Friday, November 11, 2022 4:00 pm
BY JOHN NNIA NWODO
I am honoured to be amongst you, members of The Nigerian Guild of Editors, today and to be asked to be your guest speaker at your 2022 annual conference. The topic of my lecture today, Mobilizing Citizens for Sustainable Democracy, the Power of Editors, was chosen by you. I, therefore, assume that you want the opinion of one of the consumers of your production rather than one of you. Let me however disclose that even though I am a lawyer and an economist and therefore not a journalist, I have been Special Assistant to President Shehu Shagari, of blessed memory, on Information. I have also been, for about eight months, Nigerian’s Minister of Information and Culture under H.E General Abdulsalami Abubakar. I am therefore fairly abreast with working among journalists, making rules and influencing law-making with regard to your profession and managing some journalists in areas where I have worked. This makes me an exceptional consumer of your product.
The following questions will need to be answered before we dwell on the topic for today’s lecture.
As far as I know, unlike other professions like Medicine, Engineering and Law you require no particular professional qualification to be an editor. Current practices however require you to have a good knowledge of the English language, knowledge of media production and communication, ability to read and communicate effectively in English, excellent written communication skills, ability to work with others, digital skills and membership of the Nigerian Union of Journalists.
The danger in this lack of professional certification is that there are absolutely no possibilities of disbarring a journalist based on dereliction from professional regulations except through disciplinary measures of the Nigerian Guild of Editors or the National Union of Journalists. Civil and criminal law are however awash with provisions on libel, defamation and misrepresentation that not only affect all citizens but may be more relevant in checking excesses in the practice of journalism. It is in this respect that I congratulate you for having a virile association with Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Nigerian Union of Journalists which through their internal rules can sanitize your profession of bad eggs whose demeanor may earn you unwanted bad reputation. I know that I speak the minds of many Nigerians in urging you to activate your professional organizations in codifying your rules and ethics in such a manner that public confidence can grow in your ability to uphold the truth.
Nowadays it has become habitual for notable politicians to own large media houses in order to protect themselves from media onslaught and also take on their adversaries in political propaganda.
In their book, The Elements of Journalism, Bill Korac and Tom Rosensties hold that a Journalist’s first obligation is to the truth. They wrote that, “All truths-even the laws of science – are subject to revision but we operate them in the meantime because they are necessary and they work. Journalists must seek a practical and functional forum of truth. It is not truth in the absolute or philosophical or scientific sense but rather a pursuit of the truths by which we can operate on a day to day basis”
Continuing they wrote that, “the Journalist’s truth is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. The Journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, subject to further investigation.The Journalists first loyalty is to citizens. The Journalist whether a media corporation answering to advertisers and shareholders or a blogger with his own personal beliefs and priorities must show an ultimate allegiance to citizens. They must strive to put the public interest – and the truth – above their own self-interest or assumptions.”(1)
As I was preparing for this lecture it occurred to me that in mobilizing citizens for sustainable democracy in Nigeria, the editors must first of all agree on the most fundamental problems facing Nigeria before they can mobilize citizens to take informed decisions about who can deal with the fundamental problems. As I was reading through the maze of reports on the issues for determination in the forthcoming election, I received a report of views of our colonial masters at the formation of this nation and after, presented by Dele Ogun, Convener of The Fatherland Group, National Liberal Club, Whitehall, London. In his speech entitled “Nigeria And Britain After Elizabeth”, which I thought I should share with you, he said quoting
Oliver Littleton Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Chandos, who said in his 21st May 1953 contributions to Emergency Debates on Nigeria’s Constitutional future, in the House of Lords, one week to Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation
“Recent events have shown that it is not possible for the three regions of Nigeria to work together effectively in a Federation so closely knit as that provided by the present constitution. HM’s government in the UK while greatly regretting this, considered that the constitution will have to be redrawn to provide for greater regional autonomy and for the removal of power of intervention by the centre in matters which without detriment to the other regions be placed entirely with regional competence. It is at the same time necessary to ensure that the common economic and defence requirements of all regions are secured”
He also referred to
Sir DetorSmithers,Parliamentary Private Secretary, to Min of State and Secretary of State in the Colonial Office 1952 – 1959, Sec Gen Council of Europe 1964 – 69 writing in Times on July 15, 1998who said,
“During the negotiations for the Independence of Nigeria the view of the Secretary of State at that time, with which I agreed, was that in Nigeria, we should attempt to put together a large and powerful state with ample material resources which will play a leadingpart in the affairs of the continent and the world. This was attractive but it involved forcing several different ethnic and cultural groups into a single political structure
The negotiations were complex and very difficult, the chief problem as I remember, relating significantly to the control of the police and the military. In the retrospect of 40 years, it is clear that this was a great mistake which has cost many lives and would probably continue to do so. It would have been better to establish several smaller states in a free trade area.
