The Honourable Minister of Information and National Orientation Mr Frank Nweke, now in the final lap of his second tour of duty as a cabinet minister takes up arms against the international media over their repeated negative reports about Nigeria, and also discuses his future plans post-2007 amongst other issues in this interview with Uche Nworah.
Q. Honourable Minister, I would like to start by focusing on the issue of Nigeria’s image, considering the two recent damning reports by the CNN and the BBC. What do you think about these reports and what should Nigeria do to prevent such negative reports in the future?
A. I didn’t see the BBC report but I heard about it, I did see the CNN report, I want to proceed by saying that in my personal capacity and in my capacity as the minister of information and national orientation, that we vehemently reject this attempt by the international media to profile Nigeria and to profile Nigerians as a criminal country, and a criminally minded people. But in saying this, I’m not saying that we do not have social challenges back home, but Nigeria is not the only country in the world with social challenges. We have made very strong representation to the US embassy in Nigeria; I have also made very strong representations to CNN International. Local Nigerian media have also risen up in arms against these international media, likewise many other Nigerians who have protested in various forms.
Frank Nweke, Jnr.
Q. You sound very angry, how does that make you feel as an individual being that we have been suffering from such negative reports since our independence despite the socio-economic reforms going on in Nigeria?
A. I feel very sad, very sad especially because the things they refer to are not peculiar to Nigeria. In my response to CNN, I did remind them that Nigerians were not the ones that ran down companies like Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen and many of such failed corporations. Also Nigerians were not part of the Whitewater scandal which was perpetrated by criminally minded Americans. In the interest of objectivity, they should profile these Americans as well, who are their countrymen that have carried out these massive frauds which had serious implications for global finance and economy. One does get the feeling that such reports are conscious efforts to malign our people, and to create the impression that we are less human. We reject such negative reports completely.
Q. You’ve made representations to the media concerned, are there also high level contacts between the Nigerian government and the governments of these countries aimed at getting these governments to try to influence their home media to desist from future negative and biased reporting of Nigeria and her people?
A. The truth is that you already know what the answer will be, I have not yet received a formal response from the US embassy in Nigeria, and although I’ve been away but maybe by the time I’m back in Nigeria I may receive the response. But I feel that they may probably say that these are private media agencies and therefore are free to do what they want to do, and so therein lies the dilemma, for me it is a profound example of the power of the media when it is deployed positively or negatively. The government therefore will have to double its efforts to develop our own media systems so as to contain the CNNs and BBCs. This is the only way we can tell our own story. CNN treats news relating to America more positively and sensitively because of American national interests; therefore the local Nigerian media should do the same. We have to tell our own story.
Q. This raises the issue of press freedom in Nigeria in the light of recent reports of the arrest and release of an AIT journalist by the State Security Service (SSS). Here you are propagating for Africans to develop their own media systems to challenge the international media but sometimes, those that have attempted do get knocks from the government.
A. I salute enterprise, I salute vision and also respect freedom of expression and the rest of them, however every individual and corporate organisation is expected to be responsible and to play within the rules. In that wise, I do not believe that state security should be compromised in the name of freedom of speech, I believe that lack of respect for law and order is the bane of our society. In the western world, people seat nice and cosy in comfortable environments, this is because there is a conscious effort by all, the citizens and the government to obey and observe these laws. Ours should not be any different.
Q. Your project which you are passionate about (the heart of Africa project) is something that if well managed can help forestall such negative reports about Nigeria in the western media. What role do you think Nigerian diasporas can play, how can they be a part of the project and what would you want them to do?
A. First of all, I must warn that although we have this image project going on, but it is not peculiar to Nigeria, there are few countries in the world today that are implementing one image project or the other. I must also warn that the issue of the management of the image of Nigeria is not a destination; it is an ongoing process, more like a journey. With the HOA project, we are trying to tell our story more positively, to re-orientate our people and get them to have self- belief and to dissociate and disengage themselves from attitudes and tendencies which have the potentials of eroding our national image. So whether it is Nigerians back home or in the diaspora, we all have a collective responsibility to watch the kind of things we do, to be responsible, to respect the laws of the country in which we live, to ensure that we earn an honest living and to ensure that we do not ‘bad mouth’ our country, because indeed part of the problem we have is that a lot of Nigerians do not see anything good in their country, and I think that such Nigerians are challenging God, and you know how religious our people are, nobody wants to be told that he or sheis challenging God, challenging God in the context of the fact that you are asking God why you were created in Nigeria, and if we believe that God is an omnipotent and omniscience God, then it means you are challenging his decisions. If He thought you should have been created in America, you would have been born in America, what it then means is that there is a burden of citizenship on you, if you believe your country is not the way it should be, what I expect you to do is to try and do things to effect changes in the country. The burden is on you – the Nigerian. The Chinese built China, The Indians are building India, Britain was built by Britons, America was built by Americans, and so Nigeria has to be built by Nigerians.