By Aminu Rabiu Kano
Historically, the mass media, both print and electronic, has presented threats and opportunities to different socio-economic and political classes. Thus, it has always been a target for control, influence and manipulation by aristocrats, religious authorities and politicians. This pinpoints the preponderance of the mass media in human societies worldwide. Nevertheless, the role the mass media plays, the importance it assumes, and the influence it exercises are determined mainly by the prevailing political arrangement in a particular country.
Characteristically, democratic governments globally have a good relationship with the media houses in their home countries. In these countries, mass media plays a vital role in informing citizens on issues of national interest. Most importantly, the mass media serves as a watchdog of society by holding the government accountable in all aspects of governance. In Nigeria, the mass media has enjoyed some constitutional protections since the return to civil democratic rule in 1999. To buttress this point, section 22 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained…..and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
Despite the constitutional provisions enjoining the mass media to, at all times, be free to hold the government accountable for its actions and inactions as the case may be, the mass media has never been free in Nigeria. Several instances of crackdowns on media outlets have been reported in the past. Recently, the Federal government of Nigeria, through its regulatory agency, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), shut down a discussion program segment of the Vision Radio FM in Abuja. The government regulatory body cited national security as the reason behind the shutdown. Additionally, the government fined the radio station a sum of five million naira.
But in reality, the discussion program titled “Idon Mikiya” convenes reputable journalists and experts who, thrice a week, meet to discuss and critically evaluate the government’s policies and programs. The program is prominent for its constant and sharp critique of government actions perceived to be against the public interest. Remarkably, its presenters were recently heard exposing the incompetency and corruption of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) director-general, Rufa’I Ahmad.
Naturally, the government may not be happy, especially since elections are fast approaching. Thus, with its anti-democratic posture, the tendency to severely deal with any person or group of persons exposing its inadequacies or loopholes is high. But this poses a severe threat to the nation’s efforts at consolidating democratic governance.
First, as explained above, the mass media is a building block of any democratic society. Thus, any attempt to weaken them is tantamount to jeopardizing democratic governance. Second, as nefarious as it appears, this action of government will make the international community lose confidence in the Nigerian state and its political institutions, especially if this continues. Third, the government’s decision will inevitably send some bad signal to other media outlets, especially those brutal in telling the truth to powers that be.
Finally, in a situation whereby a media outlet is censured for exposing the incompetence and corruption of those in power, one may ask what is happening to the same government’s commitment to fighting corruption and getting rid of all parasites in the government.
Aminu Rabiu Kano is a political analyst and public affairs commentator. He can be reached at email@example.com.