Fellow Nigerians, it is with ultimate sadness that I write to you barely 48 hours after the Thisday offices were mercilessly shattered by bombs in Abuja and Kaduna. Only last week, and on this very page, I devoted ample space and time to the critical issue of Boko Haram as if I had a premonition of what was coming. In fact, a few readers had told me that the way I argued feverishly about the need to dialogue with Boko Haram may be misconstrued as being sympathetic to whatever cause they represent. Also, my attention was drawn to a full-page advert in The Punch newspapers in which the advertiser opened and closed his letter with copious quotes from an earlier article I had written about this Boko Haram menace. No matter how my Boko Haram interventions have been interpreted or misconstrued, I’m a realist.
Let me reiterate the fact that I’m very convinced that our government lacks the capacity to handle Boko Haram. There’s no point pretending to be a King Kong when it is obvious that you are nothing but a Lilliputian. It is not a shame to admit your limitations before the whole world. Our case is like that of a boxer who has been pummelled to a corner refusing to raise up his hands in submission to a superior fire-power. I insist that where we have failed to tackle Boko Haram militarily, just like we failed to conquer the Niger Delta militants, the time has come to seek the path of dialogue, no matter what it takes. Those who are being slaughtered, with unbelievable regularity, are Nigerians like the rest of us. They suffer from the same injustice that most of us have encountered at different times and places. We must do everything humanly possible to end this terrible saga. Too many lives have been wasted to this carnage. Now that the attacks have been extended to journalists, who are usually protected even in war situations, something has to be done urgently to rescue this nation from total mayhem. I know Thisday too well and can confidently attest to its major contribution to the growth of Nigerian media.
I have been a regular reader of Thisday newspapers, and was the founding Editor of Leaders & Company at its inception in 1992. I have come to respect Thisday as the most liberal and well-respected newspaper you can find anywhere. Its influence has gone beyond the shores of Nigeria. Of course, there would always be certain misgivings about certain conducts of all human activities but Thisday has maintained a strict code of professionalism and effervescent presentation that has endeared it to fans and critics alike. A cursory look at its editorial composition would reveal a fair representation of all shades of opinion across political, religious and ideological divides. This is why you would find contributors like Eddie Iroh, Chidi Amuta, Femi Falana, Nasir el Rufai, and yours truly, all writing for Thisday’s Backpage. Any media organisation that can tolerate, and accommodate, some of the hottest anti-government critics should be embraced and applauded because what the publication has achieved is a very delicate marriage of ideas.
God is my witness; Nduka Obaigbena has never called to tell us what to write and what not to write. He may have his personal foibles, like all of us human beings, but he’s committed to the best tenets of journalism, and has struggled hard to build a humongous newspaper conglomerate which would be difficult to replicate in this difficult terrain. I respect his creativity and dare-devilry. He has erected, and provided us, with one of the most formidable platforms for information dissemination in Africa. It is not a platform that we must take for granted or seek to destroy. No matter its imperfections, Thisday is one of the best things to happen to Nigerian journalism. We all need a good conduit for our views. Without the media publicising Al Qaeda, no one would have known Osama bin Laden. I never heard that he ordered that journalists should be killed. In fact, he cultivated friendship with the media, and managed to send his secret tapes to Al Jazeera and a few Arab television channels. Osama became a quintessential newsmaker who forced himself into headlines and breaking news all over the world. Terrorism survives on propaganda and its main propeller is the media. The attack on the Nigerian media two days ago was therefore a tactical error.
I say without any fear of contradiction that an average Nigerian is angrier than Boko Haram on the state of our backwardness. Our level of corruption and recklessness has become totally idiotic and unjustifiable. There’s no nation that is governed by Saints but ours has become over-populated by demonic politicians and civil servants. And to make matters worse is the nonchalance of our leaders to the groans concerned citizens. There’s no sign of remorse or any fear of retribution.
Unfortunately, our society expects the journalist to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the earth. People sit in the comfort of their homes and instruct the journalist to take the kamikaze jump and fight its war for them while they continue to run their own business. They tell you what journalists do in Europe and America but forget the journalist and his publisher are amply rewarded by their society with millions of print-run while it is impossible for any Nigerian daily to sell up to 50,000 copies in a country of 160 million people! The man who wants you to fight his battle is unaware that it is easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Nigerian paper to generate enough revenue from advertisement. At the end of the day, when the few bolekaja (come-let’s fight) publications die, as they must ultimately, there are no mourners seen. Rather the experts in every business step forward to propound hundreds of theories on why the publication died without ever proposing how it can be resurrected.
The Nigerian journalist is nothing but a meat in an American burger, big but cheap. He’s at the mercy, whims and caprices of everyone, just like a junk food. Government is angry that it is being criticised. Readers are complaining that government is being offered a platform. He’s turned into a sandwich to be munched by all with his left-over trashed in a jiffy. That is the sad story of the Nigerian journalist. We need to paint this lurid picture in order to appeal to those who have an axe to grind with government to spare these attacks against the media like the recent one against Thisday, The Sun and Moment.
The journalist is as angry if not angrier than Boko Haram. But the journalist only has his pen and no bombs to detonate. As angry as he may be, he still has his bills to pay like the rest of society. He would not tell his children he cannot pay their school fees because he’s anti-government. The few foolish ones like us who criticise government know the toll it takes on us and our financial condition and we are not too different from suicide bombers because it is suicidal not to be in the good books of government in Nigeria. But a few of us have chosen a different path and strategy for specific reasons. It is based on the knowledge that money alone can never guarantee happiness and fulfilment. We desire a good country for ourselves and our children, and we know it would take a huge sacrifice on the part of a few people to ever achieve that elusive dream.
At the end of it all, it all boils down to searching for that good Nigerian at the very top. We don’t need a multitude to change a society. I still hold on to the theory that a tree can make a forest in political Leadership. What Nigeria is lacking is that strong and visionary leader. For a leader to be strong, he must be known to have the knowledge and vision for his mission in power. He needs that ingredient of trust for his people to agree to follow him through rain and fire. He has to be sound intellectually, and have a vast knowledge of world affairs. He must have been exposed to how particular leaders helped to reshape the destiny of their nation from penury to prosperity. He must possess the heart of a lion and the determination of a David to defeat the political Goliaths who make it difficult for most leaders to succeed in power.
The good Nigerian we crave must be charismatic and urbane. He must have enjoyed a bit of life in his private capacity in order not to be overwhelmed or intimidated by the allure and paraphernalia of office. Most of those who misuse and abuse the privilege of power are usually those who had waited for their turn to attain power and seize the chance to flaunt their newly-acquired status. That is why a woman who could not afford expensive fashion suddenly becomes a fashion icon who spends more money on shoes and jewellery than Imelda Marcos. It matters not if the new style fits her or not. The good Nigerian must be able to hold his family in check and let them know they were not elected with him. His children cannot become emergency contractors and the wife must never grab the power that makes it possible for her to run riots on the streets. We need that good man who can inspire the new generation of Nigerians and not one to depress them further.
The good Nigerian must be selfless and ready to leave power poorer than he came. He must be satisfied with prayers of the people and wait on God to continually bless him and his family. There’s no honour that can be greater than being called upon to lead a country out of 160 million people. To whom much is given, much is expected. I wonder why any leader would choose to serve the selfish interests of a few parasites when he can satisfy the yearnings of the majority and become an hero for all times.
It is strange what comes over men of power that makes it impossible for them to see the difference between being a Statesman like Mandela and ending up as a poor footnote of history like Mobutu.