27 February 2013

Nigeria: Labaran Maku, the NBC and the Closure of Wazobia FM

Photo: Maria Hengeveld/RNW
Radio station

I waited a week to see if the spirit of crusading journalism for which I knew the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku will triumph over doubt, expecting that he would ask the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to reverse their suspension of the operations of WAZOBIA radio in Kano but nothing of that came from him.

The closure of the radio, was done on the heels of the controversy arising from the tragic killing of nine polio immunization workers in Kano city. The station was accused of airing a programme that is alleged to have incited unknown gunmen to go on the killing spree.

Equally curious is the stunning silence on the radio ban issue by the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Forget the Nigerian Broadcasting Organization, NBO. NBO is government. Government is unlikely to investigate itself and if it does, I fear they will only return a verdict of not guilty.

My opinion is that this brutal, disturbing and distressing action by the NBC is uncalled for, and clearly manifests a medieval-era mindset in the regulatory organization. First of all, it is wrong for anyone to suggest that the media, by merely making a pronouncement on an issue can make people do things they ordinarily are not inclined to doing. These thoughts belonged to the earliest days of the radio when it was mistakenly thought that they wielded so much power to the point that a theory called the "bullet effect" reigned for a while. Media effect studies were later to prove that audience members did not present themselves in a state of "psychological nudity" as to be swayed one way or another by mere pronouncements on radio, TV or the printing press. To that extent, I feel sorry for the NBC that thinks that rape, torture and killings in a complex society such as we live in are instructed by radio or movies seen on TV. If this were the case, NBC needs to come up with explanation why Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt, cities which are the most saturated by the media in Nigeria do not witness crime on the scale we have seen lately in Northern Nigeria.

The NBC should tell Nigerians why heinous terrorists who kill civilians and bomb Churches and markets are most prevalent in Borno, Yobe and Plateau States, which are less served by the media. Which radio, TV or newspaper is behind the gruesome killings in Borno, Yobe and all these other attacks that have happened in Kano? Which radio or newspaper gave rise to Boko Haram in the first instance?

It is precisely because of the lack of clear professional and ethical answers to these questions that many people have turned to politics to find the explanation for the harsh and unwarranted closure of the station.

From the beginning, the government of Kano State tried to make an issue of the illegal conversion of a private residential premise into a commercial one serving as offices for the suspended radio station. The Syrian owner of the radio station is a money dude. To him, the radio is just a cash cow. He cares not about the philosophy of broadcasting which is oriented toward public service. He didn't just violate the code governing building regulations. When the Station literally came under fire over these polio broadcasts, he, without consultation with staff and management went on his knees and entered into a subservient agreement with the authorities. From that agreement, it was clear that he was focused on his investment and other business interests, unconcerned certainly with the professional standing and well-being of the staff and the station. This, then, naturally led to those resignations at the top-level management.

The NBC which is becoming increasingly notorious for double speak and double policy needs to reflect on their rapidly deteriorating public standing. The sense most people have of the longstanding conflict between the WAZOBIA radio and the authorities in the state since the coming of the new administration is that the station, or at least some of its political programmes, tended to be sympathetic to the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. The NBC on the other hand is under the PDP-controlled federal government. They, in the light of this alone, should not have rushed into judgment warranting the closure of the station.

In some places where political contest is at its fiercest, the broadcast media, as members of the community in which they are found, have one way or the other been drawn into it. In the case of Adamawa, the NBC faces the enormous challenge of proving that they don't oppress private broadcast stations just to please sitting governors.

The privately-established Gotel Communications Limited in Yola get queried and fined for the tiniest of infractions but the government-owned radio, the Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation, ABC, which thrives on libel and defamation, hurling daily personal attacks and insults on the state's most prominent citizens, is left alone to do just as they wished.

Yet without the private broadcaster, Nigerians will on a daily basis be duped and deprived of their due fare of news and entertainment. The last time the Adamawa State legislature tabled a motion of impeachment against the governor, no state-owned broadcast station, state or federal carried the story. They pretended that this did not happen. The independently-owned Gotel radio did this to the delight of the teeming population. Government on the other hand did not find this amusing.

Government-controlled NBC has a duty to treat all stations, public or private in the same way because if they kill private broadcasting through political manipulation, the whole country including its government loses.

The way to ending terrorism in Nigeria is through the use of both carrot-dialogue - and the stick. The police should go after the gang of criminal terrorists who routinely kill and blast civilians and service personnel at public places for four years non-stop. The radio is just a mirror image of what the society is. If you don't like your face that you see in it, the solution is to change, not smash the mirror.

Under the military that founded it, the NBC was never such a brutal organization. They didn't do shameful acts such as we are witnessing today. This shouldn't happen now that we are under a government that claims democratic legitimacy and adherence to international charter on human rights.

Minister Maku should end this joke by reopening Wazobia radio today.

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