of access to government’s information. For instance, during the military era, a good number of decrees were put in place to hinder press freedom and jeopardize the public’s right to know and receive information.
One of the constitutional roles of the media in a democracy is to objectively hold government accountable while remaining consistent.
Dukor argued that there has been a democratic flowering of the independent press, which has generally accompanied moves towards democracy, and respect of human rights. But regrettably, he said, “The practice of journalism in Nigeria is bedeviled by some unethical problematic. The media hitherto is politically polarised in-terms of axis, ethnic loyalty, and sectional party and selfish interests. This is against the backdrop that the media is one of the institutions that sustains democracy.”
Dukor further observed that the relationship between the state and the media in Nigeria has been that of mutual distrust. The question then is, how can there be true and significant growth in a country where distrust between media institutions and the government exists? What is the consequence of this situation? Won’t development be undermined with regard to the right to know and impart information?
According to Nigerian Press Council, “The Nigerian media has fallen victim of manipulations by government and politicians. We are being witnesses to the fallen standard of journalistic profession and its negative contributions to nation building through a hackneyed, uncouth and indiscrete reporting of events and issues… ethnic polarization of media houses and consequent undue influence on power and political tussles. As a result and in moment of crisis, the media becomes ready tools for those actively involved in the crisis of power.”
Although the media might have struggled to retain its soul in the past 58 years, experts have commended it for working against the tide to still function. A mass communication lecturer from University of Jos, Dr. Taye Obateru, told The Guardian that the media has done well in aiding democratic growth in Nigeria, adding, “The fact that we have independence at all has a lot to do with the media. The media fought for the restoration of democracy after the military interregnum. It is not as if the media took to campaigns but other civil organisations partnered with the media to ensure growth.”
Obateru, who is an expert on professional media practice in Nigeria, said the media sometimes goes overboard in an effort to survive, noting, “Many media outfits are not strong enough to retain the best hands or pay good wages. In terms of compromise, a hungry man is vulnerable to manipulations.”
He, however, advised that journalists should continue to strive to uphold best practice, saying, “At the end of the day, what journalism thrives upon is integrity, and should one loses it, it is like throwing caution to the wind.”
Media adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr. Femi Adesina, told The Guardian shortly after the 2015 elections that the media needs to be self-regulating to function objectively.
According to him, “It’s likely that the media will continue to oppose any regulation that is from outside, because regulation from outside will amount to strangulation. It will amount to censoring and censuring. The media must continue to be self-regulating; that is what I think.”
While assessing media regulators, practitioners and owners in a democracy, Chairman, University of Lagos Radio, Centre of Excellence, Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, said the press has done well but there was still room for improvement.
“I will say also that the government on its own part has exhibited some elements of tolerance,” he said. “This is subject to some occasional misgivings on the true meaning of democracy on the part of politicians and the true meaning of free press for sustaining democracy in the part of lawmakers and policy makers.”
Akinfeleye noted that the media has failed to contend hate speech in spite of its crucial role in ensuring the survival of democracy, adding, “Government should exhibit more tolerance by not withholding information; it should release information to journalists as at when due.
“An article written in 2011 on freedom of the press as contained in the document allows the press to demand for any public information and the government is empowered by this provision to release the document to the journalist, and the journalist does not need to state any reason why they need this document.”