Experts advocate use of radio to promote unity in diversity
Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) celebrated the ninth edition of the World Radio Day themed “Radio and Diversity”.
It was an opportunity to evaluate this medium of expression that has had a chequered history in Nigeria.
Unlike other media of communication, which came long after, radio was the first medium to reach the country having been established in 1932 by the colonial government.
The British Colonial government initiated the development of radio broadcasting to link them with their various colonies.
By 1944, distribution stations sprang up in Lagos, Kaduna, Enugu, Calabar and Port Harcourt. Most of the content of the programme was British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC’s) external service in London. BBC’s signals were relayed on receivers through the rediffusion system. The Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) was, however, established in 1951. In 1957, the NBS transformed into Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation NBC.
Today, radio has evolved with hundreds of private, government-owned and campus radio stations as well as Traffic Radio. Radio stations can also be listened to anywhere in the world by downloading apps.
Many campuses of Nigeria’s universities and polytechnics have also been issued licences like Unilag FM with Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, as the pioneer chairman.
The Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) came into being by Decree 8 of 1979. It had an external broadcasting service, the Voice of Nigeria (VON), which broadcasts to recipients outside the shores of the country and to Europe and America.
Decree no 38 of 1992 created the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in September 1992, and vested with power to receive, process and consider applications for the ownership of radio and television stations, including cable television services, direct satellite broadcasts and any other medium of broadcasting; regulating and controlling the broadcast industry; upholding the principles of equity and fairness in broadcasting.
Nigeria was launched into an era of private broadcasting in 1994 when Ray Power 100. 5FM made its debut in Lagos. The station, managed by DAAR Communications and owned by Raymond Dokpesi, became the first independent station to run a 24-hour service in Nigeria.
According to its first General Manager, Olusesan Ekisola, “Raypower 100.5 FM is purely a station conceptualized on entertainment spiced with news and other programmes.”
Prof Ayo Ojebode, Head of Department, Communications and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, told The Guardian that in many places and situations, radio programmes have been used to address issues of diversity and conflicts in the society through drama and discussions, among others. More and more stations are now broadcasting in more languages that were not heard or read before.
“About 15 years ago, I conducted a study on a related issue and was surprised about the number of people that said they have never heard their indigenous languages spoken on radio. That situation is gradually reducing and it is going to reduce more now that we have community radio springing up though very slowly. Community radio is the closest to the people and they are the one that can really help people in their diverse context because it is owned and managed by the community, so they are better positioned to maintain diversity in the rural areas.”
Similarly, Executive Director, African language Technology Initiative, Dr. Tunde Adegbola, said there are three tiers of radio -public radio is the means through which the government addresses the people, while commercial/private radio is the means of selling entertainment, education and information and community radio is about the community. “At that level, if public service radio says something that a community does not agree with the community has a radio station to reply.
So, we have feedback mechanism through the radio spectrum thereby we can now say radio is available as a tool of diversification.”
On the role of radio in addressing insecurity and fostering unity among different ethnic and religious institutions in the country, Ojebode said banditry in Nigeria is a major issue, “and anybody that says he can solve the problem of insecurity or banditry in Nigeria is either joking or a magician. Radio is not a magician and radio is not expected to wipe off problems like that but there are many radio stations that are supporting the efforts of the government and non-governmental organizations in promoting security, educating people on the need to be vigilant, and stay away from conflicts.”
He continued, “a radio station in Kano had a programme on peace which is called ‘Lafiya’ and what they do is to refute the claim of Boko Haram on Islam. It is even a private radio station. And this is going on in many radio stations that I know. However, radio can only talk and if the government does not do its part to tackle insecurity, then what can the radio accomplish? So, all the agencies and other media organizations must come together to avoid this difficult situation.”
Similarly, Adegbola noted, “I have pushed this idea in a number of places that the North East of Nigeria has the largest landmass in Nigeria where there is no radio coverage of the land mass. There are vast places in the North East where you cannot receive any radio station from Nigeria, yet in the same place, you have Hausa service of BBC, Hausa service of Radio Beijing, Hausa service of Radio Tripoli, Hausa service of a Radio from Iran. All these are people, we did not have access to persuading them to do what is right or dissuading them to do what is wrong. Imagine there is community radio in Chibok, there will be an announcement on radio that everybody should go home that something is about to happen, then they will not be able to abduct the girls. Information is an important tool of development and radio is a productivity enhancement of dissemination of information.
“We must come to the position that whenever religion comes in to divide people, it is because somebody somewhere is using religion for politics because religion is the only thing on earth that is done without reasoning, that is why religion has become a tool in the hands of miscreants and charlatans. The only solution to the problem is information. When people are made to understand that they are being used by people who want to take advantage of them, for instance during the election, a contestant recognizes that he is weaker than the opposition, he can introduce religion to deceive the people. But if alternative information is available, then the people can see through that.”
On the future of radio in Nigeria, Ojebode said it is very bright. According to him, “many times when there is a new communication system, we are always worried that it will swallow up the existing communication system. When the printing press was invented hundreds of years ago, people thought it was going to swallow up the art of writing. But printing did not kill writing and television did not swallow radio. In fact, the numbers of radio stations have increased in the last five years. So, there should not be fear of the internet coming to kill radio or newspaper. Radio that we knew 50 years ago was heavy and clumsy and difficult to carry around but now people listen to the radio on their mobile devices. That means presenters and producers must keep developing themselves, that is capacity development. They must also acquire modern equipment.”
On how radio can be used to avert the kind of genocide that Rwanda witnessed, Ojebode stated, “The Rwanda genocide was in 1994 and we are still talking about it till today and pray that it will never happen again. People who are on-air, especially politicians, have to be constantly reminded to be careful of what they say while on air. Words have an influence on people. The guests on the radio station are not professionals. If the guest is cautioned and he wants to continue infraction, cancel the programme and let him go. NBC has to continue to be vigilant.”
Adegbola, however, added that radio is an amplifier of information. “It can amplify both positive and negative information so we have to ensure that people have the right information so that it will not be possible to use radio to deceive people. At the moment, there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation in the air and it is because people in authority have a lot to hide. That is why it is relatively easy for social media to be a tool for misinformation and disinformation. When authorities try to use radio to deceive people, then they are moulding the building blocks of mass disinformation.”