The Media as a catalyst for the realization of sustainable development

Professor Anya O. Anya

By Professor Anya O. Anya


I.    Prologue on the State of the nation

WE are living in tumultuous times when even the future of our nation is now at stake. We are surrounded by purveyors of insurrection as in Boko Haram in the North East of our country. In the North West, we have the depredation and violence perpetrated by bandits and terrorists over the length and breadth of the nation. North and South, East and West we are faced by the hit and run Fulani herdsmen perpetrating mindless murder, arson, rape, and sundry other acts of violence and rapine. In addition to all these, we have the usual acts of criminality such as armed robbery and kidnapping that seem to have become regular features of our lives in all parts of Nigeria, rural as well as urban. Insecurity writ large is now the order of the day.

When we look at the normal metrics that define the state of the nation and the usual indicators for good governance, the situation is frightening: unemployment, according to the Nigerian Bureau of statistics is now at 33.3% of the population. Inflation has been headed northwards in the last year, the current rate being 17.3%, a far cry from the single-digit we had a few years back. The exchange rate has been progressively sliding from one hundred and ninety naira to the dollar before the emergence of our current government to the nearly five hundred naira to the dollar as the current figures quoted by the CBN indicate.

What is more frightening is that we seem to be headed towards the possibility of our being drowned in debts, domestic as well as foreign. In the meantime, we seem to have developed an insatiable appetite for new loans. While our loan portfolio was less than ten trillion nairas in 2015, the latest figures quoted by the Debt Management Office is over thirty-seven trillion – in other words, we have borrowed an extra thirty trillion naira additional in the last 5-6 years. This is more than what we borrowed in the previous thirty years before the present government. If the affairs of a household is in a similar state, such a household would be considered as near bankruptcy.

In the political environment, we seem to be stuck with leaders who are prepared to watch the ship of state capsize so long as their privileges and appurtenances of office remain untouched, driven by their hunger for self-aggrandizement. Whether in the executive or legislative branch the level of insatiability in our wants beyond our needs is the same. We are stuck with leaders whose concern for the population seems non-existent. So where do we go from there? A few years ago the noise in the political environment was clueless. Now that we seem to have overwhelming evidence of what true cluelessness means we may have to find the appropriate term beyond cluelessness. What is frightening is that our current leaders after six years in office are still blaming the preceding governments for the horrendous situation on the security front, the economic front, and in the political front including the little matter of corruption. In spite of the recent assessments from our international friends – Transparency International, Amnesty International, the World Bank, and the IMF that seem to suggest that we have regressed on all fronts, some of our compatriots still maintain that we have never had it so good. We do not seem to have a true awareness of the size of the problems we face. The poverty level has been assessed at 60% of the population which translates to 100 million citizens and makes us the poverty capital of the world. Given that our population is growing at more than 3% and our GDP is stuck at 2% or less we are perpetually playing catch-up. What is clear is that we may be headed for irredeemable poverty. If we are to achieve fast-paced economic development, we cannot afford to have less than double-digit growth as the new normal. It is against the background of these less than cheering news of the state of our nation that we need to discuss the strategies for sustainable development and to construct the road map for the media to perform its national and patriotic duty in a nation under siege. But who is the media?

II.         The Media and the Society

The media generally is the term used for all in the profession to collect information about a given society and to collate, analyze and disseminate such information. Practitioners in this profession write for newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs which can be broadcast through various media-television, radio, and live streaming. In the process, they explain to us the events that impact peoples’ lives in different ways and share this collated or analyzed information in appropriate ways, forms, and styles. In the era of social media, the serious genre of information sharing may qualify to be categorized as part of the media. Journalism or the media is a critical institution in the modern world such that careless and irresponsible exploitation of the media can generate serious consequences for the stability, cohesion, and progress of the society. This is why in the British tradition journalism is often referred to as the fourth estate of the realm alongside the royalty, the parliament, and the judiciary. It is not surprising therefore that in serious societies there have emerged some values, traditions, and conventions that drive the practice of journalism. These have been codified in what is often referred to as the Seven Canons of Journalism. These are

·      Responsibility

·      Freedom of the Press

·      Independence

·      Sincerity, truthfulness, and accuracy

·      Impartiality

·      Fair play; and

·      Decency

From the above, it is clear that the practice of journalism is driven by inviolable ethical values. For example, a sense of responsibility enforces on the journalist the need to consider the impact of his/her work on public welfare because it is vital that we the consumers of the result of his/her work can put our trust in the accuracy and truthfulness of the journalist. An important canon is the freedom of the press and the society joins the journalist to defend this canon for the freedom of the journalists imposes on them the need NOT to betray our trust. The need for independence inheres from the fact that the ethical journalist must be insulated from the sources of his/her information, from the pressure of politics, and that of advertisers. This is why the foundation of all journalism must be anchored on sincerity, truthfulness, and accuracy. The need for impartiality enforces on the journalist the need for fair play and decency. It is indeed a tough call.

