17 November 2012

Nigeria: Retooling the Media Culture for Conflict/Peace Management in Northern Nigeria


The media in Nigeria is generally seen as very vibrant and relatively independent. The history of the country is not complete without giving the media its rightful place. Since its coming in 1854, the media in Nigeria has been at the forefront of political and socio-economic agitations for the country. Unlike in some other climes where the media serve at the fringes of development, it is rational to say that the Nigerian media is an exception.

The media served as the main tool used by the political nationalists for the fight for the involvement of indigenous people in the political administration of the country during colonial rule, and, subsequently for independence.

We find that it was no accident that many of the political actors in the nationalist struggle for independence were themselves journalists or/and founders of print media corporations. For instance, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, was the founder of the West African Pilot Newspaper in 1937.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not just a journalist but the founder of the Nigerian Tribune and the first ever television station in Africa. Similarly, Sir Ahmadu Bello was the founder of both The New Nigerian and the Northern Radio Broadcasting Corporation, Kaduna. Other foremost nationalists like Anthony Enahoro and Herbert Macaulay were essentially journalists and politicians.

Hence, the political movements saw the media as part and parcel of their struggle and deployed it accordingly. The media was also at the forefront of the unification exercise embarked upon by the then military government of General Yakubu Gowon after the agonising fratricidal Civil War. The media was there, as well, in the struggle to return the military to the barracks and the re-enthronement of civilian rule. One can justifiably perceive the Nigerian media as a political media. Oyovbaire confidently asserted that

the value of the media in the emergence of Nigerian nation-state assumed prominence with 'the struggle by the founding fathers of Nigerian nationalism against British colonial rule and imperialism, mildly in the 1920s and much more forcefully from about 1944.'

This acclaimed role of the media in the emancipation of the country has raised expectations on the role of the media in the day to day lives and governance of the country, including the periods when the country faced challenges that threatened her very existence.

Conceptually, we can look at media culture as that which gives us the room to be able to measure media performance, by asking some pertinent questions like; what is the role of the media in the society; what does it do; how well has it performed the role; and for what purpose? Assessing this trend will lead to the understanding of how a particular media system is different from another and what the differences are. It is one thing to have the skills to operate the media and create the environment for its operation; it is quite another to have an overview of how the media performs its roles and why.

Curran and Gurevitch (2005:200) drew some distinctions between the media and its culture, though looking at it from the operators of media. In their words, "More than just reporters' professional codes of action or the social arrangements of reporters and editors, the culture of journalism references a complex and multidimensional lattice of meanings for all those involved, a toolkit of symbols, stories, rituals and world views, which people use in varying configurations to solve different kinds of problems."

Media culture of journalism, rather than concentrating of the profit margins and the economics of the industry, 'allows for the craft-oriented dimensions of practice, aspects of work that have little to do with the efficiency, profit or workability of the news industry; it encourages attention to the viability and integrity of the journalistic practice, where skills, ethics, beliefs, morality and principles come to the forefront of attention regardless of whether or not they have impact on the survival of either a specific news organisation or the industry as a whole. Curran and Gurevitch (2005:201)

Thus, we examine here the roles of the media in reporting conflicts and peace in Nigeria and as well as explore how it can be used to refocus and reintegrate the people towards unity and nation building.

In terms of basic functions, the media is widely ascribed with the globally accepted and generic functions of informing, educating and entertaining the society. The importance of communication, as exemplified by the media cannot be over emphasised, hence the popular dictum "no communication, no society." The propeller through which communication functions is the mass media and how the media functions is the main determinant of how the society functions.

This was why some argue that the media mirrors the society and that a "society gets the kind of media it deserves." Nevertheless, many have queried the performance of the Nigerian media with regard to the kind of society we have today. The argument as to whether the media is influencing the society or the society influences the media is a continuous one in academic circles.

This paper looks at the functions of the media from the specific prism of its functionality in the society i.e. what the media is doing and what it is expected to do its social and professional responsibilities.

This is an abridged version of the paper delivered at George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), Fairfax Virginia, USA

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