You only have to look at the profiles of the senators, chieftains of the ruling party, state governors, and appointed government officials, to get the picture. The same political jobbers, who ruled Nigeria with guns and decree, are now in public offices and now poised to consolidate their hold. It’s Army Arrangement, ala Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.. They knew military rule with guns was going to be obsolete, so what did they do? They re-organized themselves; they maintained a network and re-trained. With enough money to spare, they are now in power perverting the constitutional process and orchestrating the demise of democracy in Nigeria.
Organize, train, Network and then Act individually and collectively. Sure looks like a sound strategy. It should not be exclusive to the military. Citizens can also use the strategy. Can journalists help? I think so. Contemporary knowledge, and trends about the power and influence of the media, suggest that sound bytes and straight reporting, covert and overt moves to hurt democracy subvert a country’s constitution or threaten peace and stability in a country, should not be the only way journalists should act. Journalists in Nigeria, and colleagues abroad, can act differently to protect democracy.
Just like Nigerian media practitioners did in the past, they could again re-organize, re-train and network as they inform, educate and open up the public space for increased participation of the Nigerian people in resisting illiberal democracy. The news media in Nigeria could go beyond simply reporting as usual, and become more involved in civil society initiatives for building a more virile society. Acting differently might require doing more than the “objective” reporting of events, ideological shout-fests, or discussions framed in the classic, journalistic “either/or” frame.
The fixation with power in developing countries makes journalists’ endangered specie. Nigeria is no different. I should know! Meanwhile, journalists are also citizen and stakeholders who need to remain professional but act differently without making ourselves vulnerable to becoming causalities. First step might be to think differently. It might be to begin to see the media as a civic institution, which could be similarly effective in engaging citizens and strengthening civic- life. Politics and democracy as covered in the news has to be beyond the traditional view of supporters and oppositions of Obasanjo’s 3rd term agenda. Journalists could engage citizens on the implication of these agenda on the future of democracy in Nigeria.
Civic society members in Nigeria may also need to take on these strategies as they connect with one another and civic society members globally to build trust and the spirit of working together; to explore other non-violence inclusive ways of protecting democracy in Nigeria. Given the status of Nigeria in Africa, warnings, like the recent one from United States Intelligence Agency (CIA) may not be the only way the international community can act. The unfolding situation in Nigeria might be pointing to the need to study and fund initiatives in constructive engagement among citizens and between citizens and officials. Everybody knows that this is an essential ingredient of representative democracy. There might be fresh insights from knowing more about how citizen articulate or can further articulate their concerns and how government officials in “states” like Nigeria listen to them.
Meanwhile, a Nigerian High Court has ordered the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 constitution to desist from conducting the public hearing on proposed amendments to the constitution to seal the third term agenda. Will Obasanjo obey this court order? Recent history shows that his administration does not always obey court orders? But, why should he not act differently this time?
Will Nigeria break-up? I don’t think so. Although I usually take the words of Fani-Kayode with a pinch of salt, I tend to agree with him on two points in his latest CNN appearance. The first point is when he said: “It is part and parcel of democratic process for people to make choices” The second was when he said: “No matter what happens in future, Nigeria will not disintegrate”.
Except of course, we allow democracy to die in Nigeria. I’m sure Obasanjo himself does not want that.
I believe that an educated, engaged and deliberative citizenry is not only vital to a healthy democracy but also to a peaceful and vibrant community.
Democracy is on the slaughter slab again in Nigeria. What will you do?