The Nigeria Guild of Editors met in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State to discuss journalism practice while setting agenda for National security. Write Okon Bassey
The conference was a short one. But, in the end each speaker who took their turn to speak to the audience had something to say. It was all for national security.
More than 250 Editors from various media organisations across the country recently abandoned the hot seat to attend a four day conference of “All Nigerian Editors” in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital from September 12th to 16th, 2012. It was the first time ever that the conference by the Nigerian Guild of Editors attracted such a high number of top Editors and personalities in one gathering.
Besides other things, perhaps they were moved by the theme of the conference “Nigerian Editor and National Security”. The Senate President, David Mark, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, governors, Minister of Information, Mr. Labaram Maku, federal and state lawmakers among others attended the conference.
Among the papers presented at the conference include, “Architecture of terror” by the Director-General, State Security Service (SSS), Mr. Ita Ekpeyong, “Cost of Insurgency” by Professor Etannibi Alemika, “Understanding anti-terror laws in Nigeria by Barrister Dele Adesina (SAN), and “Reporting right, reporting safe”, by Mallam Rufai Ibrahim.
There was also an executive interactive session with some invited governors who attended the conference including, Governors of Akwa Ibom, Delta and Plateau States, Godswill Akpabio, Emmaunal Uduaghan and Jonah Jang respectively, while the Governors of Rivers, Edo, Borno and Kano States sent in representatives. The conference interacted with the Governors on the topic, “Nigerian Editor and National Security: the executive perspective”. There was also a session for investiture of the prestigious Fellowship of the Guild on some Editors and elders as well as induction of new members into the association.
President Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye in a welcome remark said that the gathering was a big opportunity for the Editors to x-ray theme of the confab and re-focus the media for national development.
He said the choice of the theme for the conference was justifiable because the nation had been on global attention for the wrong reasons. “We have attracted attention as a nation not in giant strides in science and education, food security or economic emancipation. We have received global attention for insecurity, suicide bombings, sectarian terrorism which have in turn affected the economic well being of the citizens, so much so that our leaders had o engage the US Congress on whether a local insurgent group here should be granted the status of a Foreign Terrorist Organisation or not”.
He lamented the spate of killings by Boko Haram across the country, which has equally affected journalists and their works.
“They claimed that we do not understand their grievances but report their affairs with prejudice. They are wrong. It is a mistake to attack and destroy the medium of dialogue, which they will need ultimately to resolve their grievances.
There can never be justification for bombing media houses and killing journalists, no matter your grudges. You can say that we are all victims either through deaths, intimidation or economic contraction, occasioned by a climate of fear. Today, the main topic of national discourse is National Security. Even our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan publicly admitted that security concern has become a major distraction from his campaign promise on job creation.
In the executive session, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of River State called on journalists to see the profession as public trust. Amaechi, represented by his deputy, Mr Tele Ikuru, said journalism being a secret trust imposes a serious responsibility on the media professionals, editors and reporters alike in a collective effort to build a strong and virile nation.
Amaechi said, “Journalism is a public trust; media owners, especially editors who are the gatekeepers must see their roles as means of building our country.
“It is through reported of issues that is of interest to the development of our country that people will be able to imbibe the tenets and values that will drive development. This is applicable to every nation of the world; journalists must make sure that they report the issues that project the good image of the country.”
“In this sacred role responsibility and high ethical conduct becomes the only acceptable lowest denominator for media practitioners.
“So this may be the first thing for journalists to ponder upon; our nation belongs to all of us, statesmanship is a responsibility of all of us who hold public trust”.
Amaechi said that it was curious that sometimes media practitioners seem not to understand their place as mere custodians of the voice of the people and their right to know about government programmes.
“It is through the media that he people can hold public office holders accountable in the country.” He said.
While sharing the experience in security challenges in his state, Plateau State Governor, Mr. Jonah Jang said he inherited security challenges from his predecessor and in an attempt to tackle issues that caused the challenges there has been resistance from groups within and outside the state.
“Unfortunately, some of these groups tried to use the media to undermine our efforts. It is regrettable too that at the peak of these crises, some media normally provide outlets to groups and leaders of opposition parties to make highly provocative allegations against the government without same extending opportunity to government to respond to such allegations or to clarify issues raised by such people.
“These were done to suit the religious agenda, political programmes and ethnic interest of certain groups in Nigeria. Some of the media houses therefore have become mouthpieces and propaganda tools which are perpetually used against the policy or programme of the government.