In exculpation, it must be said that we did not then have the examples of the collapse of Yugoslavia and of the Soviet Union before our eyes. It should now be clear for all but the wilfully blind to see, that it is extremely dangerous to force diverse racial and social entities into a single rigid structure such as that which is being built upon the foundations of the Maastricht Treaty. Recent history suggests that it would be best to complete the development of the Common Market and to call a halt to political integrations in Europe that we all know about Brexit”
Concluding his speech Dele Ogun said, “I turn to the French Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau”, “The problem is to form a forum of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force, the person and good of each association and in which each while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone and remain as free as before. This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution for. He then called for the Orange Union in contradistinction to union of the Apple. When you peel the skin of the Orange, you will see the segments sitting comfortably side by side together making the composite whole, whilst when you peel the skin of the Apple you will see the indistinguishable mess. That Orange Union in which the ethnic groups uniting to make the whole an association in which they may obey their own priority and remain as free before. (2)”
When mobilizing citizens for sustainable democracy the most important challenge is to identify the major problems of the country. Dele Ogun identifies the structure of the country as our most fundamental problem.
Our current constitution was fashioned by the military. It is not autochthonous. In law it has no validity. It was neither a product of an elected assembly nor that of a public plebiscite. Nobody voted for it except a group of military unelected officers. Its character is based on distribution rather than production of wealth. It collapsed the pre independent agreement of the component parts of this country (represented by their elected officials) as the basis of our Federation. It relied on dependence on oil wealth as a basis for our common existence. Consequently the previous grand cotton production, the groundnut pyramids, the palm oil drums, the palm kernel pyramids, the rubber plantations, the cocoa plantations have all disappeared giving way to over dependence on oil, imports and federal dominance in wealth creationwhichhas eluded us. Local initiatives in agricultural development has given way to white elephant projects, subsidy, dead refineries, oiltheft, falling standards in education, low food production and health care.(Give examples of your childhood experience in education, health and food production)
Arising from these explanations editors must focus attention on the views of candidates on restructuring. Whenever restructuring is raised, some erroneously think that the whole essence is to regionalize the control of oil resources and deny non-oil producing areas of the revenue accruing from oil. Far from it. It was never so in the past. The Federal Government still had, in the past, a percentage of all mineral production from the regions. Besides, a model based on sharing of Government revenue must give way to a new structure that will challenge and drive productivity in different regions across the country. This new model must take into account that the factors driving productivity in today’s world are no longer driven by fossil oil but rather the proliferation of a knowledge-based economy. The restructuring of Nigeria into smaller and independent federating units and the devolution of powers to these federating units to control exclusively their human capital development, mineral resources, agriculture, and power (albeit with an obligation to contribute to the federal government) is the only way to salvage our fledging economy. Restructuring will devote attention to the new wealth areas, promote competition and productivity as the new federating units struggle to survive. It will drastically reduce corruption as the large Federal parastatals which gulp Government revenue for little or no impact dissolve and give way to smaller and viable organs in the new Federating units.
Those campaigning against restructuring in Nigeria have painted an unfortunate and untrue picture that those of us in support of restructuring are doing so in order to deny the Northern States who have not yet any proven oil reserves of the ability to survive. This is unfortunate. The new model we propose for Nigeria recognizes that revenue in the world today is promoted by two main sources namely, human capital development leveraging on technology to drive the critical sectors of the economy and agriculture. Ten years ago the top ten companies in the world were the likes of EXXON Mobil, Shell, and Total. Today the top eight companies in the world are represented by technology related companies. They include Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and lately Twitter.