III.         The Challenge of Sustainable Development

It should be evident from the review of the current state of our nation that the most pressing and immediate danger is the ogre of poverty. It conduces to the pollution of the environment and the enhancement of corruption as the main order of business in society. The grave danger posed by this social cancer led the United Nations to undertake in 2015 a universal call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The organization recognized the need for sustainable development which it proceeded to define as “…the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services on which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where living conditions and resources are used to continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity of the environment…” Or as the Brundtland Report early in the new century put it as “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs”

The United Nations went on to encourage the nation-states in its membership to sign on to the 17 Sustainable Development goals under 5 themes (Attached). It recognized that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and that development must balance social, economic, political, and environmental issues to achieve the ends of sustainable development that eradicates poverty and pollution while promoting peace and prosperity. In other words, there is an inherent quality for all the factors conducive to sustainable development to form an interconnected matrix that drives the entire system.

IV.     The Current National Score Card

In the light of all that has been said, it is clear that Nigeria is now between the rock and the hard place. The search for solutions to our problems must start from a genuine acknowledgment of our present condition and where and how the rain started to beat us. Nigeria is a plural society: a multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic conglomeration of nations, kingdoms, republics, and other political formations are known to man including democratic, feudal, and authoritarian systems. The prime challenge of Nigeria is therefore the management of our diversities and the reconciliation of values and other cultural mores between the various social and political formations. A leader must be a visionary with a passion for consensus building, tolerance, patience, and commitment to what is right and just. So the quality of leadership is critical and the negotiating skills for consensus and reconciliation must be a driving force. The leader must have the capacity to connect with the people hence he must possess the capacity for compassion and empathy.

Given the plural nature of the Nigerian society, the most appropriate typology of leadership most suited to our circumstances has been designated in management terms as boundary-spanning leadership. It is a state of leadership that clearly defines and recognizes the characteristics and boundaries of the constituent national groups that make up the nation-state, including the social values and norms that drive each group. The leadership consciously proceeds to build bridges of understanding and cooperation across the various sub-groups through their shared values and interests. Under such circumstances, an elite rulership group that evinces a pan-national mindset with a consensual value system and code of ethics emerge. It is from this leadership elite that the first among equals emerges. It is the duty of the rulership elite as the overall leader to enforce discipline within the leadership group including the management and discipline of the overall leader. The prime leadership failure in Nigeria has been the inability to produce a bridge builder from and across the nations, kingdoms, republics and the acephalous societies that constitute the post-colonial Nigerian state.

It has been suggested by many opinion leaders in Nigeria that this nation has never been in our entire post-independence history including the period of the civil war as divided as we are currently. In their views, our national differences have been amplified rather than diminished in this period. Some have ascribed this extant situation to the governance style and “body language” of the current leader. They cite as a prime example the promotion of sectional interests over national interest when about 17 heads of the national security services are united only by religion and by geography.

Under such circumstances bridge building to span, the various national boundaries become an impossible task. The situation is made more onerous by the reality that leadership imposes a fiduciary responsibility on the leader which is difficult to discharge when and where there exists a trust deficit that creates a credibility problem. This can be compounded where there are questions as to capacity and inherent competence in the governance team. What is more, governance is facilitated when the leadership and the mass of the people share a common vision of the type, future, and character of the nation under construction. It is usual to state in the social contract which is usually embodied in the constitution of each nation that the security and welfare of the people is the prime objective and goal of government. Implicit in this stipulation of the constitution is the notion that the people have a role to play in their governance and there is a mechanism for constant consultation and participation of the people in the government of the society. The extant reality in Nigerian governance is the fact that there exists a widening chasm between the governing elite and the people who are governed. How to narrow or bridge this gap is the most urgent challenge of governance in present-day Nigeria. No government in Nigeria today can claim to be the people’s government. The existence of this chasm has compounded and complicated the security challenge that faces the nation today.

Apart from the issue of security another major challenge that faces governance in Nigeria today is the matter of the state of the economy. I had earlier reviewed the state of the economy including the fact that some economists are of the firm opinion that the Nigerian economy given the crushing loan stock is near bankruptcy. When as much as 60% of the national earnings are applied to servicing NOT repayment of debts, it is clear that the current avalanche of debts cannot be paid by the present generation of Nigerians. Our situation is compounded by the fact that it is not clear from the portfolio of debts to what income-generating programs the loans have been applied to. The situation is compounded by the fact that the present foundation of the economy conduces to increasing pauperization of the people leading to pervasive poverty rather than prosperity. Every economy rests on two pillars, namely, the macro-economy and the micro-economy. While the macro-economy deals with the fiscal and monetary policies of the government, the micro-economy deals with the productivity of the individual, the deployment of individual talents through an individual initiative to drive entrepreneurship and innovation to maximize value addition to products and services leading to greater prosperity and wealth creation. It is at the level of the micro-economy that the foundation for prosperity, progress and better quality of life is laid. It is also in the capacity of the micro-economy to optimize the productivity level in the economy lies the foundation of global competitiveness.

