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Why we do this thankless job By Aniebo Nwamu

Minister of Communications, Barr Adebayo Shittu
Omoyele Sowore, Publisher, Sahara Reporters

Just last Sunday I resolved to resume this column after reading about a quarrel between Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore and Nigeria’s communication minister Adebayo Shittu during a radio programme. Sowore gave Shittu a bloody nose. The typical Nigerian politician’s arrogance and ignorance reminded me of the “shithole” tag US President Trump gave us in January, and I’ve felt like a nationless person.

I’m glad to be back after an eight-month break from lamenting the sorry state of Nigeria. I don’t intend to keep lamenting or casting pearls before swine anymore. During the break period, however, I was able to put valuable ideas into three ebooks to be published soon. I calculated it’s better to put content that would be useful  to segments of the population in books than in columns where government officials like Shittu could harvest them without appreciating their originators.

In over 30 years, one has grown tired of repeating oneself every week via editorial, feature and column writing. Nigerian leaders appear deaf and stupid. And things have kept going from bad to worse, partly because the successive administrations have taken us writers for granted. We give them ideas for free; they ignore wise counsel and repeat mistakes if only they could satisfy their selfish interests.

Shittu wasn’t addressing Sowore alone: he was telling us all that we’re only good to be used and dumped. That’s how many politicians view journalists and publishers, even though none of them ever rises without our support. They will not change until the younger generation decides to take their destiny in their own hands. Only recently, for instance, Shittu’s former aide alleged that he owed him N14million in unpaid emoluments while the minister owned 12 luxury houses, a N93m printing press and “over 25 luxury vehicles for himself, his family members, concubines and cronies, despite having eight official vehicles attached to his office”.

Journalism or writing is largely a thankless job. I know it. But somebody must do it, despite the ingratitude shown by the likes of Minister Shittu. When, 12 years ago, President Obasanjo dismissed us as having “nothing meaningful to contribute” – it was at the height of his third term gambit – and later claimed he couldn’t find jobs for those who studied Mass Communication or Sociology, he demonstrated how stupid he was. Was he to blame? After Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Tony Enahoro and others used journalism to win independence for Nigeria, the lot fell on thugs (who in the 1950s were recruited as soldiers after they failed their school certificate exams) to reap the fruit of independence. They overthrew the First Republic, caused a civil war that killed 3million people, looted the treasury, awarded oil blocks to themselves and put the country in irreversible decline. But oh…clap for the “generals”! One of them has been contributing something meaningful with his PhD in Theology and some books and letters he wrote and edited all by himself!

As to Shittu, what are his credentials? Perhaps he studied law. What drove him into politics fresh from school? He was truly “consequential” but he and his party couldn’t win until they rode on the media’s back and vile propaganda that caught even many journalists and opinion leaders off-guard. I’ve since apologised to my readers for misleading them, though President Jonathan’s underperformance was partly the cause.

In 2014, before the emergence of party flag-bearers, I did express support for another publisher running for president. My views then still stand: Unknown to many, the people who decide our fate as leaders all rely on the media for ideas. None attends federal or state executive council meetings without fortifying themselves with ideas borrowed or stolen from editorials and columns. Smart alecks and their collaborators in MDAs harvest ideas for proposals from the pages of newspapers.

When I was the chairman of a daily newspaper’s editorial board in Abuja, special advisers and senior assistants to ministers and Senate presidents visited me on several occasions to get information or cuttings of editorials and stories we had published. Armed with factual information obtained free of charge, they went back to prepare bills or presentations. Some worked with private consultants who were awarded contracts running into hundreds of millions of naira. They never came back to me!

When politicians, whose best credentials included knowing how to bribe electoral officials, changing vote figures, snatching and stuffing ballot boxes or belonging to a secret cult, wish to talk down on professionals seeking elective positions, they usually cite “lack of experience” as if they themselves were born with “experience”. Experience in what anyway? Is it treasury looting or shouting “aye” and “nay” once a month and then carting N25million home? That reminds me of one Alhaji I found in a government agency about a decade ago: the only English word he could spell correctly was “Approved” — a word he regularly wrote before appending his signature to a memo! If he was able to corner N700million before his tenure expired, he would become a “seasoned” or “experienced” technocrat set to run for governor of his state.

As publisher of New York-based Sahara Reporters, Sowore has paid his dues. Now that he wants to run for political office apparently to rescue the ship of state, all he gets from politicians like Shittu is disdain. The bushy-bearded minister, who called him a noisemaker and daydreamer and advised him to start as a local government councillor, seemed not to have learned any lesson from France, Austria, Canada, or the  UK and US where Cameron and Obama just left office.

Sowore is younger than me, but I know he’s older and more experienced than Zik and Awo were in the early 1950s when they were premiers of their regions. He’s older and more experienced than many governors were in 1979, 1999 and now. At 47, he’s older than every former military head of state at the time each mounted the saddle. And he’s older and certainly more experienced than Shittu was in 1979 when, at 26 and fresh from university, he was elected member of the old Oyo State House of Assembly.

Managing a news organisation for 10 years on a tight budget, as Sowore has done, is no easy task – it’s more tasking than ruling a nation. Those who question his experience forget that many of his juniors in the newsroom have become ministers, heads of federal agencies, members of state and national assemblies, commissioners, chief press secretaries and media advisers. In the eyes of “consequential” politicians, however, even one who has reached the pinnacle of their profession as managing director still lacks experience because he has not been a councillor or LG chairman.

Meanwhile we’ve witnessed the state of countries where “experienced” politicians – along with their colleague kleptocrats and gerontocrats – have held the reins. See what Nigeria has become under “consequential” Shittu and the mask he serves as minister: 50million jobless youths, 15million street kids, one of the world’s most corrupt nations where security is a multi-billion-dollar scam [“technically” defeated Boko Haram receives millions of Euros as ransom from government], mass poverty, daily deaths from starvation and “herdsmen” attacks, death-traps called highways,  no rail system, N400 = $1, no electricity and no clean water.

How I miss Gani Fawehinmi! He fought the greedy bureaucrats and politicians who had erected roadblocks against non-moneybags so the latter couldn’t run for high office. But for the N50million needed to purchase INEC and party forms, I too would have run for president in 2019, if only to challenge the nepotistic tendencies of this administration. I know, however, that only a billionaire can be put on the ballot in Nigeria. By law there’s a spending limit for campaigns but INEC has not enforced it even once in 11 years.  They would also consider me “too young to run” for president in 2019, yet I would by then be Shehu Shagari’s age in 1979 when he became Nigeria’s first executive president, and older than Tafawa Balewa as prime minister.

Whenever I spare a thought for the future of our children and our children’s children, I wonder: in which country will they live? We should continue to do this thankless job because we have a stake in Nigeria:  “This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no country other than Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together.” [Muhammadu Buhari, 1984] As opinion moulders, we writers – whether of columns or posts on social media – have a duty to point our people toward the right direction. Those willing, like Sowore, to help rescue the ship of state by seeking elective positions should throw their hats in the ring without looking back. Yes we can.

Nwamu is the CEO of Eyeway.ng

+234-8054100220 (SMS/WhatsApp only)

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