Posted by Boniface Okoro, Umuahia | 19 August 2016 | 1,586 times
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has charged journalists to continue to work for the unity and cohesion of Nigeria.
Obasanjo gave the charge in a keynote address he delivered in Abeokuta, Ogun State, at the maiden Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) National Media Summit. He urged journalists to shun anything that could lead to the disintegration of the country but be in the vanguard to educate and mobilise the citizenry for national development.
Like Onasanjo, Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, also enjoined journalists to continue to uphold and promote Nigeria’s unity in the discharge of their professional duties.
Obasanjo maintained that given the threat to the unity of Nigeria, journalists should display objectivity in their reportage of conflicts and should act as mediators, not as instigators. He said that the press should act as adhesives for holding Nigeria together, as opposed to being wedges for separation.
“Our strength as a nation lies in our unity and national cohesion and I want to entreat you to begin to preach the gospel of unity in diversity and unity of purpose and cohesion,” said the former president who was represented by Prof. Peter Okebukola, a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission.
Said Obasanjo: “At no time in our history, except probably during the civil war has Nigeria been so fractured in the feeling of oneness and belongingness by the citizenry. In the last four months, we have an average of 20 hotspots across the country with huge potentials for national disintegration.
“Among the top three hotspots are the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers in the South South, Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and herdsmen/farmers clashes across all the geo-political zones of the country.”
The elder statesman wondered why the press, which fought for Nigeria’s independence and against oppressive regimes were fast becoming tools for destroying the country through its reports.
“I should not fail to acknowledge the invaluable role that the Nigerian press has played in the course of Nigeria’s chequered political history. Not only did journalists actively participate in the struggle for independence in 1960, they have, by and large, provided leadership and support for national struggle against authoritarian regimes. Indeed, the 1999 transition to democracy was a product of some of these selfless efforts of patriotic Nigerians with journalists providing the space and some leadership.
“The puzzle or conundrum which keeps popping up in my mind is if the Nigerian press has been active in promoting Nigerian unity over the years, why should it now be part of national disintegration.”
He noted that national cohesion was the process of constructing an integrated citizenry with the sense of belonging among members of different groups, adding that it could only be achieved through regulation and reconciliation of differences and competing interests and demands.
The purpose of national cohesion and integration, he explained, “is to create an all-embracing national community, rendering irrelevant or at least, unimportant, any loyalty to identities such as ethnicity, race, religion, region, class.”
He listed essential tools and processes for achieving national cohesion to include good governance, unity, equality, democracy, respect for human rights and human dignity, social justice and rule of law.
Obasanjo went further to outline what the press should do to foster national cohesion.
“The Nigerian press should play an important role in promoting various structures that enhance integration. In a nation like Nigeria with tens of hundreds of ethnic groups and where the institutions for societal control are weak, we need an objective, fair and fearless media so as to checkmate the excesses of government or those in authority.
“Nigeria needs a press that will not promote sectionalism, tribalism and nepotism. Nigerians need to understand the process of governance, the role of security agents, the rule of law and the role of the legislature and the judiciary,” he remarked.
“The media should support the efforts of government in fighting internal security challenges. The press should mobilise the masses to strengthen the democratic process and play a crucial role in promoting the culture of tolerance, non-violence and mutual co-existence. The press should educate the masses about the ill effects of social evils and injustice.
“In reporting daily occurrences, including the outbreak of conflicts, the media, despite the ownership, are generally expected to display a real sense of objectivity. They must ensure balance and fairness in their reports. This implies that their report must be free from bias. Stories must never be one-sided. These efforts are what we refer to as public-sensitive reporting,” the former President added.
“The media which has been entrusted in your hands, is a formidable tool for national cohesion if well used. If it is used negatively, it has the capacity to destroy the nation and cause mayhem of unfathomable proportions. The choice is yours to make and to unmake.
“It is my hope that the Nigerian press will continue to be on the good side of the Nigerian history of unity, cohesion, integration and progress,” he said.
Declaring the summit open, Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, noted that the summit which has the theme, ‘The Media and National Unity’, was apt as it was coming at a time Nigeria was facing security challenges including sectional agitations, sectarian unrest, economic sabotage in different forms which “have continued to ask questions about our national unity and federalism.”
The governor said that Ogun State has paid its dues and would not be party to disintegration of the country.
“For us as a state, we cannot but be supportive of all genuine intentions and all platforms for a veritable cross-fertilisation of ideas that will bring about more proactive and improved recommendations to strengthen Nigeria’s unity.
“Ogun State, like some other states, has invested so much in people and resources for the development of Nigeria. This is true in the light of roles and contributions of sons and daughters of Ogun State in project Nigeria,” he said.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Tunji Bello, enjoined journalists to place national unity and security above personal considerations in line with the ethics and ethos of their profession and strive to work for national unity instead of promoting ethnicity.
Also, the Kwara State governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, represented by his Commissioner for Information, Mahmood Ajade, agreed that “the conference has come at a critical moment in Nigeria when we need the media to live up to their social responsibilities” by setting the agenda for governance and reporting without bias.
President of NUJ, Comrade Waheed Odusile, said the summit was convened to enable the journalists discuss various national events, particularly, the threat to Nigeria's unity which the media has fought hard to protect.
“The fabrics of our nation are being attacked and the Nigerian media cannot just afford to keep quiet and watch as agents of destruction attempt daily to tear our country apart,” Odusile said.
•Photo shows Ex-President Obasanjo.
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