By; NIYI OGUNGBOLA, Abeokuta.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has called on the Nigerian media practitioners to hurriedly embarked on self-censorship in order to avoid the type of an implosion witnessed during the Rwandan crisis of 1994 where over 500, 000 ethnic Tutsi were killed by the rival militias.
He made the call while delivering his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the maiden edition of the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) annual National Summit held in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital.
According to him, the call became inevitable in view of the flagrant disregard for the media’s Social Responsibilities roles for which owners with political affiliation appeared to have control and undue influence on the editorial policies of their organisations.
He noted that Nigeria is already polarised along ethnic lines as manifested in the various forms of agitations across the country, with the press encouraging such divisive agitations.
He therefore warned media practitioners in the country not to allow ethnic bias becloud the media’s sense of professionalism.
“I see Nigerian journalists pretending to be oblivious of the devastating role that the media has played in major conflicts on the continent. For instance, the case of the role of the press in triggering the Rwandan genocide is instructive for Nigeria as we are increasingly polarised and divided along the ethnic lines with the press fanning the embers of division and separation”.
“The immediate concern for me is for the press not to be used as a wedge for separating us, but for the press to be an adhesive for bridging the gaps”.
He however chided most of the media organisations that have formed the habit of placing low premium on investigative journalism, but glorifies news items that are based on rumours.
“The latest being the rumor of my attendance of PDP meeting in Abuja while I was actually attending a Zero Hunger meeting at the Yar’adua center”.
“Newspaper houses, television, radio stations and social media now use the mass media to torture public office holders forgetting that the Nigerian Constitution makes it clear that the press is not given the power to execute judgments of public officials, rather, their duty is to monitor and make public office holders accountable”.
“But those who will hold others accountable must also have the necessary diligence, integrity, honesty and incorruptibility that their job entails”.
The former president recalled that within the last four months, Nigeria witnessed 20 hotspots with potentials for national disintegration.
He specifically cited three of them which he said included the Niger Delta Avengers in the South – South, Boko Haram insurgency in the North East as well as the Fulani herdsmen-farmers’ clashes across the country as posing the greatest of dangers to the Nigeria’s unity.
The former president however, said the time was now for the media practitioners through its agenda setting role to deliberate on how the country got to where it is presently and the way out of the mess.
While emphasising that the NUJ Summit was very timely, the former president further urged that the summit must find roles of continual nation building for the media.
He stated that the media and its practitioners should serve as mediators and not instigators of conflict, stressing that policies of governments should be tackled “rather than personalities”.
Obasanjo however, expressed the optimism that the media would continue to be on the good side of the Nigerian history of unity, cohesion, integration and progress.
Declaring the event opened, the Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun urged the media practitioners to always be on their guard against forces that seek to take advantage of their profession for selfish ends.
Amosun, who also tasked media practitioners to strive for continued professional development in order to keep abreast of the best global practices, also said that it is important that the profession divest itself of partisanship, ensure objectivity in its reportage and inculcate investigative journalism if it desires to continue to remain relevant.
The governor however, charged the summit to evolve a system that would make the social media a responsible tool as weapon of mass development rather than “weapon of mass destruction”.
In his own goodwill message, Kwara state governor, Dr. Abdul-Fatah Ahmed urged the Nigerian media to utilize its power to promote unity, democracy and good governance in Nigeria by de-emphasizing reportage of terrorist activities with divisive tendencies.
Represented by his Commissioner for Information, Mohammed Ajeigbe, the Kwara governor charged that the media must also fulfill its role of holding government accountable to its responsibilities by keeping track of emerging issues in governance rather than letting them to slip off the radar when something more sensational comes up.
In his own goodwill message, Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Tunji Bello charged that media practitioners should strive towards putting national unity and security above personal consideration, “in line with the established ethics and ethos of news reportage”.
Ambode further appealed to journalists to always champion the cause of ensuring that crime and criminality are adequately reported without prejudice.