The example of Netherlands in Agriculture is also relevant here. The Netherlands is the 18th largest economy in the world. It has a land area of about 33.9,000 square kilometres. Niger State, one of Nigeria’s 37 administrative units has about 74,000 square kilometres. Netherlands, four years ago had over $100 billion from agricultural exports annually, contributed mainly by vegetables and dairy. Nigeria’s oil revenue has never in any one year reached $100 billion. Northern Nigeria is the most endowed agriculturally in Nigeria. Its tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, cucumbers, tubers, grains, livestock and dairy feed the majority of Nigerians in spite of its huge reserve of unexploited export potentials. In a restructured Nigeria, Northern Nigeria with the right agricultural policies will be the richest part of Nigeria.
Our analysis here must be viewed from the background that datelines have been fixed by OECD countries and China for the cessation of production of automobiles and machines dependent on fossiloil. This development and the new technology for production of shale oil in the United States has made world dependence on Nigeria’s crude oil a rapidly declining phenomenon. All over Europe and America, electric cars are now a first preference for first time buyers.
In the face of this economic reality, the population reference Bureau predicts that Nigeria will in 2050 become the world’s fourth largest population with a population of 397 million coming after China, India and the United States of America. This is only 30 years away!!
Any other country in our situation would have declared a state of emergency long ago to plan for the day oil price will fall!!!
Saudi Arabia is investing $110 billion to develop its estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of wet gas by 2036. When completed it will provide $8.6 billion annual income and add $20 billion annually to its gross domestic product. This is apart from the
production boost its economy will receive from an increased, cheaper and diversified source of energy.
Right now research has reached at an advanced stage in the United States on a new all – solid – state hybrid solar cell based on organic-inorganic metal halide called PEROVSKITE (CH3 NH3 PBX3) which using solar power technology has the capacity of turning sun light into energy and expanding the science of medical imaging in newer and more profound dimensions. The photoelectric power conversion efficiency of the Perovskite solar cells has increased from 3.8% in 2009 to 22.1% in 2016, making Perovskite solar cells the best potential candidate for the new generation of solar cells to replace traditional silicon solar cells in the future. Light absorption and photoelectric conversion has become better, more efficient and a threat to oil based economy!!
Research has also advanced in the US and Europe on 5G telecommunications which has achieved an improved quality and speed of internet communications that promotes new models of self-driven cars, better movies downloads, improved road navigation and a new medical diagnostic tool called the Tricorder. China is already deploying 5G technology through its mega telecommunication company called Huawei
A new cellphone battery called Grapheme batteries will be developed soon to replace lithium batteries. These grapheme batteries will charge in 20 minutes instead of the average 90 minutes for conventional lithium batteries. It can stand 1,500
charge cycles instead of the 300-500 cycles of lithium batteries. It isalready at trial stage
Israeliformer Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has recently informed the world of his country’s new digital explorations. Apart from discovering the cure for cancer and the capacity to make life interminable, Israel can by drone technology determine the chemical deficiency of a plant in a farm without setting foot on the farm. It can also cure the deficiency by drone technology without entering the farm.
USA has also advanced drone technology with the capacity to go to war and shoot from self-driven drones and kill decisively without risking any human life in the field. Recently this technology was used to exterminate an Iranian General considered a huge security threat to the United States.
These discoveries underline the importance of education in National Development.
According to UNICEF, one in every five of the World’s out of school children is in Nigeria. Even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million of Nigeria’s children aged 5 – 14 years are out of school.
In 1970 when the war ended and I gained admission into University of Ibadan to study economics, studying in a Nigerian University was such a pleasure. To begin with, my roommate then, OkeyEzeokeke and I lived in a two in one room apartment. The university laundered 8 clothes per week for us (trousers and shirts). In addition, two sets of bed sheets were laundered for us weekly. Our shower ran twenty four hours, our toilets flushed always. In each hall of residence we had a bar and buttery where you could have cold drinks and confectionaries at affordable prices directly from breweries and the university catering department. You were also allowed to entertain your guests at these air-conditioned lounges.
