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Lai’s legacy

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By Lawal Ogienagbon

Some 30 years ago, the National Assembly of the shortlived Third Republic, which was a diarchical arrangement between the military and civilians, enacted the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act 1992. The law was passed with a gun virtually held to the lawmakers’ heads by the Babangida regime.

The people’s representatives, many of whom were beholden to ‘President’ Ibrahim Babangida, as he chose to call himself, had little or no choice but to pass the law. At the time, Babangida was under fire from the media for his elongated transition programme. He had been shifting the goal post of his exit date from office year after year.

It was obvious to the media and Nigerians, generally, that he was not ready to go. The media turned the heat on him. Tomes were written on him and his unending transition plan. That was how the ‘Go, IBB, go’ campaign was born. Irked by the development, he devised a plan to fight back. And the NPC law came into being. From inception, the intention of the law was never hidden – it was to muzzle the media. This is why the law did not work and may never work, no matter the guise under which it is being brought back now.

The NPC Act was born in deceit and ever since, it has been a child of deceit. It was conceived in the cloak of darkness; that is why till today, it has been in the bushel. It was not a candle lit to show the media the way, it came to serve the interest of Babangida and his cohorts. Having served that purpose, it was never referred to it again. Now, it has been exhumed by those who feel that the media is too harsh on President Muhammadu Buhari.

The media is looked upon kindly when it is not critical of government, but gets tarred when it starts asking critical questions. The media is not the problem of government. instead, the nation’s successive governments have always been the people’s problems. The media becomes the problem when it starts pointing out the government’s flaws.

That is when they go for laws like the NPC Act in order to silence the media as the people’s voice. Not too long ago, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was in the opposition. In fact, it led the opposition against the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It fought PDP with all its might.

APC enjoyed the support of the media which backed it to the hilt. The media did not do that because it loved APC more than PDP, it acted that way in its desire for good government. Since APC said then that it was fighting on behalf of the people for good government, it found an ally in the media. APC is in power today. But can it in good conscience say that it is providing good governance? Things it claimed that PDP got wrong, has the APC been able to put them right?

It is lucky because the PDP has not been that critical of it as it was of PDP in that party’s days in power. That PDP is not as vociferous as it should be does not mean that the media should not talk. The media is an agenda setter. It provokes discourse and through that, it helps the government too to gauge the people’s feeliIngs. It would be criminal for  the media to be silent over happenings in the country. As part of society, its role is to hold the government accountable.

The government may not like it; no government does anyway, but the media’s duty is to the people. As long as it serves the people, the media is on track. The media is not there to serve the government. It is there to report the government and its activities. Where the government does right, it says so, where the government falls below par, it equally records that. Any government that expects the media to sing its praise must do something to earn it.

It is easy to earn the media’s and the people’s trust. All that needs to be done is quality governance. The present govermnent had everything going on well for it from the outset. It came to power with the support of the media. The Jonathan administration was virtually hounded out of office by the media. The media did not do to spite PDP, it was only reflecting the wish of the people, who were crying that things were tough. It was this cry of the people that earned APC power in 2015.

Having seen what happened to PDP, the APC should have known what to expect if it does not do well. Its score card in the past six years is not impressive. The people whose cry yesterday helped it to power, are today wailing. They are not ‘wailing wailers’; they are genuinely lamenting the mistake they made in 2015 and 2019. Although, the government scores itself high, the reality on ground does not reflect that

Instead of doing something about this, it is talking about amending the NPC Act to reflect ‘current realities’ in the media! Do not laugh; this is a serious matter. When a sick person does not know that he needs a doctor, those around him are expected to come to his aid before his case gets worse. In order to help this government see itself in the mirror, the media got into trouble. It wants the media to see black and call it white or better still, see no evil, report no evil. The media does not work that way. The media, in the discharge of its job, does not pander to anybody’s whim.

It reports what it observes and what it is told after confirmation. The government’s spokesman, who played the same role for APC in its days in opposition, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, worked closely with the media those days. In fact, he was a darling of the media because of the way he did his job. He was always at the media’s beck and call. No hour was too late to meet with him as long as it concerns the policies of the then ruling party.

If PDP were still in power, it is certain that it would never have known rest from the arsenal of Lai Mohammed. When the shoe was on the other leg, it was game to take PDP to the cleaners, now that the shoe is on the leg of the APC government in which he holds a key position, it is no longer fair to criticise the government. What should the media do in a situation like this? Keep quiet in order not to offend the Lai Mohammeds, Femi Adesinas and Garba Shehus of this administration? If it was good to criticise the PDP government, why is it now an offence to do same to the Buhari administration?
 
Their biggest mistake is dusting up the NPC Act to stifle the media. A law that was meant for a specific purpose. Laws are not made to serve specific needs. This was the mistake that the IBB regime made. The NPC Act was and is still a vindictive law. Such laws do not work. That is why the NPC Act did not work.

Whether as NPC Act 1992 or NPC Act (as amended) of whatever year, if it ever comes to that, the law will return into oblivion after the life of this administration. Is that a law? Why waste time, energy and money on its amendment? As for Mohammed, he still has a chance to ponder over his role in the law’s resurrection. Is this the legacy he wants to leave behind? The choice is his.

.Ogienagbon is a Managing Editor in the Nation Newspaper

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