By Bakenne Nureni
It was like history re-enacting itself as over 200 media scholars and practitioners, who formed the ‘town and gown’ converged on the ancient city of Abeokuta to celebrate 160 years of journalism practice in Nigeria through the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN).
Media professionals, scholars, as well as policy makers stormed Abeokuta, the cradle of journalism in Nigeria to demystify the topic: National Interest, Freedom of Expression and Governance in Africa, which was the theme of the 6th edition of the Conference of the Association.
It was not only a convergence of the literati in the media and the academia but was also an avenue for the rebirth of the first newspaper in Nigeria: “Iwe Iroyin fun Awon Ara Egba ati Yoruba”.
The Conference also witnessed the launch of the ACSPN book Series 4, titled Fake News and Hate Speech: Narratives of Political Instability edited by the trio of Nosa Owens-Ibie, Majority Oji and Joyce Ogwezi. Past series the book include;Taking Stock: Nigerian Media and National Challenges, being Series 1 and as edited by Oluyinka Esan; the Series 2 centred on Digital Media, New Order? Emergent Practices in the Nigerian Media Environment edited by Victor Ayedun-Aluma while Series 3 focused on Media Reflections on Governance in Nigeria, edited by Umaru Pate.
Delivering his lecture at the Conference, the Chairman and Lead Paper Presenter and National President, League of Nigerian Columnists, Araba Tola Adeniyi who spoke on the theme “National Interest, Freedom of Expression and Governance in Africa” described the media as endangered species because most media organisations these days compromise through their reportage which is done at the detriment of the national interest.
He further charged practitioners to see the profession beyond the practice but work in the interest of the society. He further submitted that a nation that gives room for free speech or freedom of expression will enhance unalloyed development.
“Our right to speak our minds freely on issues of society; our access to information and to hold the powers that be to account are vital in the healthy development process of our society.
Freedom of expression goes beyond freedom of speech and until the nation is unbundled and return to federalism as at independence, such selfish definition in the prevalent unitary system will continue to affect practice of a robust and free press”, he added.
While forming his opinion about leadership in Africa, Chief Adeniyi expressed skepticism about how politics and economies are run on the continent.
He pointed out that leadership in Africa exploits their country’s legal framework in order to make restrictive laws and eliminate opposition as the option to overt violence in political suppression, thereby, making economic activities in Africa less competitive among comity of nations across the world.
According to him,“Africa flaunts seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. It also houses 15 of the least 20 economically-competitive states. Therefore, Africa is last of economically-competitive regions globally”, stressed.
In a similar development, the former Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON); the founding Chairman, Nigerian Elections Debate Group (NEDG) and one time Commissioner for Information in Ogun State, Aremo Taiwo Alimi said contents from the media these days have affected the morality and national interest of the people, having failed to lift the people up with a new orientation to meet their need as far information dissemination is concerned.
He further noted that the role of the media should go beyond reportage alone but must also contribute immensely to societal development, adding that “media must stand for a cause and live for that cause’. You can have information without development but you cannot have development without information”.
The conference also gave room for cross-fertilisation of ideas among various stakeholders at the conference.
In his submission, an erudite scholar and Professor of Mass Communication, Prof. Bayo Oloyede, posited that myriads of challenges facing media practitioners in Nigeria of today cannot be detached from stringent laws by government coupled with the harsh condition with which they carry out their constitutional duties “nothing can better be achieved than what we have now.
“Government is not helping matter either, rather they serve as a stumbling block to media performance”, he submitted.
According to the CEO of Boot Communication, owners of Rock City FM, Abeokuta, Mr. Niran Malaolu, some of the hindrances of good press in Nigeria is government’s harsh regulations which make it extremely impossible for the country to progress as a nation.
“You cannot create something out of nothing and since we don’t see ourselves as a nation, it is difficult to define our national interest”.
In his own submission, a veteran journalist and one time Public Relations Executive of the Nigerian Airways, who is now a traditional ruler, Towulade of Akinale, Owu Kingdom, Abeokuta Oba Olufemi Ogunleye said there was the need for up-to-date and continuous training of journalists in order for them to perform optimally and to make the nation to move forward.
Oba Ogunleye however, solicited for a free press in Nigeria where journalists would carry out their constitutional duties unhindered.
In the same vein, a former Director at the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mr. Eddy Aina differed a little bit, laying the blame on media practitioners who indulge in self-censorship in order to survive as a result of politicians who have hijacked the system from them.
