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Media, democracy and future of Nigeria

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Governor Abdulrazak


Let us start with a statement of gratitude and salutations to His Excellency, Gov. Abdulrahman Abdulrazak of the great and important state of Kwara. Thank you for your presence, warm reception and the important work you are doing in the state. Kwara State is noted for its remarkable history as a melting pot of pronounced traditions and cultures – it can be an exciting experiment in the management of diversity and an opportunity to promote the promises of effective and impactful multiculturalism. We are praying and wishing you Godspeed in the undoubted challenges of the tough assignment you have. As the Yorubas say it, Oju ogun lati nri akinkanju.

Let me also quickly salute the towering presence of Mallam Kabir Yusuf, the founding brain of Media Trust publishers of Daily Trust and its sister titles. Mallam Yusuf occupies an important place in the history of modern Nigeria and when the history is fully written, his place and significance will be appropriately located. The founding of the Trust titles aside, Mallam Yusuf has gone ahead to follow the path that people like the Noble Alh. Babatunde Jose has consecrated at the old Daily Times. We can reference it in many ways, but for today, let us restrict it to saying he has helped create and successfully managed to growth, an institution of modernity and a pillar of democracy.

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Thank you for your presence here to honour our friend and brother, Raheem Adedoyin, whose diamond anniversary is the basis of all this. The reason why we are all here from the four corners of the country. I had known the celebrant for decades and I had merely assumed the successes and landmarks of his life and career as the logical outcome of his brilliance and hard work. But as the days got close to this event, the notices and attention that this event generated brought me to a new awareness of the important place our celebrant occupies in the imagination and the lives of many, many friends and associates.

Either as a reporter at The Guardian in Lagos, media manager at the Herald, or Information manager as Commissioner in this state, or even as a freedom of expression missioner through the process of the International Press Institute, IPI, Alh. Adedoyin was a man and presence of distinction. The deluge of accolades that have been showered on him thus far are testimonies of his life story up to this point. President Muhammadu Buhari has spoken of how his antecedents continue to inspire many in the media profession, and how his years of hard work and focus have seen his steady rise in journalism, with contributions to the development of the country, particularly in youth and community development.” We are reminded that long before now our celebrant had been honoured in his community, Oro Kingdom, as the Oloriewe, the Youth Leader.

The choice of youth as the universe of his commitment may be strategic and thoughtful but that does not capture the larger message of the man I know as a young reporter at The Guardian where he achieved respect and accolade as the delight of editors on account of hard work, productivity and consistency in qualitative output. Just yesterday, I believe, the governor put his finger of this same point while receiving a team of media chiefs when he said:

“Raheem is one of the pillars behind this government. When we came on board, we came in with a blueprint, manifestos and good ideas. Incidentally, Raheem Adedoyin single-handedly put together a team that drafted my manifestos, beautiful one.”

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A man who turns 60, and has the means, in Nigeria can decide to take vacation to a sunny beach and celebrate in lavish splendour, considering that life expectancy is miserably modest in our country, but the audience here will be excited to know that our celebrant decided to dedicate this significant landmark to the cause of press freedom in Nigeria.

That is a thoughtful homage to the profession that made him, the imperative of press freedom to the making of a redoubtable democracy in Nigeria and its critical place in the future of our country. For this gesture, Barbara Trionfi
IPI Executive Director, has offered a deserving response, saying, at “IPI we are so proud to have you as a member of our Executive Board and ever so grateful for your engagement over many years, and for ensuring that the IPI Nigeria National Committee today remains an important promoter of free and independent journalism in Nigeria.”

In the audience here today are many of Raheem’s old colleagues, and current professional collaborators in the broad world of freedom of expression. There are certainly an equal number of his young mentees and not to forget the now important constituency of his political comrades who have travelled far to be here. This is testimony to love and affection that he has drawn through equal investment in like measure. That also makes it appropriate to speak on a theme that yokes these triangular principles of the media, our democracy and the future of our country.

Local media and development
Some of the things that made the state remarkable in the decades of the 70s and the 80s were the culture of effervescent debates, the contention that lacked bitterness and the institutions that drove those exciting culture. Those were the years that higher institutions of learning like the polytechnic, the university and a college of education berthed in Ilorin. But it was also the years that the state newspaper, the Nigerian Herald [later The Herald], was created; the state broadcaster Radio Kwara gained expansion and the Nigerian television station NTA opened an office in the state.

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The Herald expanded the scope for debate, attracted columnists from wide and far, and did what most local newspapers do in all parts of the world. It built the community structurally and organically. It inspired a generation of young people to venture in many directions of career and it documented important history and milestone of the people, their culture and their institutions. It is a pity that the history of that institution has not been written knowing that some of the most significant newspapermen in the history of our journalism and our country passed through that medium.

Why does it matter that we speak about this today? We do because the state of the media in the country and certainly in Kwara is in a putrid state. It needs not be so. But this muted debate also speaks to a larger issue of how to manage and provide policies that affect the media.

There is no democracy that can thrive without a virile media. In a pluralistic and diverse community like most Nigerian communities, a deliberative democratic tradition can best help manage citizens’ participation taking into account the pluralism of the context of experience. The organising principle for this purpose is how citizens with different interests and different expectations can come together in freedom and relative harmony to forge consensus for running the country or state, sharing benefits, protecting basic rights and operating institutions. The mechanism for the management of these divides calls for what the philosopher, John Rawls, called public reason. The key driver of this type of purpose is a virile media.

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Political participation, conciliation, promotion of consensus, social development, promotion of political values of freedom, rights, accountability, and public health will be impossible without a virile media. The history of our country from independence where the media offered the most vigorous advocacy, through the return to democracy after three decades of military dictatorship, then the consensus building after the civil war, through anti-corruption wars, public health campaigns against Ebola, HIV, to the COVID pandemic are all report cards of excellence for the media.

Government as media proprietor
But the role of government as media proprietors in the 70s till date have proven abysmally poor, and, to say pathetic will not be an understatement. The question is what went wrong and what needs be done? Management, and meddlesomeness from public officials are certainly major factors but much more so is the asymmetric appreciation of what the transition to digital entails for the business model of the media. While the aggregate elements are effectively transformed by the logic of digital, mental framework for management remained doggedly trapped in an analog mindset.

Olorunyomi, publisher, Premium Times, Abuja delivered this (excerpts) as anniversary lecture marking the 60th birthday of Alh. Raheem Adedoyin, the Oloriewe of Oro Kingdom, on Friday, 23rd July 2021.

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