Each faculty had a library apart from the central university library. Every journal published in the world was available in our libraries within two weeks of publication. We had a university press which made publication of books by our lecturers easier and the books affordable. The university had a busy bookshop which sold text books, journals, magazines and novels. Accessibility to knowledge was guaranteed even without digital technology. Lecturers were encouraged to publish.
Because of their scholarly publications, they were demanded globally. Every year so many lecturers were engaged inprominent universities all over the world. Every year several lecturers served out their sabbatical and returned with new knowledge, new exposure, modern cars and a global and cosmopolitan saga. Many students developed ambitions to become lecturers. The first class graduates were retained as assistant lecturers to take us in tutorial classes. The tutorial classes explained the lectures, deepened our knowledge of the subject matter and took us through past question papers in order to widen our comprehension and prepare us for examinations. Suddenly all these have disappeared. Instead, handouts have taken over because they are sold for extra cash by lecturers even when they contain very little or represent copying or plagiarism!! When you don’t buy them, class reps note you and report you to the lecturer and in some cases it is counted against you in the exams. Vice Chancellor after Vice Chancellor fight this menace but they persist because the bench mark has fallen, the incomes have fallen, the foreign lure no longer exists because our degrees have become worthless. Businessmen and Politicians as well as pretty female students get degrees without attending lectures!! If the source of knowledge is contaminated, like a contaminated water reservoir, can you get clean water? Once upon a time, a seating Governor was admitted as a student in one of our universities, he pretended to attend lectures inspite of his busy schedules, which made it impossible for him to attend all his lectures, but he was awarded a degree. Is such a degree respectable? Does this kind of practice recommend such a University as credible?
This brings me to the question of what form Nigeria will assume under a restructured arrangement and how its restructuring can be brought about. Two basic models have been canvassed for restructuring in Nigeria. A conservative model aimed at maintaining the status quo has been proposed to mean simply a shedding of some of the exclusive powers of the Federal Government, like issuing of mining licenses, permission for constructing of Federal roads and shedding of regulatory powers over investments in critical sectors of the economy like power and mineral resources. This model merely scratches the surface of the problem. It avoids the fundamental issue of devolution of powers.
The second model calls for a fundamental devolution of powers to the States as federating units and a lean Federal Government with exclusive powers for external defence, customs, immigration, foreign relations and a Federal legislature and judiciary to make and interpret laws in these exclusive areas.
This second model proposes states as the federating units with two different approaches. The first approach simply wants the States as the Federating units and a Federal Government with limited powers. It wants the states to control a percentage of revenue accruing from their areas and contribute an agreed percentage of such revenue to the federal government.
The second approach proposes the states as the federating units with a Region at each of the six geopolitical units whose constitution will be agreed to and adopted by the states in the geopolitical region. The regions will have the powers to merge existing states or create new ones. There will be regional and state legislatures and judiciary dealing with making and interpreting laws made in the respective political entities. This approach proposes a revenue sharing formulae of 15% to the Federal Government, 35% to the regional government and 50% to the State Governments.
To achieve a national consensus on this subject requires a national discussion. Regrettably, the ruling party, APC which promised restructuring in its manifesto after two years and four months in office appointed a committee to define what sort of restructuring it wants for Nigeria. The matter ended there. The Committee report after being adopted by its National Executive Committee was never implemented by the Government.To make matters worse, none of the other political parties have come up with any clear-cut route for achieving a consensus on this matter.
The National Assembly itself is a reflection of the deep ethnic divisions in the country and the Northern majority conferred on it by the military makes it highly unacceptable to Southern Nigeria. Recent resolutions made by it on devolution of powers have not helped the situation.
In the recent past, following massive disenchantment by our youths, self-determination groups have sprung up in Nigeria. The self-determination groups include IPOB,Boko Haram MASSOB, YELICOM, Arewa Youths, Niger Delta Republic and Republic of the Middle Belt.
