There seems to be dumbfounding ignorance about the implications of privileging foreign media organisations. Governance is about both substance and aesthetics. Have you ever seen David Cameron announcing a major British initiative on CNN, despite the closeness of Brits to Americans? Did you think the Canadian Prime Minister would choose to go on BBC rather than the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) right after winning an election? Leaders are also ambassadors of their country’s brands. Have you ever seen Queen Elizabeth on board Lufthansa?
Handlers of late President Umaru Yar’Adua chose the BBC for the ailing president’s first public utterance following his medical treatment in Saudi Arabia. The period was tortuous for Nigerians as the country waited for the return of the president in 2010. President Obasanjo’s government also privileged foreign media organisations. Obasanjo’s post-presidency (2009) interview on “Hardtalk” could be scarcely described as dignifying. Such was his embarrassment that he asked the interviewer — somewhat unfairly — if he would pose similar questions to a European leader. The interviewer, it should be stated, scarcely accorded him much space, including time to respond to questions.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s performance on CNN is now the stuff of legends. I lost several hours of sleep over both his performance in those interviews and his treatment by the interviewers. I am not sure which of the two caused me more anguish. President Buhari has also largely favoured foreign media organisations — a fact noted by Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist, in a June 1, 2015 article on Premium Times. I was stunned that the president agreed to be interviewed on foreign platforms before speaking with Nigerian journalists. The president’s media team blundered in that regard but there is always room for improvement.
New Senate president Bukola Saraki retweeted on June 17, 2015 a BBC Africa story about the controversial senators’ wardrobe allowance. This was interesting because Saraki was the main source in the story that he retweeted. Did Saraki somehow presuppose that the report of his comments by the BBC somehow added an additional layer of credibility to these?
A failure to think critically might have played a role in the idea of leaders of five West African countries traveling to France at the behest of François Hollande to discuss how to tackle Boko Haram… Such optics are genuinely worrisome.
Why do our leaders do that to themselves and fellow Nigerians? Why does it seem like our leaders despise making us proud of our country? Do they get the implications of their actions? What is surprising is that public relations professionals at the presidency, in particular, have always been drawn from the top echelon of Nigerian media. Many were once editors and/or highly respected columnists prior to their appointment. It is therefore bewildering that they somehow privilege their foreign counterparts over and above their Nigerian colleagues.
It makes no sense that Nigerians have to receive news about issues affecting their well-being from foreign media organisations. I have come to the conclusion that there are three underlying factors. There seems to be dumbfounding ignorance about the implications of privileging foreign media organisations. Governance is about both substance and aesthetics. Have you ever seen David Cameron announcing a major British initiative on CNN, despite the closeness of Brits to Americans? Did you think the Canadian Prime Minister would choose to go on BBC rather than the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) right after winning an election? Leaders are also ambassadors of their country’s brands. Have you ever seen Queen Elizabeth on board Lufthansa?
I believe it is also a reflection of the anti-intellectual tradition fostered by years of misrule. Governance in Nigeria can be a frantic and frenetic exercise. There seems to be little to no room for critical reflection and thought. Your day begins quite early with groups of people seeking contracts, jobs, cash, and miscellaneous favours. Most appointments rarely run as scheduled, therefore, you are guaranteed to have guests late into the night. I understand that some politicians are lucky to get up to four uninterrupted hours of sleep on a daily basis. My advice would be to reduce the hangers-on and have a moment every day to think. A failure to think critically might have played a role in the idea of leaders of five West African countries traveling to France at the behest of François Hollande to discuss how to tackle Boko Haram. I have no issues with Hollande’s intentions. The problem is that such a meeting never happened prior to Hollande’s initiative and somehow five African Heads of States reported to Paris. Such optics are genuinely worrisome.
These issues also speak to colonial mentality. Frantz Fanon’s understanding of the social-psychological implications of colonialism remains relevant. The subject produced by colonialism is often marked by desire for the coloniser, mimicry and disdain for the self. Our leaders would do well to understand that they are governing a sovereign state. President Jonathan’s comment that “if you steal $20 billion today, America will know” betrays this troubling mindset. First, leaders should not steal the people’s money and second, you are answerable to your people and not America.
Nigerians should be the epicentre of our national discussions rather than theatrical foreign media optics. Nigerians should be the first to know through Nigerian platforms. Other interested organisations are of course welcome to report such stories and do follow up interviews.
It appears our leaders have no trust in the system they run. That partly explains the personalisation of political power and administering the country on the now (in)famous “stomach infrastructure”. I am glad that we are now having public discussions about the significance of building strong institutions rather than strong men.
The BBC, CNN, al-Jazeera, Reuters, Associated Press and several others have a professional obligation to report news anywhere in the world. They use personal and professional ties to access various sources — as they should. However, no one in his or her right senses should confuse their interests with Nigeria’s national interests, and the well-being of Nigerians. I am not a conspiracy theorist and will never be. The point is that these media organisations do not have an inalienable right to be the first to know about major developments in Nigeria.
Followership of BBC Hausa Service is in a class of its own but why can’t a Nigerian organisation compete for the same vast audience? The average Nigerian does not necessary watch CNN, so what is the point of breaking Nigeria’s national news on such platforms? Does this somehow make our leaders feel good about themselves? Does speaking to foreign journalists constitute a kind of bragging right among our leaders?
A Nigerian governor once granted unqualified access to a relatively obscure documentary film maker from a Western country. Let us leave aside the question of whether or not he would have granted a Nigerian film maker such privilege. The documentary took the governor to the cleaners, beginning with the lavish breakfast on offer at the government house. Nobody told the filmmaker that Nigerian politicians liked to “chop fine” and that the meal was not part of the performance. The demeanour and characterisation of the governor in the documentary suggests that he did not understand the rudiments of what he got into. He was alarmingly ignorant. A sharp individual exploited his weakness: the limitation of exposure and scant knowledge of geopolitics. It was one of those moments of national shame.
Nigeria’s national issues are not about CNN, BBC or al-Jazeera. The heavens will not fall if they no longer receive preferential treatment. Some actors in these organisations are probably amused by the unearned privileges they receive from people who should know better. Nigerians should be the epicentre of our national discussions rather than theatrical foreign media optics. Nigerians should be the first to know through Nigerian platforms. Other interested organisations are of course welcome to report such stories and do follow up interviews.
Nigerian media organisations should fight for what is rightfully theirs. Your silence is deafening. I have never seen anyone of you on the front row of a White House press briefing. I urge Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina to address this issue. Do not treat your colleagues like “doormat” as Ahmad Salkida warns. Handlers of political office holders at all levels may also wish to take note. Do not break Nigerian national news on foreign platforms. Putting Nigeria first must begin with information dissemination through conscientious selection of Nigerian media platforms.
‘Tope Oriola is Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow. Twitter: @topeoriola