He, therefore, called on government to slow down any form of regulations that inhibits professionalism.
The highpoint of the event was the presentation of the simulated copy of Iwe Iroyin fun Awon Ara Egba Ati Yoruba to Alake and Paramount Ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, Okukenu IV.
At the Presentation, the President of ACSPN, Prof. Lai Oso commended the royal father for the support the Association received from the Alake-In-Council and for accepting the occasion to see the light of the day.
Professor Oso further stated that the history of journalism in Nigeria is incomplete without making reference to Abeokuta because it is not only the cradle of journalism practice, but cradle of civilisation in the country.
“Abeokuta is not only unique in Nigerian history as a city which governed itself before the European came, it also had the advantage of having the first Church in Nigeria, the Cathedral of St. Peter, Ake, Abeokuta where Henry Townsend was not only a preacher but also educated through the publication of Iwe Irohin which predated Nigeria”.
The former judge of the International Court of Justice, Hague and former Attorney-General of the Federation and Proprietor of Crescent University, Abeokuta who sponsored the project noted during the presentation at the Alake Palace that, this year’s conference of ACSPN which gave birth to the beautiful simulation of the first newspaper in Nigeria, was another opportunity for the town and the gown to collaborate and propel the wheel of progress in communication research in Nigeria.
“It is a pride that for over one and a half decades, the city of Abeokuta is now playing host to communication scholars and professionals, just to remind us of some of the milestones achieved by Egba Nation.
“Growing up as a prince, I was and still always proud to be associated with many “FIRSTS” achieved by this City. Today’s presentation of a look-alike of “Iwe Irohin fun Awon Ara Egba ati Yoruba” represents a unique chronicle of one of the achievements recorded in Abeokuta in 160 years ago.
Prince Ajibola added that “the simulation is a novel idea of bringing back to life what Henry Townsend did in Abeokuta in 1859”. It is a nostalgic journalistic idea that emanates from the stable of Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN).
By this publication, we can imagine how Henry Townsend would have reported this conference 160 years ago. I am indeed proud to be associated with this body”, he concluded.
Receiving the team in his palace, the Alake and Paramount ruler of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo described the event as epoch-making with a call on media practitioners to jettison any form of fake news that could cause panic in the country.
The royal father particularly chided social media practitioners and bloggers for being culpable of fake and uninvestigated news, with a plea to conventional media practitioners to be alive to their responsibilities if they truly want to be identified as members of the fourth estate of the realm.
“There is no gainsaying that journalism in this era has been ruptured by social media which, to me, has become a serious threat to the practice of conventional journalism but the onus lies on you to work assiduously by ensuring that the flame of true journalism does not die prematurely”, he advised.
Oba Gbadebo, therefore, urged them to continue to be change agents they are known for in the society, so that Nigerians could gain its feet back among comity of nations in terms of information dissemination and news distribution.
He, however, challenged participants to ensure that what is churned out of the media, in terms of reportage, is responsible journalism and not fake news.
According to kabiyesi, “You know these days, fake and sensational news sell more than good news, so I urge you to be alive to your responsibilities, just as other stakeholders in the communication business in Nigeria so that we can rid our nation against quackery and irresponsible journalism”.
In order to sanitise the media industry from quackery and as well instil high level of professionalism, the conference resolved that social media regulation should be initiated to ensure that national interest is reflected without affecting the freedom of expression with the emphasy that professionals should take control of social media to ensure professionalism and protection of freedom of expression.
The conference also agreed that Nigeria should use big data to improve data generation and analysis so that it can drive development, especially, the Sustainable Development Goals.
It also resolved that government should establish e-participation initiative so as to improve and strengthen governance; while media organisations should be engaged in producing programmes that will curtail fake news in Nigeria and that stakeholders should come up with national communication policy that articulates and addresses national development and governance challenges.
In addition to the above, the conference also agreed that journalists in the country should be trained and retrained for professional practice while media practitioners should engage in research to back up their stories and desist from reporting merely from press releases issued by agencies and organisations, with a strong message to Nigerian newspapers to give prominence to editorials while discussing violence during elections.
Above all, journalists, media professionals and academics were advised to dissociate themselves from anything that is fake and rather do whatever is possible within their reach to bring Nigeria back into the right path through professional reportage.
Bakenne Nureni wrote from Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ogun State and a Member of the ACSPN 2019 LOC.