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Friday, 12 September 2014

Akin Osuntokun: Most newspaper columnists are closet APC publicists

The conversation continues today from where we stopped penultimate Friday, which concluding paragraph invited this title as a subject matter on its own right. Before we proceed, I deem it obligatory to acknowledge a gaffe not a fatal one in my attribution of the overlapping identity of journalist/partisan (specifically doubling as Editor Spectator magazine and Member of the British Parliament) to Prime Minister David Cameron. The distinction goes to the charismatic Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who became the MP for Henley in 2001 and served as Editor of the Spectator from 1999 to 2005. Fittingly it was another Editor that of THISDAY, who drew my attention to the clanger.

It is not entirely a coincidence that I got the most sympathetic hearing and solidarity from fellow columnist Kayode Komolafe of THISDAY. Notwithstanding that socialism has become an endangered species, Komolafe has stubbornly refused to step down his ideology predicated on understanding and interpretation of Nigerian politics. And I know where he is coming from. He is coming from an epistemological tradition that actually prescribes committed socialist partisanship as the valid role of intellectual leadership in society; the tradition of Marxist scholars who are at once scientific and objective as they are normative and prescriptive.
If it is not considered too academically lumpy for newspaper readers to digest, let me go further to suggest that the contention over the proper role of writers in society hacks back to the argument between the Komolafe analytical school and the liberal conservative rival embodied in the perspective that value neutrality is of the essence in social science scholarship. According to the father of western sociology, Max Weber, Sociologists must establish value neutrality, a practice of remaining impartial, without bias or judgement, during the course of a study and in publishing results. Billy Dudley would further explore this theme in his inaugural lecture where he contended that intellectual scepticism is a political virtue.
They may not declare themselves as such but a content analysis of opinion writing in Nigeria today is likely to reveal that the preponderance of newspaper commentators are thinly disguised publicists and proponents of the political gospel according to Saint All Progressives Congress (APC).
I surmise that those who criticise me for being partisan are actually antagonistic not so much on account of being partisan but mostly for my choice of partisanship in this case of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and by extension President Goodluck Jonathan. And I marvel at the hypocrisy. They may not declare themselves as such but a content analysis of opinion writing in Nigeria today is likely to reveal that the preponderance of newspaper commentators are thinly disguised publicists and proponents of the political gospel according to Saint All Progressives Congress (APC).
If this reading is correct, then it portrays the closet APC partisan writers as lacking in charity and bereft of generosity if they would begrudge the PDP of its very narrow column of partisan advocates. More importantly it betrays the acute poverty of contemporary Nigeria media as a robust market place of ideas-especially within the context of multi-party democracy. The irony here is that in the performance of the role of purveyor of ideas, the Nigeria media might have fared better under the dispensation of military dictatorship.
One recalls with nostalgia the virtual transformation of the op-ed pages of major publications into a perennial social science seminar class style platform; and the cross pollination between town and gown. Uncle Sam of the sad Sam fame was the mentor in chief of the delightfully mischievous and exuberant budding intellectual rebels for whom the canal was an indispensable therapeutic retreat. We were equally apprised of Candido (of the New Nigeria newspaper) noted for his pithy turn of phrases who means what he says and says what he means. These days, Edwin Madunagu must be feeling extremely forlorn and boorishly uncontested on the pages of the Guardian.
There was on weekly display the refutation and validation of ideas and ideology; a constant celebration of the dialectical method-every idea poses an alternative, every tendency generates its contradiction; to every thesis is an antithesis. It is not exactly clear when this self-induced vacuum of dialectical enrichment commenced but it has rapidly evolved to the prevailing drift into intellectual inertia and complacency of the media-which in itself is symptomatic of the wider educational degradation Nigeria has suffered in the last three decades. One feeds on the other and vice versa.
The more extreme manifestation of this degeneration is in the folly of commentators like Dr. Jide Oluwajuyitan of the Nation newspaper who tragically doubles as a university lecturer. In criminal betrayal and violation of the intellectual avocation, this man went to the extent of manufacturing a quote and put it in my mouth to criticise me! I have since referred the case to the university authorities for possible sanction.
