Journalists are like intellectuals. Some are. Without journalists and the intellectual class, society may stagnate, regress, or even decay. Indeed, there are no societies in the modern era that has made progress without an honest and enterprising pool of journalists and an accompanying pool of intellectuals.
Every society needs men of conscience; every society needs truth-tellers; societies need men and women of courage and who are forthright in their thinking and in whatever advice, suggestions or recommendations they may proffer.
Every society needs its intellectual and journalism class mostly because you cannot entrust governance and the wellbeing of the people wholly to politicians, the elite and the bureaucrats as the vast majority of politicians, the elite and the bureaucrats are the scum of the earth. They are like the fabled vampires that suck blood and sap human energy.
We know the aforesaid to be true in Nigeria where governance is no longer about public service and caring for the people. Today, most go into public service in order to steal and to rape and to violate people’s rights. Crimes against humanity and against posterity are routinely committed by Nigerian politicians. In almost fifty years, there has been no hash deterrent against criminality and foolishness.
In such a country and under such circumstances, you cannot go to bed with both eyes closed. You cannot entrust the future of the country to their care. You cannot leave them to their own devices. To do so is to court danger and disaster. Frankly, nowhere on the face of the earth is one likely to find such an assemblage: a thoroughly despicable group of people.
Against such a gathering, society need men and women of courage; it needs men and women of substance to speak the truth and be the nation’s conscience. Society needs such men and women to shape and to direct national conversations, its policies and politics. Nigeria needs such men and women. Colonial and post-colonial Nigeria was awash with such men and women.
And so it was that for more than 50 years, the Nigerian intellectual class was the envy of the world. At home and abroad their voices and their writings and their services were acknowledged. Gradually however, most of its members became afflicted with several social diseases, and in no time succumbed to internal and external inducements. A few succumbed to threats and poverty; many forsake intellectual pursuits for political power.
As with their thinking-counterparts, Nigerian journalism also has a long history of service and excellence. For a while, some of the nation’s nationalists had their roots in the art and science of journalism or in the written world. Hence, post-independence Nigeria was home to some of the best and the brightest journalists and writers the world had to offer.
Several Nigerians media houses produced gadflies, intellectuals, and social critics of no mean feat. And indeed, many social critics, intellectuals and gadflies worked for or were associated with several media houses. They battled military regimes, fought against corruption and indiscipline, and championed the peoples’ rights. They also helped to shape national conversations vis-à-vis domestic and foreign policies.
Collectively, Nigerian journalists had their shortcomings. They had their weaknesses. Individually too, there were a few bad apples. That was to be expected. They are humans. The good news was that, collectively and individually and for the vast majority of the times, they were — individually and as a group — a credit to the nation and to their profession. They made us proud. That was then.
That was then. That was the time when the journalism profession meant something to the nation and to the people. That was the time when journalists practiced their craft the way it was meant to be practiced. In pursuant of their duties, they had several obligations and responsibilities which included reporting the truth, shinning light in dark places, and educating the people and the government. Their activities furthered the people’s wellbeing. That was then. The practice and the environment are different now.
The decline was gradual. But beginning in 1995 or thereabout, things took turn for the worse. The rot became apparent. True, a few valiant and courageous voices fought the Ibrahim Babangiga, and later, the Sani Abacha regime; but for the most part, the stench became widespread and unbearable in those years. And by the time Obasanjo came into office, “all hell was loose and the center could not hold.” Journalism went to the dogs!
The Nigerian journalism has been in the cesspool since. To say all practicing journalists are stained and tainted would not be correct. It is not correct. In fact, using a spiky-broad brush to pain them all would be insincerely and sinful. That is because in spite of the rotten state of the profession, there are a few good men and women who are dedicated to the idea and the ideals of the profession: journalists who toil day and night to the glory of their craft.
Majority of the reporters practicing in Nigeria today are pen-prostitutes. For a dollar, they’d sell or kill a story. For a dime, they’d write speeches for politicians. For a nickel, they’d fabricate stories. Now, if you think the reporters are slimy, well, you must know that some of the editors are truly disgraceful. A messed up bunch of people! Now, most of those who are likely to end up in the deepest part of the raging fire are members of the editorial board/columnists.
Now, take the editorial board members/columnists plus the publishers, then, you truly have the bad of the bad: the profession’s red-light prostitutes. You’ll feel nauseous once you know what this bunch is up to. They have “access” to power at all levels; they are filthy rich in filthy and unaccountable sort of way with choice lands and landed properties; they travel round the world and stay in preferred hotels. For this group of people, it is all about money and power — not journalism, and certainly not the people’s interest.
Now that intellectual pursuit is (mostly) a thing of the past and journalism too is deep in the gutter, what hope do the people have? What hope do we have against government’ abuse and excesses? Who will defend the people against foul winds blowing from all corners of the country? To whom do we leave the job of shaping public discourse and public policies? Without our intellectuals and our journalists, who is left to defend our national interest?
As it is, intellectual pursuit as a craft is in a state of despondency. The Fourth Estate is in shambles. The legislative branch is on a leash, and the executive branch is nothing but a pit of waste and corruption. As for the judiciary, well, every so often it exhibits flashes of brilliance. And that’s about it. Otherwise, it is mostly a chamber of tired and old hands.
In a democratic dispensation, journalism is the last hope of/for the nation. Therefore, the profession should clean itself up. It should look inward, self-question, retool itself and retrain its members. The current state of the professions is nothing but a disgrace. And it is pitiful.
If nothing is done to resuscitate, repair and reenergize this once glorious profession, one may not be able to tell the difference between it and street side prostitutes and carriers of social ills and malfeasance that roams Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.