September 11, 1998
8 mins read



Let me, first of all, thank members of your Association for inviting me to speak on the Role of Mass Media in Contemporary Nigerian Society. As we would discover in the course of my speech, the media play a very crucial role in the development of Contemporary societies, all over the world.

Before we delve into the speech, I want to also express my satisfaction with your Association for engaging in an intellectual exercise such as this at a time when Campus Cultures of intellectual debates seem to have disappeared in our Country.

I recall with fondness the Campus cultures of the 1970s and 1980s when students organized at very patriotic and even internationalist levels of consciousness. Your effort is therefore most impressive indeed.

Last week, Mrs. Chris Anyanwu, received the second Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. On that occasion, she presented an address which she titled, SALUTE TO NIGERIAN PRESS.

In that address, she made a summary, which I believe is very relevant to the topic of my speech this morning. Mrs. Anyanwu stated as follows:-

Nigeria is Africa’s most important Country. No nation on the continent matches her combination of human and natural resources. She is a country with the potential of a giant. The greatest yearning of the press is that these potentials be fully realised so that our nation would take its rightful place in the comity of nations. Nigerian journalists are patriots. (QUOTED FROM TELL MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 14, 1998).

What is the state of contemporary Nigeria? All of us are living withnesses of the events of the past couple of years in our Country. Nigeria has been through some of its most difficult trials at all levels: economic, political, social and cultural. We would have to delve somewhat deeply into its history to apprehend the crises phenomenon that we are talking about.

Nigeria, like all other post-colonial states has been unable to actualise its potentials, largely because of the general poverty of vision, absence of deep seated patriotic actions and a visions intra-class tussle for power, which had characterised the various sections of the ruling class which inherited the mantle of leadership after the demise of colonialism, and the subsequent institutionalisation of neo-colonialism in our Country. It was that inability to manage the post-colonial state, the near collapse of the whole edifice, that led to military intervention in our national political life. As it turned out, the soldiers proved to be most adroit masters of the art of manipulations of the polical process, sometimes to the envy and other times, to the embarrassment of the so-called political class in the Country.

As we have all discovered, in many cases only recently, the institutionalisation of military rule, has led to the erosion of the federal structure of political development, it has imposed the Commandist, centralising structure of military organisation on the country.

In that context, especially in the past decade, the process has led to the deepening of all the manifest contradictions within Nigeria: the contradiction between the north and south; the contradiction between the main ethnic nationalities; those between the main and minority groups and the deepening of the class contradictions in the country.

At the base of these problems, is a deep seated economic crisis, that has always been structurally visible in an economy like Nigeria’s that is built around a single export commodity, in our case, Crude Petroleum, whose price fluctuates without our being able to do next to nothing about it. It was the gradual shrinking of that resource base, coupled with a very heavy debt burden, which led to the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) on Nigeria during the mid-1980s.

The nut and bolt of the situation, in the past decade has been the massive overhaul of the so-called Developmental state, instituted in the wake of the Keynesian revolution of the post 1945 period. That period was characterised by an attempt to provide welfare facilities to citizens in our Countries.

It was this welfare state structure which SAP uprooted in Nigeria: workers were massively retrenched, the Naira was devalued; national industry was virtually destroyed and the general pattern of life in our Country was undermined. In the midst of this crisis pattern, citizens accross the country suffered all forms of misery, while a handful of billionaires and millionaires emerged, who constantly flaunted their wealth in the midst of the agonising poverty of the majority of the Nigerian people.

In this context, Nigerians became almost unanimous in their rejection of military rule, and wanted Democracy as a platform to begin to re-engineer the post colonial polity in the direction of a new welfarism package for the citizenry. This is the significance of the outpouring of emotions which came in the wake of the annulment of the election of June 12, 1993. It was the annulment, the crises generated therefrom and the excesses associated with the rule of General Sanni Abacha which have collectively defined the pattern of life in contemporary Nigeria.

Every patriot will readily conceded the fact that the past five years have been some of the most difficult in Nigerian history. The depth of the crises phenomena reach unprecedented levels; the tendencies towards the disintegration of our Country became accentuated; the restiveness in the oil-producing communities became more daring and desperate; while the general level of alienation of the citizens from and their mistrust of the Nigerian state, has become almost irreversible.

At home and abroad, amongst those who have voted with their feet against the conditions in Nigeria, people have generally lost faith in the Country, and in most cases, have withdrawn into their ethnic cucoons. In recent times maps of the so-called republics being carved out of the country have been in very wide circulation, especially amongst the Yoruba people of South Western Nigeria. These indeed are the worst of times, in a manner of speaking, and to paraphrase Charles Dickens, the 19th century English novelist.

