This Exactly 10 years ago, I received that important phone call which enabled me to undertake my first trip to the United States of America. The American Embassy in Abuja had opened a window for editors of major media organizations in Nigeria to observe and report on the American elections taking place in November of that year, and as editor of the headline flagship of a major newspaper at the time, I was one of those approached and offered the privilege.
It was my first experience with American society. And I was impressed with what I saw. Perhaps to avoid being perceived as influencing our editorial judgment, the United States Embassy waived payment of visa fees for us, but left us the responsibility for airfare, accommodation hotel and other expenses.
It was my last involvement with the US government, through the embassy, until two years later when my visa expired and I wanted to attend the 2015 edition. of the World News Congress, organized by the World Editors Forum and the World Association of Newspapers. and News Publishers, of which I am a member. I applied for visa renewal through the normal process and was treated with the utmost respect and courtesy like all other Nigerian applicants.
Having obtained the visa for two additional years, I was able to attend the World News Congress in Washington DC. Some of us had the privilege of visiting the White Hiuse, the seat of American power, as well as the Pentagon, the headquarters building of the US Department of Defense built during World War II on an expedited schedule.
When that visa expired two years later, I deliberately decided not to opt for a renewal as it coincided with Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election that year. With the kind of negative feelings he was vomiting, I felt, for the first time, that I couldn’t be safe in the country that is the world leader in democracy and human freedom. It was such a relief for the global community when Trump was defeated by incumbent President Joe Biden, although Trump unfortunately succeeded in dividing American society, returning small aspects of it to the dark age of discrimination. racial. Of course, Americans are resilient, and we are optimistic that all of this will be completely reversed, to the benefit of humanity.
There are publishers who would never have been able to attend the U.S. government-funded public meeting and capacity-building workshop organized by the Nigerian Publishers Guild, an organization I served as Deputy president, if President Trump was still in power. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has threatened to destroy his US green card if Trump wins the presidential election. Such was the level of disgust for the man whose enmity for the Third Word was never concealed. But with a new sheriff in town, a Biden busy embracing the world and restoring America’s leadership in the global community, people are now proud to associate themselves with this great country.
It is to the credit of the current exco of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, under the able leadership of Mustapha Isah, that America has found it useful to enrich the capacity of Nigerian editors, with a $200,000 grant. And to bring learning right to publishers’ doorsteps, the guild has structured the workshop into six geopolitical zones of the country. Although I operate from Abuja, my name was among the publishers in the North West area, taking place in the commercial city of Kano, obviously because Kano is where I started my practice of journalism there. more than three decades. I still run a press office there.
This is a capacity-building workshop that challenges any editor who thinks they know it all. The choice of resource persons is excellent. From presenter to presenter, new areas of media literacy were opened up and widely explored, in a refreshing way.
In Kano, you can discern the significance of any event when attended by the Emir himself. Such was the significance of the workshop which Emir Aminu Ado Bayero not only attended in person but also went back in time to recount all about how he graduated with honors in Mass Communication and his brief foray into the world of journalism. The Emir instructed journalists to ensure fact-checking and prevent the spread of fake news, as people rely on the media to tell them the truth and also serve as a torchbearer in society.
A major area of discussion is the issue of media ownership in Nigeria. There are basically two categories: governmental and private. Although there is a general tendency to view government-owned media as mouthpieces for the propaganda of any government in power, both at the state and federal level, it emerged at the workshop that private media organizations can be just as bad, in terms of being badly influenced to, more often than not, do the dirty bidding of owners, most of whom are politicians.
Unethical practices have also been highlighted. For example, under the Nigeria Broadcasting Organization Code, only true professionals with certain years of practice can be appointed to head radio or television crews. You find, however, that in this climate, people with access to government will apply for and obtain a radio or television license and, to pretend to respect the code, will hire professionals as stated by law, but since that was never their intention, they end up preventing these professionals from resigning on their own, or even firing them from their positions, to pave the way for the appointment of their wives or children in their place.
To deepen professionalism, credible media associations like the Nigerian Editors Guild and the Nigerian Union of Journalists have also been tasked to ensure full protection of the rights and privileges of professionals. A situation where only a few media organizations pay salaries to their editors and reporters was strongly deplored. This is one of the main reasons why the Nigerian press often fails in its task of holding the rulers accountable to the governed as enshrined in the Constitution.
The workshop also looked at other issues affecting humanity that large segments of the media tend to pay less attention to, issues such as humanitarian crises and climate change. There is also the question of the undue attention given to non-state actors in conflict zones, to the detriment of state actors whose actions are aimed at the protection of society.
The media dichotomy was also discussed and discouraged. Although there are cultural barriers and issues that cause northern media professionals to see things somewhat differently than their southern peers, the focus of the workshop is truth and nothing less than ‘she.
Although segments of the Nigerian media may be deemed insufficient when it comes to addressing issues such as good governance, the consensus at the workshop was that the Nigerian press is doing its best in this direction. It was noted that without the media corruption and poor governance would have been much higher in Nigeria. Of course, as the conscience of society, media professionals are also expected to look in the mirror and lead by example by setting good examples for society.
It is impossible for anyone to do justice to a workshop held over three days, in a space as small as a newspaper column. The topics discussed were highly relevant to the needs of Nigerian society. Good governance, progress of democracy and freedom of the press and its practitioners are the key words. Everything revolves around them.
Surely the US government has been very successful in sponsoring such a capacity building workshop for Nigerian publishers. But to make it holistic, you have to extend this to all levels, to include journalists who are the field workers who report people and daily events.
Jeanne L. Clark, the Press Secretary, who also serves as the Embassy Spokesperson in Nigeria, has continued to do very well with her team, which includes Aisha Gambari, a Nigerian, to facilitate friendship between the editors and the government and the right people. from America. She represented the Ambassador very well, and we all look forward to deepening our media relations with the United States in the future. It is hoped that the US Embassy will make this sponsorship an annual ritual, as a world leader in democracy and good governance.