Of all these groups IPOB and Boko Haram have been designated as terrorist organizations by the Federal Government. This development in relation to IPOB is unfortunate. Book Haram is an armed organization which has attacked and occupied Nigerian territory, hoisted its flag and appointed local authority governments
It has abducted and abused Nigerian women, kidnapped and imprisoned many and killed over two hundred thousand people. It is still involved in guerilla warfare against Nigeria yet the Federal Government is negotiating with them. No member of Boko Haram captured by the military is under trial, as far as I know. Members of this Federal Government are on record for condemning the previous Government for brutal murder of Boko Haram members and condemning the retired Chief of Army Staff for zealous prosecution of the anti-terror campaign. Members of the sect who confess to a change of mind have been received along with their abducted female partners in the Presidency and rehabilitated even by recruitment into the army. Today, the country is threatened by a new rise of Islamic insurgents.
The declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organization is in my view hurried, unfair, and not in conformity with the intendment of the law. Whereas I am not completely in agreement with some of the methods of IPOB like it’s inappropriate and divisive broadcast, the uncontested evidence given by the Attorney General of the Federation in an interlocutory action claiming that IPOB attempted and/oractuallysnatched guns from law enforcement agents are, if proven, merely criminal offences. They do not constitute enough evidence to meet international law definitions of a terrorist organization. Happily, the United States Embassy in Nigeria, sometimes ago, shared this conclusion and asserted that the United States Government does not recognize IPOB as a terrorist organization. This same unarmed IPOB that is being stigmatized by the Nigerian government had its members murdered in Asaba, Nkpor, Aba and Port Harcourt simply for having public demonstrations without the Federal Government ordering a judicial inquiry. Instead, after I called for one and Amnesty International provided evidence that 150 of them were killed, the Chief of Army Staffthen, set up an inquiry composed of serving and retired army officers thus abandoning the rules of natural justice which prescribes that you cannot be a judge in your own court. The Nigerian Press should investigate these assertions and bring a peaceful resolution to this impasse.
The Igbos in Nigeria see the treatment of IPOB as unfair, discriminatory and overhanded. They see the move as an attempt to encourage a profiling of Igbos in the international security arena.
We know of other self-determination groups in Nigeria that are armed and have destroyed government and private sector installations and wells and have taken several Nigerians hostage that government prefers to negotiate with rather than label them as terrorist organizations.
Fulani Herdsmen otherwise called the Fulani militants have ravaged farms in Middle belt, South West, and South Eastern Nigerian killing several farmers in the process. In January 2016 they killed 500 farmers and their families in Agatu in Benue State. In Enugu State, they murdered more than 100 farmers in UkpabiNimbo in April 2016. Photographs depicting them with automatic rifles trend in the entire world media, yet not one of them is facing criminal charges, nor is Operation Python Dance being conducted in the areas where they ravage and kill, and the Federal Government describes them as criminals and treat them with levity notwithstanding their classification by the Global Terrorist Index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world (see British Independence Newspaper, 18th November 2015). The London Guardian Newspaper of 12th July 2016 indicated that Fulani Herdsmen killed one thousand people in 2014. Today the numbers reached five hundred thousand. A medium security prison was invaded in Abuja and detained terrorists allowed to escape without any resistance from our security forces.
Apart from domestic security, our economy is bleeding due to several other reasons.
On 23rd October 2022, NdukaOrjinmo writing for BBC News, Abuja reported that “In Delta State, thieves built their own 4km (2.5miles) of long pipeline through the heavily guarded creeks to the Atlantic Ocean. These barges and vessels blatantly loaded the stolen oil from a 24 feet oil pipe visible from miles on the open waters. “Crude oil is Nigeria’s main export but production and revenue, has been dwindling for years because of thieves. Authorities say, “oil production fell from 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to just over 1 million in July 2022, according to the regulator (making it impossible for us to meet our OPEC production quota).
Authorities also say that more than $3.3bn dollars (£2.9bn) has been lost to crude oil theft since last year and at a time when other oil producers are having a petro dollars splurge, Nigeriacan’t even meet its OPEC production quota. And it is not that the country can afford to lose money to thieves as it is gripped by widespread poverty and heavily indebted.
