KAS Is Deepening Democracy, Press Freedom In Nigeria- Ogunyemi


Dr Tunji Ogunyemi, Head, Department of History, is a man of many parts; a historian, a journalist, lawyer, economist and registered advertising practitioner. He is also a consultant for the Germany-based Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), a civil society organisation promoting press freedom, good governance and democracy. He speaks with DAPO FALADE at the sideline of the three-day capacity building workshop for journalists and media houses, organised by KAS and held in Abuja from 13-15 December, 2020.

Journalists, media practitioners, trainers and other stakeholders converged at Abuja for a three-day capacity-building workshop organised by KAS. To what extent would you say the training would aid the practice of journalism in the country?

If you have noticed, since Sunday, 13 December, 2020, not less than 27 media organisations are represented in this capacity-building workshop, including the federal, state, publicly and privately-owned media houses. So, the opportunity of peer review among these professionals is critical to cross notes. The crossing of notes permits you to exchange and cross-fertilise ideas for improvement in your own media organisation.

The second opportunity is the intellectual intervention of ideas on the possibility of a state over-bearingness in the practice of journalism and the media and how to dodge it, which some lecturers will explain under the topic, Defamation; the crisis that may arise as a result of the practice of journalism is defamation and how to prevent it; the existing legal regimes, particularly the Criminal Code, Cap 28 Laws of Nigeria, 2004.

And finally, this capacity-building workshop for journalists is an exposee, first, of the Press and of the media generally in about the last 30 years and the opportunities that has been available to the Press in the task of building nations, particularly in this instance, nation-building in Nigeria. If anyone wants to say that the cup of the Press in Nigeria is half-empty, I, A. O. Ogunyemi, will say the cup of the Press in Nigeria is, actually, half-full. We have come a long way.

KAS, in the last few years, have been doing one thing or the other to aid the effective practice of journalism in the country, including the ongoing capacity-building workshop. How would you say these interventions have impacted on the profession?

Don’t forget, KAS is a civil society organisation essentially based in Germany but has its representation in 189 countries all over the world; ably represented in Africa, particularly in the Third World countries. It is an organisation named after Konrad Adenauer, a Chancellor of Germany after the Second World War. It is to promote three legacies: One, the idea of the Rule of Law; two, a vision that sees political participation and socialisation as critical to the creation of peace and, three, freedom for all under the aegis of either a social market economy or a democratic system.

Now, and I said this when I was giving my first lecture, that if there is any pillar that can be said to have, without doubt, contributed immeasurably to do the building of a culture of accountability, due process and democracy in Nigeria, it will be the Press, the civil society organisations and the Judiciary. The synergy between these three is unquantifiable in determining the bounds and boundaries of fundamental human rights in Nigeria; the protection of same and the expanding of a free market economy which is enunciated in the directive principles and objectives of state policies in the Nigerian Constitution, Chapter Two.

The Press has contributed immensely and therefore the capacity-building workshop organised by KAS is to create the synergy and expand that opportunity and get some skills that KAS has been able to assemble within Nigeria and outside of it to impact more in the practice of journalism and the Press generally.

So, it is like partnering in the field of public accountability, freedom as defined under a democratic system and international solidarity of humanities. Otherwise, why would Germans be here to spend their money to get our journalists trained?; to get even our legislators at the state level trained? And I have participated severally in the training of state legislators. There is hardly any state legislator in Nigeria that KAS has not trained in capacity-building. I have been a resource person with them in the last six years.

So, the legislature on one hand, the public service and there is even what we called SSR (Security Sector Reforms) which KAS is partnering to create a synergy and cooperation among the suppressive apparatuses of the country, that is, those who were skilled and those who have been chartered by the state to maintain or manage violence, the police, the military, the security service and the National Defence Intelligence. KAS is creating the synergy for cross-sector and inter-agency cooperation among them so that they work at cross-purposes in the guaranteeing of security in the Nigerian State.

The journalist is the third part of this duty that KAS has imposed upon itself; the legislature on one side, the security sector on one side and the media on one side. These are the abounding duty of KAS in Nigeria.

Given all the impediments along the way in the course of the journalist carrying out his duties and responsibilities, do you think press freedom is realisable?

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It is absolutely realisable. We know that the attenuating circumstances confronting the Press and the practice of journalism in Nigeria are basically five but these are not insurmountable. Evidence have shown in the last years that majority of these circumstances have been surmounted.

Number one, the practice of the Press and the establishment of the media is highly capital-intensive, especially when you are going into television.

Two, there is the menace of untrained hands entering into the profession and making it a pot-pouri of anything goes, in the name of bloggers and the social media. So, journalism has almost become largely unregulated; nothing destroys a profession more than a lack of regulation. There must be a capacity to demonstrate technical skills and to determine who goes in and comes out of the profession.