The competitive advantage of the nation given the fact that the population is growing at more than 3% while the GDP currently grows at about 2% or less suggests that the growth potential of the economy is tilted towards increasing poverty. It should be noted, however, that any economy that grows at less than 7.5% per annum cannot slide into the groove for fast-paced economic development. Empirical evidence from S.E. Asia in the heyday of the Asian tigers shows that all the successful economies experienced their economic breakthrough at the point where their economy achieved double-digit growth driven by export trade – South Korea, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia experienced this growing phenomenon. In the Nigerian situation, this suggests that given a population growth rate of more than 3%, Nigeria’s potential for accelerated growth can only be attained when the growth rate attains the cross-over point at 10.5% ( 3% + 7.5%). In other words, any plan that does not include the potential of double-digit growth is condemned to increasing poverty and the progressive immiseration of the people.  It seems clear then that over the past two decades our economic planners have not been driven by a passionate vision to take Nigeria through the exhilarating experience of explosive growth. Thus, we have been looking at our navel rather than looking forwards to see a more desirable future. Given the performance of the current government in the emerging economic environment, it is not easy to see the road to a desirable future given the fact that we have continued to dig when we should have been exploring how to fill the holes in our economic landscape.

Of the phalanx of problems which we have marshaled as the ‘troublers’ of Nigeria, the most dangerous is the chasm between the governors and the governed. The perceived distance restrains the people from seeing the government as their government – an institution over which they can claim ownership. A major consequence of this is that it creates two dangerous outcomes in governance. It generates the notion of them and us which can then be carried over into the life of the nation undermining the unity of purpose and the emergence of a cohesive and cooperating society that can share values, norms, and a common vision. This is very dangerous in a plural society. What is more, it fosters individualism to the point where the attitude of every man for himself/herself and God for us all predominates. The national goal of integration in a plural society is made even more difficult. Additionally, it generates the mindset that hankers after immediate rewards and gratification. The creative instinct that accepts deferred gratification is spurned and undervalued. So thrift and savings which are the foundation of capital formation and investments as well as the driver of wealth creation are ignored. The outcome is increased poverty and continuing social misery as the ultimate reward for poor leadership.

The chasm between the people and those who govern them is reflected in the character and predominant ideas that drive the political process. We find this reflected in the quality of the people recruited into the political class, the process of recruitment, and the ruling sentiments among the practitioners. The emphasis in discussions regarding the nation is often on preferments and privileges of the political class rather than the state of affairs in the nation, the issue of public welfare, or a consuming vision of the future. Week after week we are regaled with announcements on what contracts have been approved by the Federal Executive Council. Thus leadership and the affairs of the nation is consumed by transactional interest rather than the growth and development of the nation or the type of society the leaders are attempting to build. Consequently, corruption and an unwholesome code of behavior permeate all levels of the affairs of the nation beginning with the electoral process and the management of the political parties. Is it any wonder that the result of twenty years of democratic practice is the floundering ship of the state where violence and rebellion have become the emblems of governance and political engagement. In these circumstances what can be the role of the media in returning us to a national, rational, stable, and forward-looking nation that can be the pride of all of us and of Africa?

V.       The Media: Function and Social Change

Under normal circumstances, given the right vision, conditions, and policies, most societies will undergo social change. This is what often constitutes progress if the changes are in the positive direction. Given flawed leadership with incoherent objectives and goals, the fruit of misgovernance could bring social disharmony, economic depression, and political instability. It is in these circumstances that the role of the media becomes critical. It is usual to ascribe 9 key functions that drive social change in a desirable direction to the media. When the media fails to perform these functions the direction of change can result in social chaos, unwholesome politics, and economic dysfunction.

First of all it is the function of the media to provide news and information as well as to educate the public. Out of the media’s effort to educate the public, a dialogue could ensue as to the desired direction for the progress and good management of the society. Such national dialogues can result in a consensus with a clear definition of the needs of the society and how best to pursue the achievement of the most desirable objectives and goals. In a society where notions of egalitarianism, fairness, and justice predominate, this situation provides the impetus for the emergence of democratic systems often with an active and intellectual media as the midwife. A good example is the Federalist papers that provided the bedrock of ideas that forms the anchor for the American Constitution and their governance system. In these circumstances, the media performs the role of a watchdog.

Beyond the political issues, the media can be instrumental in determining the direction of social change particularly in matters of development such as the general issue of welfare and the quality of life of the mass of the people. In this regard, the media could engage the governing elite in articulating the needs of the people as well as act as an advocate of the interests of the people.