Such actions have either set the citizens of Plateau State against one another or set them against the government” he said.
“I strongly believe that journalists must at all time resort to journalism that promotes peace and reconciliation in the face of the kind of threats to national peace these crises pose.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Dele Adesina, in his paper “Understanding Anti-Terror laws in Nigeria” noted that Nigeria’s Statute books do not have relevant provisions to tackle emerging security challenges. The legal luminary argued that even the 2011 Anti-terrorism Act did not provide a definition for the word “terror.” He noted that the country’s laws only provided for the punishment of offenders, but not remedy that could prevent crimes.
He stressed the urgent need to find out scientifically and intellectually, the cause of insecurity in the northern part of the country by the Boko Haram Islamic sect. The legal guru also urged journalists to go back to the era of investigative journalism as against the current trend of reportorial journalism.
“I believe it is the duty of the press to dig up information, thoroughly investigate it, publish their findings and focus the attention of the public to findings, in order to change the society for better. “There is no substitute for information in our quest for change. Once you lack information, you will lack motion.”
He called on security agencies to oblige the press with useful information because “every great destiny rides on the wheel of information’’.
He, however, cautioned that the issue of national security called for proper and careful handling of information by editors.
Reacting to the presentation, the Chairman of the session and Speaker, House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, wondered what could be the motive of Boko Haram insurgency. Tambuwal was represented in the session by the Deputy Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee, House of Representatives, Mr Victor Ogene. He advised the media to consider national interest first in their reporting and not jeopardise national security.
Also speaking, another discussant, Mr Richard Akinola, noted that there would always be conflict between the practice of journalism and the law, in regard to disclosure of information. According to him, national security and the media are on two parallel lines.
In his paper, “Cost of insurgency in Nigeria”, a University Don, Prof. Etannibi Alemika, urged media practitioners to use their professional discretion in the reporting issues relating to terrorism in the country. He said the media holds a strategic role in tackling insurgency and terrorism by ensuring that the reports does not weaken state capacity and counter-insurgency measures.
Alemika, who is a professor of Criminology and Sociology, University of Jos, further advocated for free flow of information between media practitioners and security agencies in the country.
“Trust and information flow between media practitioners and security agencies can help the media to maintain necessary balance between professional responsibility and patriotic duty”, he said.
According to him, causes of insurgency included poverty, economic exploitation, political oppression, failure in governance, religious fundamentalism and ethnic discrimination.
The don noted that Nigerian government had not developed comprehensive framework for the prevention and management of insurgency and terrorism in the country.
He advocated that the Nigerian state should create enabling environment for equitable distribution of opportunities in health, educational and social sectors. He also called for freedom of expression, unhindered exchange of views through a free and thriving media as well as strict adherence to the rule of law.
Commenting on the paper, the chairman of the session, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, noted that there was insensitivity on the part of government towards insurgency in Nigeria, wondering why there could be harmony among Christians and Moslems in Southern Nigeria but not in the North.
Ugochukwu, a former chairman, Board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), lamented that violence has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigeria’s culture.
At the end of the conference, the body of Editors resolved that security agencies should take more proactive steps to curtail the activities of Boko Haram insurgency in the North saying the Boko Haram crisis has impacted negatively on all Nigerians.
The Nigerian Editors listed other threats to national security to include, illegal oil bunkering, kidnapping, armed robbery, poverty, illiteracy, injustice, unemployment, religious intolerance, porous borders and proliferation of arms.
The NGE urged President Goodluck Jonathan and other elected officials to put in place extra measures to tackle these problems and give succour to live of citizens. In an eight point resolutions adopted at the end of the conference, the Editors listed steps to handle the problems to include the provision of the right security infrastructure that can help the various security agencies to keep ahead of criminal elements in the society.
The NGE stressed the need for openness and transparency with the rules of engagement in all anti-terror activities, while editors should ensure fairness, balance and accuracy in the presentation of stories.. The NGE canvassed a continuous engagement between the security agencies and he media on ways to tackle insecurity in the country.
The NGE underscored the agenda-setting role of the media and urged all editors to live up to the responsibility of their callings, especially at it concerns national security.
Equally too, the conference asked the Editors to continue to be in the vanguard of promoting national unity and integration and be wary of those who seek to use the media to canvas issues that divide the nation.
The participants decried the seeming absence of inter-governmental cooperation in delivery democracy dividends to the populace and urged all the three tiers of government to collaborate and dialogue on the best ways of meeting the demands of the public, preservation of law and order.