The revitalisation of the Editors’ Forum offers media leaders an opportunity to query aspiring politicians, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Like the proverbial lizard that jumped down from the rooftop, President Muhammadu Buhari was full of praises for his seven years plus administration on Tuesday, awarding it full marks. “So, in relative terms of time and resources, this administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are supposed to say are not saying it. I don’t know why,” he said in Owerri during his one-day working visit to Imo State.
Buhari’s claim rested on his usual platitude about doing more with less. He told his audience that his administration had done a lot in the area of infrastructure development and security despite dwindling resources. These are essentially dubious claims that do not stand in the face of the facts of the nation’s realities.
For instance, he spoke as if in the 16 years preceding his ascension to power, oil sold for $100 per barrel. This is a lie. The President Olusegun Obasanjo administration did much of what it did with an oil price that hovered around $20 to $50 at an average daily production of 1,800 barrels per day. Even President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration which was massively vilified for perceived waste only enjoyed the windfall of $80 to $100 for a relative period of time.
Meanwhile, Buhari conveniently refused to tell his audience that his administration had operated within a period of the steady rise in oil prices in the last three years but had been unable to reap the booty because of bad political management of the Niger Delta and incompetence in the handling of the massive theft of the commodity that is the life wire of the nation.
Interestingly, Buhari spoke glowingly about his strides in securing the nation even when the organisers of the state visit carefully chose Tuesday for the trip, a clear acknowledgement of the Monday sit-at-home protest imposed on the entire South-east of the country for years by amorphous gun-wielding non-state actors. It happened, therefore, that Hope Uzodinma, the state governor, understood that Monday which ordinarily should be for serious work like project inauguration is a no-no for even the president of the Republic.
But that is not the substantive issue for discussion here. It is the president’s complaint that those who should be parroting his perceived achievements are mute. In his usual clumsy way of speaking, it was difficult to understand the object of his grievance. Given the awkwardness of his statement, a section of the media had taken the journalistic licence to interpret it to mean that he was saying his officials who had the mandate to project his administration had failed in their duties. Maybe.
It is, however, gratifying that the president this time around did not apprehend the media as the whipping boy of his acute communication failure. Faced with the widespread belief that the Buhari administration’s failure is a naked truth that has become a liability for the All Progressives Congress’ efforts in the upcoming electioneering for the 2023 presidential election, a spokesman of the party’s presidential campaign held the media responsible for what he called the dearth of information in the public space on Buhari’s achievements.
Reminded by the anchor of the television programme that there were multiple media platforms for the administration to have ventilated its works, the spokesman, who struggled to identify the Buhari legacies that he had mouthed severally, insisted that there was a media conspiracy to downplay the achievements of the outgoing government.
Actually, media scapegoating has been the past time of politicians and their spokesmen. It has been worse in the last seven years or so. If the politicians are not complaining about being underreported, they would bellyache about being misquoted or that critical reports on them have been sponsored. Yet what has been obvious is that there is either very little on the ground to be projected or the persons engaged to market them are incompetent. Both work together most of the time at the three tiers of government.
As the electioneering begins at the end of September, media scapegoating would increase but that would be futile for any serious politician that is intent on reaching the public with their programmes of action. A more sensible thing to do would be to engage communication experts that know the workings of the media and could leverage that to secure positive coverage.
Incidentally, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the umbrella body of over 600 editors spread across the nation, has created a platform tagged Editors’ Forum for politicians aspiring to leadership positions at various levels to showcase their policies and plans. According to its officials, the forum is a part of the guild’s efforts to contribute to the deepening of democracy in the country by assisting the public to interrogate the processes leading to the general election through regular engagements with its important stakeholders.
No doubt a good idea which helps to properly reposition the organisation as a focused group that has the capacity to interrogate important developments in the country, its format is quite refreshing as it takes the form of an interactive session between media leaders (managing directors and editors of major news outlets, including newspapers, broadcast and online) and the major electoral stakeholders, including leaders of the electoral management body, security agencies, and political parties and their candidates.
“The guild believes that the forum offers competing candidates an opportunity to provide media leaders with more knowledge and clarifications on their programmes and manifesto for the people,” the NGE said in a recent statement announcing the forum that is expected to feature the presidential and governorship candidates of leading political parties jostling for power.
While the presidential gladiators are billed for Abuja and Lagos, the governorship aspirants will present their plans at the regional headquarters in Ibadan, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Jos and Kano.
It is noteworthy that the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, will be setting the pace for the forum today in Lagos as he presents the electoral agency’s programmes and plans to engender a credible general election in 2023. It is hoped that other stakeholders will take advantage of the engagement opportunity to ventilate their plans for the badly troubled nation.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org