Nigeria Matters

Reuben Abati: The Perfect Depiction of the Plight of the Nigerian Journalist

When Reuben Abati decided to pitch his tent with the PDP-led government he once abused in his column and other pieces he wrote as a journalist, the blogosphere extensively abused the legendary journalist and columnist. I did too; but as a writer who knows the plight of the average Nigerian journalist, how can I blame the man for making the best decision for his career – both in the present and in the future?

I remember covering the activities of a governor in the South West region for a week. There were so many unbelievable wrongdoings that His Excellency perpetrated right in the eyes of the pen pushers. But they didn’t publish the news because they feared the long arms of the governor would make sure their careers resulted in an abrupt end.

This also reminded me of the last gubernatorial election I covered in another South Western state. During the political campaigns, the incumbent governor wielded so much power to the extent that the Executive Director of a federal government-owned media house had to confirm from His Excellency’s media crew that the governor would allow the media house to broadcast the political adverts submitted by his opponents.

The head of the media house might have learnt some lessons from the plight of the staff of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) who were beaten and severely injured by political thugs for announcing the results of the local government elections during the trouble-laden tenure of Senator Rasheed Ladoja in Oyo state.

In Nigeria, it is unfortunate that virtually every non-political public servant is abandoned and left on his or her own to survive. It is therefore not surprising that no journalist in Nigeria (you can quote me anywhere) can confidently challenge Nigerian politicians to ask the questions that Nigerians want answers to. The monthly Presidential Media Chat is a good example.

The programme alone is strong enough to help the president to perfectly connect with the plights of the average Nigerian. Instead, it has become a family meeting or a monthly episode of Tales By Moonlight. At times, it becomes an AY Comedy Show where the journalists laugh to the president’s jokes while nodding in total agreement to every statement made by the president – even when such are short of facts.

But they dare not challenge the president or they will suffer the serious and grievous consequences like the fate of the OGTV journalist who smiled at a story that wasn’t in favor of the incumbent administration in the state. She was served with a query, demoted and banned from appearing on the screen.

Who wants that treatment?

Who will blame the Nigerian journalist when he knows his family will suffer the consequences if he decides to really carry out his duties like his contemporaries working with the CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and other channels known for extraordinary journalism?

I can never forget the experience I had when I was to appear live on NTA AM Express. The journalist gave me a clear warning. According to her, I must not blame the government or say anything that could make her lose her job. I simply obliged because she’s a wife and mother with kids looking up to her for their daily bread. I will never forgive myself for jeopardizing that.

The Nigerian journalists are endangered species. They are poorly paid and are not assured of job and life security so they are playing it safe. Instead of carrying out investigative journalism to unveil the sponsors of the various crises in Nigeria, they prefer to shoot documentaries on the healing power of the honey. Instead of telling the president pointblank his various wrong steps, they’d rather nod in unison and laugh in one accord because they are sure to get a fat envelope when they act well.

Like our nation, Nigeria’s fourth estate lay in comatose much to the delight of politicians who have skeletons in their cupboards and can easily “deal with” any poor journalist like the one who once lived in my neighborhood and was notorious for his ancient once dark now light blue slim tie and oversized flowing shirts.

While the focus of this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations is on security, the Nigerian press’ dilemma isn’t just about security, it’s about freedom. Journalists here are oppressed and suppressed. They are stuffed right in the pockets of politicians and they dare not complain because the repercussion would be too grave to bear.

Like Reuben Abati, they patiently and assiduously go about their duties and lurk around for rare opportunities that would guarantee financial security and will give them appreciable freedom to do what they were taught in school about journalism.

But till such opportunity comes, an average Nigerian journalist would rather sit quietly in the fully air-conditioned shuttle bus provided by the governor for the press corps, cover the governor’s courtesy visits, ignore his shady deals and alcoholism which could mean more trouble that may add sand to his garri when His Excellency decides to flex executive muscles with the emaciated and famished pen pusher.

So, next time you feel like insulting Reuben Abati, remember to put yourself in his shoes and choose what you’ll do – keep annoying the government and bear the consequence, or join the government and enjoy eternal bliss.

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