Nigerian’s oil industry has a documented history of corruption, from an unending fuel subsidy scheme where no one actually knows how much is imported, to the shadowy allotment of oil exploration blocks. Chief Ekpemupoloknown as Tompolo is the security contractor with the responsibility of unearthing this large scale crude oil theft. Commenting on the thieves, he said in Channels TV that”many of the security people are involved because there is no way you can load a vessel without settling (bribing) the security people in that region”.(3)
Carl Milton Bernstein, an American investigative Journalist and author while a young reporter for Washington Post teamed up with Bob woodward and both of them uncovered the crimes which led to the congressional investigation of Watergate scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of Richard Nixonas President of the United States of America. This is the power of Journalists or dare I say of editors. Why have the Nigerian editors been unable to unravel the massive robbery of our oil reserves or the subsidy looters?
Nigeria’s present problems are worse than Watergate scandal. We have a total collapse of confidence in our government. When a Federal Accountant Generalis facing charges of acting in cohort of other Federal Civil Servants, consultants and representatives of the Federal Government for stealing Government funds and the case is going through such a sluggish delay but NnamdiKanu’sacquittal can in a few days bereversed by the Federal Court of Appeal, it simply means that ridding our country of corruption is not a priority.
Dr. NnamdiAzikiwe and Chief Anthony Enaharo as journalists stood their grounds in fighting colonial rule. A fight to defend our hallowed values and the soul of our nation is the greatest act of patriotism. Your pen is of inestimable value when you use it patriotically to salvage our value slide and the rudderless movement of our state vessel. The Nigerian editor has enormous power in exercising his freedom of expression as enshrined in our constitution.
You must set the agenda for this coming election. That agenda must require our candidates to speak up on their policies regarding:-
Any leading Presidential candidate who doesn’t have well thought out policies on these issues is not fit to lead Nigeria.
We hear today of speculation regarding the health condition of our Presidential Aspirants. We have a President who has spent so many days out of his eight year tenure in foreign hospitals not to talk about the cost of treatment. This makes it a national imperative to investigate the health of Aspirants to that office.
Tobi Aworinde of the Punch Newspaper told us on August 1st, 2021 that our current President has spent a total of 201 days on foreign medical trips since his assumption of office seven years and seven months ago.(4) This figure will be updated when he returns from his present trip. In any other clime, the National Assembly would have amended the electoral laws to provide for independent medical examination for all Presidential Aspirants. It is not yet late for such an amendment to be made.
As editors, you are the authors of reforms on national values, ethics and conduct of aspirants and holders of public office. Your power is coterminous with the nature of your work. In a way you wield and sustain the conscience of the nation. You help, on the basis of your informed editorials to cultivate our values and standards for public office holders. I believe that if you conducted a careful inventory of properties of some past and present public office holders including civil servants and members of the judiciary, you would expose so much as to provoke an inquiry into how some of those assets were acquired.
To who much is given, much is expected. As editors in the public and private media you have a pivotal influence in the affairs of this country, you have the wherewithal to progressively reform our values. You can stop the disdain with which our children hold us, fordestroying their collective patrimony and heritage by acts of omission or commission. You can help to rebuild theirconfidence in our country. Already they are in a rage which can consume us if wedon’t act fast.
Remember Harold Macmillan’s words to the British in the wake of Nationalists movements in Africa. He said, on a visit to South Africa on February 3rd, 1960, in a speech to the South Africa Parliament, “We have seen the awakening of national consciousness in peoples who have for centuries lived in dependence upon some other powers… The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must accept it as a fact and our national policies must take account of it” (5)
I like to end this speech by quoting William Shakespare, in Julius Ceaser, where he said “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”
Nigerian editors, arise and defend our country
Arise and interrogate our politicians and businessmen.
Arise and define our politics
Hesitate and be defined by history
I thank you for your kind attention.
JOHN NNIA NWODO
OWERRI, IMO STATE NOVEMBER 2022