Lagos — Tony Oyatedor is a veteran journalist and publisher of Newstime International newsletters. He insists that Nigerian media has the magic wand to bring about peace in the country. He spoke exclusively to Sunday Trust. Excerpts:
You have been in journalism for many years, at what point did you chose to become a peace advocate?
Well, like you have rightly noted, I have been practicing for many years before I was called by God to start this advocacy project and this I have been doing for many years as well. Our organization, the Newstime International Company has been the pivotal through which I have been reaching out to Nigerians and indeed the world on issues that has to do with peaceful co-existence among adherents of various religions. This particular project has taken my team and I across many Nigerian states especially in the north. Aside this, I also write books. I am the author of the famous book, Leadership which is on sale in many countries of the world. In it I had predicted many of the challenges Nigeria is currently facing.
So what specifically will you say informs the decision to hold a press conference on violence, militancy and religious crisis in Nigeria?
What informed our meeting with journalists is based on what has been happening in our country in recent times. It may interest you to know that I had actually predicted some of these things happening in Nigeria today and that we infact have solutions to the problems. So in direct response to that question, I will say, because of the security challenge in Nigeria today, it is very important that we host the press conference today. The aim is to make it known to the world what has been going on with our country. And you know, journalists have greater roles to play in this.
You have consistently say the onus of peace advocacy lies with Nigerian journalists, why is this so?
I do not subscribe to the usual blame game. I don't like accusing somebody for being responsible for one development or the other. Be that as it may, what we intend to do is to make sure that Nigerian journalists join in this solution business for peace in Nigeria. It is not enough for Nigerian journalists to continuously write about disasters, the number of people who are dead, write about violence and all that. It is now time for Nigerian journalists to partner with good people of God who are working for peace so that the gospel of peace as we are spreading it will be spread faster and our country will be better for it.
Everytime you write about flood, catastrophe and all that which denigrade the country and you are not doing yourself any good. There is nowhere in the world where such things are not happening but they play it down a little bit. I'm not saying as a journalist you should not write news but I also think it is important that you write solutions.
Let me cite a personal example in this regard. I stay in Washington DC but anytime I come to Nigeria, I make sure I buy each copy of Nigerian newspapers everyday. It has reached a stage that my vendor thinks I'm crazy for spending so much money on newspapers. But I'm doing this because I'm seeking knowledge. But there was a time my daughter once came home with me and she was picking the newspapers I bought on daily basis to flip through one after the other.
On Monday, Front page story, "Six people die in auto accident". She put it down. Tuesday, "Seven people lost their lives in ethno-religious crises". She dropped the paper. Wednesday, same thing, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, same thing, the girl out of frustration packed all the newspapers and threw them away! If you think people are buying your papers by writing about catastrophe, and the number of dead people all the time, you are telling a big lie!
So the media is an important factor in this crusade and I hope we all join hand in this campaign so that each and everyone in Nigeria can say we have done our best.
Boko Haram crises have been a recurring decimal in Nigeria in recent months, will you say this is also the creation of the media?
Well, I will say basically this has to do with the people having great misconception about the terms. There is "haram". There is also halal. Halal means good in Arabic while haram means bad. The media should have a way of playing around this through enlightenment campaigns. The word Boko Haram simply means, western education is bad.
Let's say if you go abroad, you acquired knowledge, and you are using it only for the good of yourself, wife and children, then Boko will be haram but if you study abroad, come back and make yourself useful not only to yourself but also the society, then it will be Boko halal. If we are to talk about Sir Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, and Nnamdi Azikwe, then we can say; Boko halal. So we must change the perception and start making it known to the people that when you go abroad and return, you must do well for the people. Invest in the people. Sardauna of Sokoto we were once told, removed the door leading to his room in Kaduna so as to give people, access to him. That's the kind of leadership, the media should propagate.
But is the media to be held responsible for leadership inadequacies as well?
In Nigeria, we like to put blames on people. But I agree that the solution to issues confronting Nigeria starts and ends with leadership. I might ask, when we say leadership, everybody goes to the President. The president cannot do it alone. That is why there are governors, ministers, senators, permanent secretaries, directors general and every other person including you and me. Having said that, every one of us must publicly repent and turn to God. Let the leaders tell God and the people that they are very sorry for what they have done to this nation. Repent is a big word for change. And how do you change, it means you change from bad to good or from evil to good. It is about fasting and prayer alone but also, about repentance.
Today, we have a situation whereby leaders are not even picking their phone calls. The leaders must give access to those people they are leading. And to change the situation, the media must continuously hold those in government accountable, from president to governors and local government chairmen.
Aside most of the issues so far discussed, how do you see Nigerian media assisting in finding solutions to the problems confronting the country?
It has become pertinent for Nigerian journalists to start writing it in bold language that the only way to have peace in the country is for the adherents of all the religions to start reading their holy books. Not just about going to their churches and mosques but get to down to read the books and understand what they are all about. You will be amazed that many Nigerians only run to mosques and churches without really knowing what their religions are all about, whereas all these religions preach fear of God.
But for odd reasons as well, you will discover that many Nigerian journalists do not even read and that has trickled down to other members of the populace. In Nigeria today, nobody wants to read but to watch Nollywood movies. When it comes to knowledge, many Nigerians often throw it away and I can attribute this to work-shy leadership. What I mean by this is that a situation whereby leaders don't want to work but to look good all the time.
We have been giving out copies of Bibles, Quran, Torah and our newsletters for free and we often put our contact number on them, asking people to call us for further information, but since 2010, not a single soul has ever called us in respect of this.
The media should assist us in encouraging people to read. When you people start writing about one God and the need for people to start knowing that God through the three books, Quran, Bible and Torah, you will see that there would be less problems.