Last week, Kano State Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso said President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be more of the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) than of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, because of the promotional television jingles that according to him wrongly compare the President with other successful world leaders.
Here were Kwankwaso’s exact words as quoted by some newspapers: “I find it very insulting to see those who have failed in their primary assignments insulting us on NTA and other televisions, wearing uniform, comparing themselves, pretending to be first class leaders like Barack Obama, like Mandela and other leaders who have protected their people. Many of us are beginning to wonder whether we have Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces or Commander-in-Chief of NTA”.
Kwankwaso has been a fierce and frontline critic of the President ever since they formed the breakaway rebel governors group and his criticism has been at its peak in recent weeks and months. Some will easily dismiss his latest description of the President as political rhetoric, intense opposition or even hate. He may or may not have anything personal against the President, but it is on record that the two leaders have never been friends since 2011. The Kano State Governor’s frequent outbursts on the presidency may not be unconnected with his own presidential ambition which sources reveal that he would soon make public. Going by the President’s massive presence on NTA, Kwankwaso could not have chosen more appropriate words for his description.
Not only Jonathan, even Kwankwaso and all his counterparts are guilty of dominating and personalizing media organizations under their control. The only differences are that some dominate more than others while some make little room for access by opposition. A critical analysis of the ARTV (Kano State Government owned TV Station) shows that something that has to do with Governor Kwankwaso is being broadcasted at every one-hour and sometimes 30-minutes interval on the station. However, as opposed to Jonathan, Kwankwaso is a man of his words and a truly result-oriented leader who makes sure he is completely and responsibly in charge of anything that has to do with Kano State. In all his speeches and media jingles, the governor compares himself with no one but himself, probably due to his enormous achievements which he is very proud of or due to his alleged arrogance.
Keeping the security aspect as well as the deep and partisan politics out of Kwankwaso’s statement, one can be able to raise three fundamental issues out of what he said. Firstly, there is the need to properly define the role and mandate of a government-owned media in Nigeria and the extent to which it can be controlled and dominated by those in power. Secondly, there is need to determine how and what type of propaganda can be regarded as acceptable in politics and other public issues. Thirdly, there is need to determine whether the electoral act’s limitation on financial campaign expenses is actually practicable and enforceable.
One of the most annoying experiences in Nigeria nowadays is to tune-in to a State Government or Federal Government-owned radio or TV station. This is because most of what is been broadcasted is systematically partisan and occasionally one-sided in favour of those that are in power either at the federal level or at the various states. At times, their coverage is directly bias, shamelessly misjudging and unfortunately sycophantic. The situation with these government-owned media becomes worse during electioneering campaigns where they display their partisanship openly. They tend to give unlimited and obviously free access to those in power and various sources indicate that they directly block access by opposition citing anonymous orders from above or challenging the content of their adverts as contravening some bizarre laws as reasons. In most times, they indirectly block access to opposition through exorbitant advert rates. Therefore, the impression you get is that the NTA personally belongs to the president or a state-owned television belongs to the state governor. These media organizations belong to the government, the government belongs to the people and they should therefore do the work of the people.
This brings us to the second issue of the type of adverts or jingles to be accepted or rejected by the media. It is apparently very difficult for any media outfit, whether public or privately owned to reject paid adverts, unless of course if it has serious legal implications. But to be honest, some jingles are simply insulting on peoples’ sensibilities. Even an uneducated and less enlightened person will simply know that it is child’s play to try to compare President Jonathan with Nelson Mandela, but what about kids who may not know Mandela at all and had never read about him? This is grave injustice to Mandela and if I were part of his family, I can consider legal action. The presidency had claimed that they are not financing the pro-Jonathan groups who are sponsoring such adverts, but at least the political handlers of the President should orient these groups on how project him in public image and not to cause him embarrassment through unnecessary comparisms. Furthermore, some of these jingles are simply disseminating falsehood. You watch in state-government-owned stations that governors have performed wonders and miracles in their states but that is not the reality on ground. The most stupid thing with these media outfits is that they will be shamelessly telling you things that are completely contrary to what is on ground and they will give little or no opportunity to others to oppose it.
The last issue is the need to determine the source and legality of campaign funds, time and duration of campaigns and whether the electoral act’s limitation on financial campaign expenses is actually practicable and enforceable. Daily Trust Newspaper reported in April this year that pro-Jonathan groups were sponsoring expensive television jingles, newspaper advertisements and billboards in strategic locations, with messages on the need to re-elect the president in 2015, several months away from the time allowed by law for electioneering by INEC. According to the paper, questions had been raised previously on the source of funding for the groups, as well as the legality of their actions since the Presidency had clearly stated that it was not footing the bills. Estimates show that the amounts spent so far could run into billions of naira.
By law, political campaign is supposed to start not earlier than 90 days to an election and the presidential election is scheduled for February next year which is more than 150 days from now. However, INEC itself seems confused because when Daily Trust contacted the spokesman for INEC chairman Attahiru Jega, Mr. Kayode Idowu last month, he told them that the commission and the political parties were consulting to have a consensus on what exactly constitutes a political campaign. So, all this while; INEC itself does not know what constitutes a campaign and what does not?
One of the easiest and most effective ways to make our country great is to learn to respect simple rules and obey stated laws governing whatever activity. Furthermore, everything must be kept in its place. Just because something belongs to the government doesn’t mean the person in power can handle it the way he likes. I believe this is part of the reason why many Nigerians patronize foreign and private-owned media despite the fact that they have to pay for it as against government-owned which are free.
Politicians must realize that the best way to advertise and sell yourself is to live up to your leadership responsibilities and to perform creditably well. No amount of media jingles can change the reality that is on ground.
Amir Abdulazeez, the President of Foundation for Better Initiatives (FBI) can be reached through[email protected]