By Francis Onyeukwu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Veteran and practising journalists who attended a colloquium held recently in Enugu, agreed that the media have great roles to play in the promotion of national cohesion and development.
The participants urged media practitioners to be objective and fearless in their reportage, in order to keep leaders on their toes.
They warned the government against any attempt to gag the media, stressing that government must provide comfortable and conducive environment for journalists to work.
They also stressed the need for media owners to improve the working conditions of media practitioners to enable them perform effectively and efficiently.
The colloquium, with the theme: “Media and National Integration in Nigeria,’’ was organised to mark the 50th birthday of Mr Magnus Eze, South-East Bureau Chief of Sun Newspapers.
Mr Rex Arum, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Enugu State Council, who spoke, said the event afforded members the opportunity to look inwards, and to appraise the contributions of journalists to national development.
Arum said that the theme of the colloquium was apt, adding that
there is no better time than now for the discourse.
He noted that Nigeria was passing through difficulties such as security, endemic incidents of corruption, threat to her unity, economic crisis etc, stressing that the media should stand tall to help pull the country out of the woods.
The council chairman, however, said that for the media to perform, it must be encouraged by the government and the stakeholders. “For the media to perform its professional responsibilities of informing, educating, entertaining, agenda setting and holding
government accountable, both government and the people must support
the media,’’Arum said.
A political Scientist, Dr Obiora Okonkwo, who spoke, noted that the media had been a key player in the promotion of national unity and cohesion.
He recalled the roles played by the media during the pre and post-independent periods.
Okonkwo, who is the Chairman, Dome Entertainment Ltd, Abuja, traced the history of the Nigeria media from 1859,
when Rev. Henry Townsend founded Iwe Irohin, Nigeria’s first newspaper.
Okonkwo noted that after the Nigerian Civil War, the media played critical roles in the re-unification and integration efforts of government.
He said with more than 300 ethnic groups, the country’s diversity should be an advantage, adding that the media should promote national unity and highlight areas of strength.
He said that the media should also promote and foster ethnic cooperation.
He said that Nigeria, a British colonial creation through the1914 amalgamation, where people with different languages and cultures were brought together, should have challenges of achieving national integration.
He, however, said that with patriotism, the challenges were not insurmountable.
“Major challenges that confront national integration are: primitive acquisition of wealth by the elite, insecurity, poverty, nepotism which results to appointments based on ethnic consideration and weak economy,’’ Okonkwo said.
According to him, the challenges have resulted to upsurge in crimes and agitations by militant ethnic groups, like Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) in the South-West, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South-East and Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the South-South.
Okonkwo urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the Ninth National Assembly to tackle issues of socio-economic, political and religion headlong as they remain key threats to national integration.
Okonkwo said for the media to help achieve national integration, it must not be a willing tool in the subversion of the country.
Dr Emeka Nwosu, a media consultant, who delivered a lecture entitled, “Issues in Media Ownership in the South-East in a Democratic Nigeria,’’ noted that some of the pioneer or early media practitioners came from the former Eastern Region.
He said that the media business have not really been able to thrive in the area, and mentioned scores of media outfits which had gone comatose.
He said for the media especially in the South-East to effectively contribute, people of the area must see a compelling need for investment in the media.
Chief Abia Onyike, former Commissioner of Information, in Ebonyi, who read the profile of Eze, described him as a thorough-breed media professional who is highly ethical in his
practice of journalism.
Onyike, a former Deputy National President of NUJ, says if media practitioners will stick to the rules of the game, and shun sensationalism in their reportage, and play more of the watchdog role, de-emphasise reports that divides the nation, things will work well.
Mrs Bianca Ojukwu, former Nigerian Ambassador to Spain, said she was elated by the quality of contributions.
“If the government and people of Nigeria should implement resolutions reached at the colloquium, there will be less emphasis on things that divide the nation.
“There is the urgent need for all and sundry to exercise caution on matters that promote ethno-religious cum political bigotry, in order to ensure that the country does not repeat the mistake that resulted to the 1967 Nigeria/Biafra Civil war,’’ she said.
Bianca, the wife of ex-Biafra leader Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
insisted that there was more to gain in a united Nigeria, rather than a fragmented country.
She urged the media to always promote events and issues that unite the nation. A veteran journalist, Sen. Anyim Ude, who spoke, said the media must be united if it must succeed in the fight against corruption and political ineptitude
Ude, former Director-General of Imo Broadcasting Corporation and Broadcasting Corporation of Abia, represented Ebonyi South Senatorial District between 2003 and 2007, at the National Assembly.
“Recently, a journalist published a report which a state government felt was offensive to it, the government sponsored thugs to beat up that journalist.
“When the news of the attack broke, the government decided to induce journalists in that state not to publish the news, but it took the courage of a News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) reporter and a human right activist to publish the report,’’ he said.
Ude who chaired the event, added that Nigerian journalists must be courageous if they must hold government accountable and unmask individuals that sponsor activities that support ethno-religious and political crisis. Eze who spoke thanked those who attended the occasion and assured that he would continue to uphold the ethics of the journalism profession.
In a communiqué issued after the colloquium, the participants stressed the need for the media to play its watchdog role without partisanship. They also said that the current security situation required more vigilance and strengthening of government’s institutions. The communiqué was signed by Mr Rex Arum, Chairman, NUJ, Enugu State Council and Mr Ugo Ezekiel of Centre for Media and Dialogue Initiative