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Who saves journalism, civic culture in Nigeria?




WHEN I stopped by at a Nigerian Guild of Editors conference in Asaba a year or two ago, one old-time colleague made an effort to remind people of my journalism antecedents dating to the 1970s; at which point Onyeama Ugochukwu, an Economics graduate who became a newspaper editor jumped in and said ‘Pat don Port’. Port or no port, my love for journalism has never abated. But every day I lament the end of the era of Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the great reporters and columnists like the Sam Amukas, Peter Enahoros and lately the Gbolabo Ogunsanwos.
Why this nostalgia?

Every new day, I am made more aware that the new generation of quality reporters moulded significantly by Lade Bonuola and my classmate and friend, Femi Kusa, the super editor at The Guardian, have emigrated from journalism. My disposition to guide young reporters when they come to interview me has been to be of help as best as possible and to elevate their dignity by insisting they neither violate the ethics of the profession nor grovel like beggars. Yet from time to time things happen that make you wonder.

I get calls about every day from reporters rushing to meet deadlines. I make an effort to be as cooperative as I can even when it is not convenient. When recently, while meeting with group of people and talking to a gentleman called Paul Olele on one telephone line, another line added to the noise level…as a journalist and pleaded that he required just a second of my time. So what is it? I literally snapped at him, thought to ask the person on the line to just call back. But the person quickly introduced himself as a journalist and said he needed just a second of my time. So what is it, I literally snapped at him. People are complaining about the lopsided nature of the President’s appointments. What do you have to say about it? I thought of a person who had thousands of appointments to make and had not, to my knowledge made a dozen and the appointments were already judged lopsided. My first reaction was to cut off the call. But I hate to be rude. So I said to him please let me be; if all the appointments are from his village and they can do the job why should I care?

I continued my conversation with Paul Olele presuming I had managed to get rid of someone who did not do their homework. I still have not managed to read the report. But the first I heard of this 30-second telephone conversation with someone whose name I do not recall was someone saying he read my article about appointing people from the same village. I was puzzled because I knew I had not written any such article. It took my assistant pointing to something trending in social media about the subject of spread of appointments that I traced it to the few irritated minutes I spent on the phone with this reporter.

What worried me about the whole jumping to conclusion after less than the appointments is what I have come to borrow from Christian testimony of a dear friend as the near success syndrome in Nigeria. This friend’s testimony traces how he almost made first class, almost got there, almost did this. In many ways, Nigeria always almost gets there. The window opens, as it did in 1999, and when the Save Nigeria Group and the consequent doctrine of necessity presented an opportunity for a fresh beginning and windows of opportunity. Often times these windows of opportunity were shut by acrimonious nitpicking by partisans and ethnic jingoists. My instant reaction to this business of nepotism in appointments was oh my God, there we go again, quarrelling about who was appointed can quickly distract and derail; and the near success syndrome will go on. Had I spoken beyond a few seconds, I probably would have told the reporters that when John F. Kennedy named his brother Robert, Attorney General of United States in small cabinet that he should have been grateful he was not in Nigeria or Camelot would have been still-born.

What I did find quite troubling about it all was the near total absence of serious homework in both the reporting and the reaction to the report. The kind of reporters Stanley Macebuh and company trained were thought to provide background to their stories. The laziest effort at backgrounding, since I write a blog and weekly columns, is that I have treated that subject so many times including in the last few weeks both in my writing and in public speeches that it should have been easy to show patterns. But a lazy reporting culture has come to feed on and feed declining civic culture in which the object of public conversation is to type cast people, go into name calling and in the social media hauling insults without understanding what is being discussed.

That none could ask how what was reported reflects the thoughts of Thomas Kingsley from 1948 which is retraining in my discussion of the subject tells how far both reporting and civic culture have sunk.

The matter is further compounded with a columnist who neither researches nor thinks. Some claim to have 25 years’ experience but their minds are as closed as when they left their village in Imo State 25 years ago and all they have is one year’s experience repeated 25 times.

Who will save Nigerian journalism and civic culture with anybody who can get on social media thinking it is licence to leave their brains at home?

• Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Social Entrepreneur, is founder of the Centre for values in Leadership.

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