Contemporary Nigerian problems have been generally difficult to apprehend, because in truth, they are very complex. Unable to navigate through complex analysis of the phenomena, in order to appreciate the various strands of the contradictions which face the Nigerian nation, most of our compatriots have preferred to stay at superficial levels of appearances and the empirical. They have therefore tended to respond to what should be analysed holistically with emotional and often subjective and therefore unscientific, descriptions/prescriptions and pontifications.

In recent times, it has become easier to appeal to base emotional faculties in attempting to understand how Nigeria has arrived at its sorry pass today. It is therefore usual to find on a daily basis all types of outbursts on the pages of our news papers. There is a consistent demonization of people, to score political points.

Thus it has become almost a crime to be a Fulani man in contemporary Nigeria, because the Fulani is held for all kinds of crimes in the polity. But as I have tried to explain, these are manifestations of the contradictions of contemporary Nigeria.

It is against this background that we can now begin to examine the role of the mass media in Contemporary Nigeria. For the sake of our talk, let us accept with the LONGMAN DICTIONARY OF CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH (1995), that by (Mass) Media, we mean “all the organisations, such as television, radio, and the newspapers that provide information for the public”.

The media in Nigeria, has its roots in the middle of the last century, when the IWE-IROHIN was stated by the Rev. Hency Townsend, at Abeokuta. By the beginning of the modern nationalist era, at the end of the second World war, Lagos had become the heart of arguably the most vibrant press tradition on the African continent. The so called Lagos/Ibadan press has largely retained its very vocal and vibrant tradition, up to this day.

Until the past few years, radio and television have been the traditional preserve of successive governments in Nigeria, from the colonial to the present.

They have always been used to mobilise community opinions in ways that reflect the concerns of the government of the day. In many instances, the close control imposed on these media, and urge to secure their jobs, often lead to very damaging levels of censorship and outright sycophancy on the part of the electronic media, as was demonstrated until recently, by an outfit such as the NTA, for example. He who pays the piper…?

Nevertheless, the media in recent times, have attempted to be very vigorous platforms of debate, in these very difficult times in Nigeria, often at the risk of loss of lives and deprivation of freedom, on the part of the media practitioners themselves.

In the wake of the political crisis of the past five years, many journalists were imprisoned, others fled into exile, while many were obliged to turn to Aesopian flights of fancy, to be able to remain able to practice their professions as best as the circumstances allow.

The duty of the media in contemporary Nigeria, is to actively reflect the popular yearnings of the Nigerian people today. Those aspirations include democracy, the respect for the human rights of the individual, the satisfaction of the basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, a decent job and wages as well as security for the future of their children and families, in general.

How the media assist in the achievement of these ideals will be conditioned by the amount of freedom the media have to carry out the duty of information, education and entertainment It was the French Philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who once said that the duty of the journalist is to test the limits of society’s freedoms, in order to expand them.

In Contemporary times, Nigerian media practitioners have opened many pages of heroism in helping to focus the minds of Nigerians to the different issues that clog up the route to the liberation of our Country. Sometimes though, there is an exaggerated level of tendentiousness in our media which could be incompatable with those cardinal issues of professionalism i.e. objectivity, being concerned with the facts of an issue etc. But again, we must always bear in mind, that there are no value free concepts of media practice.

As we approach a new millennium, with our feet planted firmly into the soils of this fin-de-siecle, I believe that the mass media, must continue to be vigilant arbiters of the struggle to deepen the content of national discourse, as well as expanding the democratic space available to all citizens of Nigeria. It is only by so doing, that we can expand the frontiers of freedoms that would in turn redound to the benefit of media practice in general.

I also believe that the media, in the context of Nigeria, should help to reorient the Nigerian people away from the cynicism that has been sown as a result of the crises of the past couple of years. The media should not stoke the embers of the disintegration of our Country; on the contrary, there must be efforts to help forge a patriotic feeling which will become beneficial in the future.

A democratic Nigeria, which respects the fundamental rights of its citizens, that is law -governed and has instituted far-reaching economic reforms, that would be people-oriented would play a very crucial role in the African renaissance of the next century. Such a country as we all want will necessarily have a vibrant media culture, which continue to prod us towards greater heights of national success.

Now and in the future, the mass media have a vital role to play in an effort to assist the development of this very important Country of ours. It is in this sense, that I share the views of Mrs. Anyanawu, that Nigeria is Africa’s most important Country… Nigerian journalists are patriots. We are patriots because the essential realities of our practice demand that we always endeavour to bring out the very best of our Country. It was like that in the context of the anti-colonial struggle when media men like Nnamid Azikwe, Oged Macaulay, Ernest Ikoli, Sa’adu Zungur, helped to lay bare the rotten entrails of Colonialism. It is the same today, when media men and women like Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, George Mba, etc were deprived of their liberties, in order that we might enjoy a decent life, in a law-governed and democratic Nigeria.

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