Ifeanyi Okechi, Enugu
National integration was at the front burner at Enugu, recently, when South East leaders gathered at a colloquium organised by the Enugu State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
The event was staged in honour of Magnus Eze, a reporter with The Sun who turned 50.
Enugu State Governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Mr. Chris Mbah, led an array of notables that attended the event. They include veteran journalist and vastly experienced media manager, Senator Anyim Ude; Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Spain and wife of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Bianca; Chairman of Enugu State Traditional Rulers’ Council, Igwe Lawrence Agubuzor; and leaders of the media community as well as the civil societies in the region.
Renowned entrepreneur and Chairman of Dome Entertainment Limited, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo delivered the keynote while former politics editor of Daily Times, Dr. Emeka Nwosu presented a paper on “Media ownership in South East of Nigeria.”
In his keynote that received wide acclaim from the audience, Okonkwo spoke truth to power as he advised the Government and media not to equate ‘regime interest’ to national interest.
Okonkwo identified unbridled hunger for political power and corruption by the elites, cronyism and marginalization as major impediments to national integration in Nigeria.
While canvassing for the return to through federalism in the country, he noted that the practice of flawed federal system in which power is concentrated at the centre has not done much in engendering national integration.
“Curiously, Nigeria’s federalism has neither achieved national integration nor fostered local autonomy. A strong constitutional mechanism is fundamental to any effective federal system.
“Nigeria is in dire need of real federalism, not as a magical solution to all our problems, but as a platform for an honest and robust engagement with our differences by giving the federating units a deep sense of belonging on the basis of which they can willingly, and hopefully enthusiastically, buy into the national project.
“To continue to ignore a federal system of governance is to play the proverbial ostrich with head in sand even as its vast body is embarrassingly exposed. It is like pretending that our ethnic and other differences do not exist or that they will quietly fade away if we ignore them,” he stated.
He reminded the media that people reposed so much confidence in them to the point that they preferred their matters discussed in the media than in law courts because they have confidence in their issues being resolved in the court of public opinion.
Okonkwo noted that in the face of the nation’s enormous challenge with national integration, efforts must start with the recognition that despite the country’s many differences, Nigerians have no other country they can call theirs and must therefore do everything they can to live together.
“In playing this watchdog role, the media must make a distinction between regime interest and national interest and between regime security and national security. The tendency is for people in government to conflate both. But what is in the regime’s interest may not necessarily be in the national interest. Same applies to regime security. It is never the case that those in government have a monopoly of patriotism,” Okonkwo submitted.
Earlier, Chairman of the occasion, Senator Ude charged journalists to make integrity and honesty their watchword in the discharge of their duties.
He also noted that courageous journalists would always stand out and be celebrated, just as he said that poor working conditions had made the brown envelop syndrome the Achilles hill of journalists in Nigeria.
Ude, however, said that all hope was not lost; as he urged media owners to improve on the welfare of their workers, including paying the monthly salaries religiously.
In her remarks, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Spain, Mrs Bianca Ojukwu identified double standard by successive administrations in the country as threat to national cohesion.
She noted that the issue of national integration had not been taken seriously by Nigerians because of the obvious hypocrisy on the part of successive administrations which seemingly promoted different rules for different people.
The former envoy maintained that there cannot be genuine integration when religion, origin and other mundane issues determined how a person was treated in the country.
Like Okonkwo, Ojukwu tasked the media to take their rightful place in promoting national cohesion.
Chairman, NUJ Enugu state Council, Mr. Rex Arum in his welcome address highlighted the challenges faced by working journalists in the state’
He pointed out that several practitioners were either not on payroll of the media houses they represent or have backlog of unpaid salaries. He also drew attention to sorry state of their Press Centre which according to him was on the verge collapse.
Three senior journalists; Dr. Maxwell Ngene, Dr. Onyekachi Eni and the Nation’s Capital Editor of Thisday newspaper, Iyobosa Uwujare frankly discussed the presentations made by Okonkwo and Nwosu.
The Enugu Council of NUJ honoured Okonkwo with an award of excellence for his contribution to peace and social dialogue, at the event.
A communiqué from the event which was signed by Arum for the NUJ and Ugochukwu Ezekiel, on behalf of the civil society organisations held that the current security situation called for more vigilance and strengthening of institutions of government.
The colloquium called on the Federal Government to enhance participatory democracy by drawing from Nigeria’s diversity to build a national government and foster unity in the country.
It further called on the media to be alive to the task of holding governments accountable to the people just as it condemned efforts to gag the media by government. It urged that free speech must be promoted for the good of integrating all people of the country.
The colloquium bemoaned situation where investors from the South East region hardly invest in the media and called for a change of heart towards this. It observed that the media is an intrinsic part of the quest for self-actualization of any group of people.
It called on governments and leaders of the region to encourage businessmen from the region to make more investments in the media including the establishment of newspapers, radio stations, television stations and even online media platforms that will educate, inform and entertain people of the region while serving as a tool for their development.