What you just said runs contradictory to the assertion by prominent media practitioners and publishers that you don’t really need to get a certificate in journalism before becoming a good journalist…

That is a different way of saying it. My own position is that you need a special training; whether that training is certificates is a different thing entirely. It is either you go through the formal training in the Institute of Journalism or you go through the masters of the game; you learn at the feet of the masters. One does not cancel out the other and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

You can get both, yes, and you can get either of them and still be regarded as a trained journalist. What is important is for you to acquire the necessary skills; you must get the skills and there must be a tollgate to determine who comes in and who goes out. This is extremely important.

If there is anything that has helped the legal profession, the medical profession and the profession of engineers, which is certificated by the Council of Engineers in Nigeria (COREN), more than anything, it is the regulations provided by the apex bodies regulating them. The Council of Legal Education regulates legal practice. In that way, if he or she who claims to be a journalist, for example, flouts the basic etiquettes of journalism, you can call him or her to order and either sanction him or, if he or she has done well, you reward him or her.

The third is the issue that has to do with the political environment. A business or trading is as good in terms of either succeeding or failing as the political environment into which it is born. The political environment of journalism in Afghanistan is not comparable to that of Nigeria; that of Afghanistan is like going to war. You can even be shot there, if you are a woman practising journalism. I’m Afghanistan, you should have been in your husband’s house. In fact, one has just been recently shot dead.

The Nigerian environment, in the last 21 years, has permitted the practice of journalism and, generally speaking, the Press, the breathing space for the cross-fertilisation of ideas across intellectual fields and the practice of journalism such that what we have had is success. The practice of journalism has been a success in the last 21 years.

Given the preponderance of seasoned journalists now in the social media space, how do you see the traditional media in the practice of journalism in the country in the next 10 years?

The way I see this, it is going to be, if we are not very careful with the idea of creating a formalised way of acquiring skills and demanding for accountability in the practice and activities of the Press in Nigeria, it is going to be a pot-pouri or a kind of all-comers affair, and it is not going to be good enough.

Online journalism may expand the bounds of the Press; it may even lead to an expansion of the field and the sphere of influence of the media. But it may do an incalculable damage to media professionals such that any person can simply claim to be a practising journalist. Politicians can enter into the field and pollute it; unskilled people will come in to pollute it. Ultimately, it will injure professionalism and downgrade the ethics and etiquettes of the profession.

To prevent the dark scenario you painted now, many are advocating that core professionals should embrace the tide of the moment by going fully into online media practice to stop the quacks from taking over the space. Do you subscribe to such an idea?

I will subscribe only in the way of saying that core professionals should go into that field, but not to replace the traditional method. It should only be a stop-gap to show to the whole world how it can be better done; to let the world see the quacks as different from the professionals.

This is because the online learning that we have almost technically embraced- zoom, Skype and others- for our children now, even in secondary schools can never be a replacement to one-on-one direct teaching in the classroom. This is because it will affect the pyscho motor; the affective and the cognitive departments of learning. Even, parents are now advocating the return of their children to the classroom. Ditto for the Press.

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Internet can be effective in terms of speed, timeliness, easy accessibility and deadline but it can never ever replace the idea that the Press must show social responsibility. This is because if you delete responsibility and accountability from the Press, you will make them subversive of the progressive and stability of the State which online media is actually advocating.

The moment the online media takes over, the idea of bringing to book, the idea of accountability and the idea of responsibility which defined the bounds of ethics and etiquettes are doomed. Those values would be devalued by the reason of lack of accountability.

But don’t you think that a core professional who has fully imbibed the ethics and etiquettes of media practice can still prevent the dangers you pointed out, even while practising as an online journalist?

He can do it only to himself; he can police himself and he can censor himself. Censorship is allowed, even in the traditional physical practice. But how can he do that over those he has no control? And they are larger in number than himself. That core professional who is doing ethical practice will be crowded over out of the space by the quacks and I tell you, quacks have no respect for any ethics. That is my fear. And those of you who have invested time, space, energy and, at times, pains in this profession, it is time for you to stand up and ensure that quacks do not take over.

Even in medical practice and even in legal practice, I will give an instance where we now have all kind of cases of a CD now; it is called front-loading; just at the press of a bottom, a computer will tell you how to go and argue in the court. Do you think that can replace the physical appearance before the judge? Of course, not. It will affect three things: One, we now have lawyers who can hardly write a single correct sentence. If you see about two or three paragraphs, you will need about 20 minutes to understand the message they are trying to pass across; two, it could also lead to the problem of copyright. In fact, you hardly could you are the creator of anything any longer. Plagiarism and all manners of infringement will come. The third one is that it will create a situation of what is called the ungoverned spaces.

We are not saying that regulation will also not have its own the danger of prevent a democratised system. But it will do more good when you look at the circumstances of a developing country such as ours which still need some kind of guidance in its development trajectories. So, yes it is good to embrace the social media to do what is right, but how will they be able to bring to book those who are outside of the traditional media?