In this case, the media serves as the voice of the people. The inherent ability of the media to capture the attention of the people places the media in a strategic position not only to bring the people together but also to educate and entertain them. In the global arena, the media facilitates the interaction of political and democratic ideas in a manner that promotes harmonious international relations and promotes other relationships including the evolution of international law and diplomacy. It is in this atmosphere of healthy relations between nations that trade, industry, and economic diplomacy can flourish as indicated earlier. The emergence of the plethora of international organizations such as the United Nations and its cousins such as the World Bank, the IMF, the UNESCO, the WTO, etc. owes much to the journalists and media practitioners of earlier generations.

VI.    What Next?

In the light of all we have considered so far it is clear that the challenge before us is daunting and truly herculean. It is basic common sense to accept that those who created a problem cannot be the ones to find the solution. As the old saying goes you cannot continue to do the same things in the same way and expect different outcomes. It seems evident that the current political class is incapable of solving the problems that assail us presently. Neither the APC nor the PDP has the capacity to solve our current problems. We need to look elsewhere. We are in a national emergency that defies our current political capacities. Hence we need to search for and empanel a group of Nigerians beyond politics and beyond ethnicity but reflective and representative of all geopolitical zones. Such men and women exist in our national space particularly in the private sector. These are men and women who are not looking for office nor are they looking for riches. Their first line of duty is to mobilize Nigerians to take back responsibility for Nigeria by re-energizing the people to show interest in and to participate in the affairs of the nation especially regarding security and the search for new leadership. As it has been said, it is in times of flooding that communities need their tallest men and swimmers.

Over the last decade, there has been a constant and persisting clamor for restructuring. Opinions often differ as to the details of such restructuring. Over the last three decades, however, there have been a series of national conferences empaneled by different governments and empowered to proffer solutions to the national problems that have assailed us. There were such conferences under Abacha, under Obasanjo, and lastly under Jonathan. Each of these conferences provided new insights and new approaches to our problems which have been ignored even as these problems have festered.

Under Jonathan, there was a three-stage approach. Under Alfa Belgore former Chief Justice of Nigeria, there was a committee that looked at the report of the previous conferences, from Babangida, Abacha, and Obasanjo to establish what had been implemented, what changes have taken place in the succeeding period, and what remains to be done and their continuing relevance to the current situation. That report was followed by the empaneling of yet another committee under Senator Okurounmu whose duty was a simple one: to answer the question of whether Nigeria needs yet another conference/dialogue. The answer was positive. Hence the Federal Government under Jonathan convoked the National Conference in 2014 with former Chief Justice Kutigi as Chairman and Professor Bolaji Akinyemi as Deputy Chairman. I had the privilege to serve in all of these committees and in the conference as a delegate.

The Kutigi conference set a very high benchmark – every decision of the conference was duly accepted if it passed the threshold of 70% affirmation. Despite this exceedingly high threshold, more than 600 decisions were reached encompassing all areas of our national life. Some decisions needed administrative action, some needed to be implemented by enacting a new law. The third category was decisions that needed amendment of the constitution. In my view, if the decisions that dictated an amendment to the constitution were placed side by side with the relevant sections of the present constitution, what emerges is a comprehensive constitutional document that can serve, to all intents and purposes as a draft constitution which if placed before the Nigerian people will be a new constitution that would have passed the most important test by which it can be recognized as a constitution of civil affirmation as We the people? We cannot afford to go through the laborious route of another conference or as some have suggested a constituent assembly. We neither have the resources to afford another such journey. We do not need to rediscover the constitutional wheel a second time.

In addition, we need to explore, identify and infuse the elements of a new ethical framework in our polity. In other words, any new leadership elite that will emerge in Nigeria going forward must have a new mindset that embodies a new leadership ethos that is driven by the demands of service to the nation rather than the privileges and preferments that are decorated with naira and kobo. The lack of such a mindset and the undergirding ethos has been responsible for the pervading corruption and the absence of a unifying national purpose.

In undertaking these all-important national assignments for regeneration and rediscovery of the soul of the nation, the role of the media is critical as a watchdog, the voice of the people, and cheerleader for the new leadership that will emerge beyond ethnic, religious, and cultural diversities in the nation. In the new Nigeria which we envisage there will be incentives and rewards for high performance driven by merit and the pursuit of excellence. Equally, there will be immediate and firm sanctions for leaders who fail the ethical grundnorm – the national code of values and ethics. I am done. Thank you for your attention and patience. God bless us all and bless Nigeria.

**“The Media as a catalyst for the realization of sustainable development” being keynote address to the Imo State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists by Professor Anya O. Anya, Ph.D. (Cambridge) D.Sc. (Hon) D.Litt. (Hon) FAS, OFR, NNOM

– May 26, 2021 @ 15:30 GMT

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