Gone were the days of the contest for intellectual space and attention between Marxist thinkers and the liberal western scholars; between establishment and anti-establishment intellectuals; the days of Bala Usman and the Bala brought up boys arrayed against the Ibrahim Tahir, Nuru Alkali, Jibril Aminu and Mahmud Tukur conservative school of thought; the era of the liberal conservative representative figures of Dudley, Bolaji Akinyemi, Jide Osuntokun versus the Ife leftocrats (apologies to Wole Soyinka) including Segun Osoba, Toye Olorode and Biodun Jeyifo.
And then there was the one man riot squad of Wole Soyinka whose inaugural lecture at Ife entitled The Critic and Society: Barthes, Leftocracy and Other Mythologies was and remains a reference point standing rebuke, response and anticipation of his socialist oriented critics who argue that Soyinka does not depict the class divide in his plays and would not let the oppressed triumph in their struggle.
The development of the Nigeria media has been shaped by three determinant factors. First is its origin and emergence as a nationalist instrument for waging the anti-colonial struggle and the realisation of the attainment of political independence from Britain. It was perhaps the sole instrument through which political activism and agitation against colonial rule was channelled; and a stint in journalism became adjunct to the political career of the emergent nationalist politicians. This trend was exemplified in the careers of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chiefs Ladoke Akintola and Anthony Enahoro.
Second was the regional variation in the modernisation/European acculturation of Nigeria which generally coincided with the north-south dichotomy. The head start of the south over the north in modernisation was accompanied by an ideological division in the temperament of the media. The liberal-progressive trademark of the southern media corresponded to the measured conservative assertiveness of the northern counterpart.
The expression of these opposing ideological positions by the media was on the one hand a reflection of the mood of the prevalent majority of each region; and a deliberate agenda setting by the political elite on another. In his characteristic forthrightness, the late Premier of the Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, captured the sentiment at the inauguration of the New Nigeria newspaper. He rationalised the necessity to have a northern regional paper (voice of the north) to the effect that it was futile to expect others to adequately tell your story as they would their own-given the logic of self-prioritisation.
The third factor was the protracted rule of military dictatorship. The unique contribution of this factor was the unconventional (dictatorship-specific) role of institutional opposition it foisted on the media. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. The absence of democracy and multi-party rule under military dictatorship created a vacuum for the role of political opposition, which the press, in varying degrees (unwittingly and inadvertently) came to fill.
Maybe there is even a fourth factor which is better understood by the effect it created the Lagos-Ibadan media establishment. It emerged as a sub division of the first and second factors and follows the logic of the socio-economic development of Nigeria. For the better part of the contemporary existence of Nigeria, Lagos has served the role of the social melting pot predicated on the key function of being the commercial and political capital.
Prior to its emergence as Nigerias pre-eminent metropolitan city, Lagos was a rambling Yoruba settlement whose coastal civilisation and international entre-pot identity was instrumental to the cosmopolitan frontrunner position of the Yoruba in Nigeria.
In turn, it became the beneficiary of being the choice resettlement location of returnee Yoruba in diaspora; and other pioneer educated Nigerian elite who were the avant-garde of Nigerias modernisation. In this category was the pioneer political elite who doubled as the media elite and fostered the emergence of Lagos as Nigerias dominant media cultural centre.The six years preceding the return to civil democratic rule in 1999 tasked the capacity of the Nigeria media beyond any challenge it has faced in its assumed role of institutional opposition to military dictatorship. By the measure of the experience of military rule in Nigeria, those six years constituted an aberration. In tandem with the escalation of the unprecedented ambition of General Sani Abacha towards a Mobutu Sese Seko type despotism, the media, typified by the Lagos-Ibadan press was undergoing a countervailing transformation into an insurrectionist mode.
This spectral snapshot represents, in essence, the media as inherited at the onset of the Fourth Republic in 1999, when multi-party democracy was reinstituted. The subsisting uninterrupted 15 years of civil democratic rule is unique in the respect that it is the longest duration of this variant of governance Nigeria has experienced.Correspondent to the above highlighted factors, columnists and other media practitioners have emerged to function as pan-African liberation fighters, social critics, ethno-regional protagonists, and political party intellectuals and advocates. These functions are commensurately typified in the careers of Dr. Azikiwe: (Pan Africanism) Dr. Tai Solarin and Prof. Soyinka: (social critic), New Nigeria, Tribune, Daily Trust and Champion newspapers: Ethno-regional protagonist) Prof. Sam Aluko and Hezekiah Oluwasanmi: (Party intellectuals and Advocates).
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