Being continuation of a paper delivered by the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Eric Osagie, at a media summit/lecture, commemorating 2017 United Nations World Press Freedom Day organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Oyo State Council, in Ibadan on May 26, 2017.
Have we asked questions to know why, despite several years of investment, Ajaokuta Steel Complex is still moribund? Are we critically tasking our minds to examine issues and find out why billions of naira is annually budgeted for roads across the country and yet we don’t get to drive on good roads? Are we doing enough to ask the right question in the exercise of our minds by trying to find out why despite billions budgeted and spent on building hospitals, we still can’t boast of just one world class medical complex in the mould of the Dubai Health City?
We all come from states across Nigeria. Often, we sit, and even applaud, when a governor announces that he has signed an MoU for agriculture development or any other such. My experience tells me that till the governor leaves office, no journalists will ask him questions on the progress of the MoU he signed with fanfare.
Ladies and gentlemen, are we critically tasking our minds for the development of our country? If we really do, we should by now, be unearthing all the MoUs signed by the various state and federal governments and be asking questions on them because those MoUs were for the development of our states and country. If all the MoUs signed by our states in the health sector alone were fully implemented, I believe that we would have cut money spent on medical tourism to India by more than half. Same thing goes for our education.
All said and done, I, however, do understand that asking questions is not the favourite past time of the average Nigerian. Many are led emotively than rationally.
In the study of Cognitive Psychology, we come in contact with thoughts on emotion and rationality. For me, these define the situation we have in Nigeria – a situation where society is led more with emotion than reason. It is argued that emotion and reason are two opposite forces, pulling in different directions. In the Nigerian media, you see these forces expressed between traditional media and social media. In the traditional media, I am made to understand that there are layers of scrutiny, which sieves emotion from writings and reports and dwells more on the rational issues, which are critical to society. The opposite is the case with social media. In a situation where everyone is free to publish what they like on their blogs or timelines, you begin to see the danger that society faces reading, or dealing, with the emotions of some few.
I have read highly explosive allegations shared on social media groups. I have come across outright insults, name-calling, inciting comments and hate shared on social media. Of course, I know such is not possible with traditional media. The remarkable difference is critical thinking. The question is: Do we hurt or build society with such emotive comments and updates on social media and blogs? Can the traditional media publish verbatim what is shared on social media groups and blogs? If it cannot, then, something is wrong between our management of our emotions and rationality.
As journalists, we are empowered to build society and not to destroy it. We should be builders. We must shape public opinion and galvanise support rationally. We must begin to question narratives and seek to alter them. We must apply our minds to critical issues of nation building by way of focusing on the real issues and dissuade focus on religion as against quality; or ethnicity as against merit.
Over the years, we have negatively applied our minds to focus on the issue of religion in national discourse and nation building. The question is, is religion as important as the need to have a more unified and prosperous nation? The insurgency that has ravaged the North East and indeed our dear country is anchored on religion. We must stand with our security operatives to end the killing of innocent and hapless Nigerians that is going on.
A recent study from Pew Research Centre in the US showed the connection between religion and development. It showed that countries that focused more on religion were more divided and least developed than those that lay not much emphasis on it. Does that appeal to our minds a s journalists? Does that challenge us, in any way, to begin to question the narratives that tend to lay much emphasis on religious differences than on developmental issues? Do we see any need to de-emphasis application of religious norms and guidelines in addressing developmental questions?
Also, in our politics, even as journalists, who should lead the discourse, we often tend to see ourselves falling back to ethnic cleavages and emphasising it more. I have always asked one question: How does an Edo man becoming president ensure that Edo State would become the next Dubai? It takes a mind that is focused on achieving greatness to change the narrative on development in Nigeria, not a mind that is ethnically propelled. We are, therefore, challenged as journalists to lead the charge. We must change the narrative. We must re-write the history of our country to focus more on a regime or merit and quality than on a regime built on ethnicity and religion.
Besides, we are challenged to ask questions about our nationhood. As journalists, we did same in the past. We can do so again. The story of liberation of Nigeria from the grip of the military cannot be complete without several chapters of the role played by journalists. In the process, a lot of our colleagues had been framed up, arrested and locked up in prison like common criminals. Look back, do you think they made giant strides? If they did, you too can continue from where they stopped. Journalists must rise again to redefine our national leadership narrative and push the limits such that would overcome a regime of mediocrity.
Today we have witnessed a generation shift in the leadership in France. I have also read commentaries on how Nigerians are not yet ready to do the same. Yes, Nigerians are not yet ready because Nigerian journalists are always ready to play with the elite and focus more on their arguments than they do on issues of youth development, economic emancipation, political participation and the leadership recruitment process. If our leadership recruitment process must be cleaned up, journalists must lead the charge.
The incumbent administration is focused on fighting corruption. Yes, corruption is everywhere in Nigeria. Can it be eradicated in the lifetime of this administration? I do not know because I am not a prophet. But I say, if the fight must make meaningful impact, journalists must again lead the charge. Let us think for a moment: What will happen if we stop celebrating those who have ruined, and are still running Nigeria, and focus more on those who are making great positive efforts to change our story? I am sure some of us may not have heard of the few Nigerian inventors I mentioned earlier. What if we begin to celebrate them as our new national icons? If you look around, we have that problem of not having national icons that we can comfortably market to our children. But we can create new national icons. The task is with journalists.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not intend to bore you. But I like Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, who propounded what is today known as Cartesianism. He said Cogito Ergo Sum. It means, I doubt, therefore I am. In expanding that thought, some persons have replaced ‘doubt’ with ‘reason.’ Some replaced it with ‘think.’ I am inclined to go with those who say ‘I think, therefore I am.’ If this is what it ought to be, then, it behoves on all of us, as critical partners in national building, to understand the fact that in national building, we need to think more. The power of thinking is liberating. Failure to think means giving up that which makes us higher beings than brutes. All great nations of the world that had advanced achieved that on the ability of their own people to think through and think out solutions to their problems.
Like I always say, the whole of existence is just but a thought. When God said, “let us make man in our own image,” he was believed to have shared his thought. In the same manner, he created the universe and ordered everything in it by thinking out how things will become. If, however, you do not believe in the biblical narrative on creation but accept the ‘Big Bang Theory,’ you still would not have eclipsed the place of the mind in fashioning out how a society develops.
For me, the best proof of the mind’s ability to change society is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirate. As at the time we conceived the idea of a new Federal Capital Territory away from Lagos, Dubai was still a desert, with just one earthen road. It took the mental abilities of Sheik Al Maktoum to push the process that delivered to the UAE a city that everyone wants to see before they die. And you know the most interesting thing; the leadership of Dubai has already laid out plans on driverless cars by 2030. I know we are still romancing Vision 20: 2020. Ladies and gentlemen, 2020 is just about three years away. Use your minds. Think critically and ask those critical questions. That is when you may find out if we are pushing Nigerian in the right or wrong direction. That is the only way we can build a society that is just, fair and there for everybody. We are in a profession that, if we play our role rightly, politicians, judges, teachers, market women, engineers, etc., can be held accountable. That is the only we can build a just, peaceful and inclusive society of our dream.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. God bless.