With a smart phone, now you could easily begin to claim to be a journalist. But I disagree absolutely. He who is a journalist is he who has acquired the skills. How he gets the skills is not my business; he can get it either through formal education or at the feet of the masters, having been indentured in a media house, learning the theoreticals and having been in practice for not less than three years. That is when you can call him a journalist.

There must be a bar line; in Law, there is a minimum irreducible number of years you must have spent before you can become a Senior Advocate; there is a minimum irreducible number of years you must have spent before you can seat on the Bench. You cannot just have your Law Degree, sit in your home, baking bread and you now claim to be a lawyer; you are not.

How did you see the media and the journalist as being effective in nation-building, using the Nigerian case as example whereby hardwork, sincerity, morality and ethical respect seem to have a taken a flight?

Every journalist is a product of the society that he lives in and he is either affected or impacted by this. Secondly, it is actually because journalists have been doing well, that is why we have actually not gone out of relevance. The fact that you talked about the devaluation of our ethics is because some journalists have not been more vociferous, or, if you like, more reckless, technically, in doing that.

This is because the functions of the media and the journalists are clearly defined and are known in the Law: One, accountability of the government to the governed; two, expression of the views of the governed to the government; three, ensuring that they (the media and journalists) interface between the oppressor and the oppressed such that the feelings and pains of the oppression is given vent and shown to the world and the oppressor is called out to either account or change or mend his ways. All these are there; Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered) specifically mentions the Press and then says Radio and goes to say Television.

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Now, it will be very uncharitable to say the Press has not been doing this because they have been doing it. But it may be right of you to say that they have not been doing enough. But even now depends on you to calculate what you mean by saying they have not been doing enough; it is objective.

In my own take, the Press have been doing fairly well; I will score the Nigerian Press six out of 10 marks. I know for sure that the value system in our country has gone down, such that even the Press is affected now…the issues of Brown Envelope, lack of objectivity, lack of skills, pandering to political consideration or to the consideration of your employer and the founder of your media house. You could see that some television stations that we regarded as the best in Nigeria before are now pandering towards the government because they wanted to play safe. This is so clear. You will that some people who are highly credible have ceased to be appearing on such television stations because they don’t want to be party to that kind of deliberate evil silence.

But the crux of the matter is that, apart from the fact that the medium is the message, it is not too wrong to say that the Press has been able to account for certain things in the Nigerian social millieu, such that the government is aware that it cannot just ride rough shod. In fact, if there is any institution that the Nigerian government is afraid of, or is serving as a filter for impunity and recklessness, it is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Press and also some very missionary judges that don’t care, but they go for legal advocacy on the Bench. The government is wary of these sets of people. So, the Press is preventing impunity on a large scale. Look, the Nigerian Press has been doing that.

You are a man of many parts- a historian, journalist, lawyer, an economist, a registered advertising practitioner and a lecturer by occupation. Did you deliberately planned this when you were growing up or you were just flowing with the tides of the time?

It is just a trajectory of human life. Anything you see any man doing is just a function of the place he has found himself within the scene and the act of history. The truth of the matter is that I had my first degree in History and when I wanted to do my PhD in History, I did it in Economic History, specialising in Budgeting. That is why I have investigated the Nigerian budgeting since 1954 up to 1999; and my PhD thesis is so titled.

But when I was doing the PhD, my supervisor realised that I will not able to do it effectively until I get good training in the Faculty of Law because budgeting is Law. I have discovered the trilogy of the budget: it is Economics; it is Law and it is Politics. So, he said I should go and audit some courses in Year Three, Four and Five in the Faculty of Law. And I did.

One year after, Professor E. A. Lawal, a professor of Economic-History, said I will also need another one or two years in the Faculty of Law to get trained in Law of Public Finance, Sections 18 to 84; Sections 162 to 163 of the Nigerian Constitution. I also went there before he said we can now begin to talk and I now started the PhD freshly. So, you can imagine four years in another faculties; it took me eight years to do the PhD.

I now realised the need that I have to do all these. But more often than not, I just applied and the university said, ‘you can’t come in the first degree. We will take you in Year Two’. By that time, those who were teaching were actually my colleagues in the university. So, I was at the University of Ibadan where I did my Law programme and my masters and PhD. So, I have two PhD degrees; in History and in Law.

Between 1993 and 1995, I was trained at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Lagos, under the watchful eyes of Chief Dayo Duyile. There, I did a post-graduate programme in Advertising. So, I am a registered practitioner with the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON). When I realised that this may not be strong enough as an analyst, I quickly did a Master of Science in Economics.

How easy did you find it to combine all these academic works?

It was not easy because when I wanted to do Law and I was already a Graduate Assistant with the University of Lagos, I resigned to pursue the course. It was like an economic suicide but through my invitations here and there from those who already know what one was capable of…adjunct and part-time lectureships in different universities…I was able to survive.

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