The media, peace and sustainable development

NUJ president, Garba Monammed

NUJ president, Garba Monammed

FOR some 55 years now it seems that neither our governments at all level nor the people themselves understand what collective peace means and what engenders peace in a polity. And equally too, we as a people neither appreciate the need for the police force nor a standing armed forces. We are yet to see as a people the correlation between peace and sustainable development. The situation seem so bereft of a national understanding that when conflicts arise, we stare them in the face and there is no standing strategy for addressing conflicts neither to mediate, nor intervene in a timely manner or reduce the level of conflicts.

Our ethnic relationships and distrust for others other than our own which inflames passions and misunderstandings, our refusal to restructure Nigeria along even if along ethnic nationalities, our refusal to revert to a true Federal structure as agreed from 1960, our overbearing unitary system in a pretentious Federation, our fake national census figures, our total focus on politics to the detriment of economics, our educational system that neither acknowledges talents nor promote entrepreneurship, discipline and creative thinking, our zero sum game of politics which at all times produces violence, our politics which due to over-militarisation  produces cultists and mobilizes and relies on thuggery, all  these are recipe for perennial conflicts which at the end permanently threaten peace and concord in the nation.

Before MEND and Egbesu rumbles, it was a small resource control struggle. Left unattended, it boomed into kidnappings, crude oil theft, burst crud oil pipes and oil and gas production shut-ins. Mohammed Yusuf had a small agitation in Maiduguri unattended to and with un attention, today it has become Boko Haram with an ISIS connection. Today, the Biafra marches are on, as usual, silence and no national response. What it becomes, the Nigerian State does not care and is feeling smug about it. After all, it is them, another ethnic group. Those are the ways we fuel our conflicts and leave them to became national catastrophes. But are you surprised? That is how Nigerian governments have always responded in 55 years.

Fancy a pothole on a road, it never gets attended to until it is a gully, a crater, an impossible passage way or there is death. Pronto, Nigerian governments would either appoint a road panel or issue a billion naira contract to solve a N200,000 problem. It is our national way of life. We live in chaos and thrive in chaos. We neither have peace in our lives nor share peace. Nigerian governments think we the people are the problem, very difficult people to govern. We the people think, Nigerian governments are the problem, utterly irresponsible and impossible. No one can establish where the truth lies. What then is peace, peace in a polity? Certainly peace is not a graveyard silence, as that is a negative peace.

Peace is engendered by truth – truth spoken by the leader and governors to the led and conversely, truth spoken without fear to the authorities by the people or what is described as, speaking truth to power. Peace is engendered but justice, fairness, equity for all, by all being under the law, the upholding of the rule of law, good governance and service delivery to all citizens equally and with a focus on human needs. 

We run a non-descript economic system – a neocolonialist caricature capitalist system that neither promotes employment, egalitarianism nor development. Rather it re-enforces exclusion, instability and underdevelopment. Little wonder the National Bureau of statistics will occasionally amuse us with its statistics, 100 million Nigerians out of 170 million are poor. Over 70% of young Nigerians who are between the ages of 18 and 25 are jobless. We export timber and import toothpick. We export crude oil and import refined petroleum products. And when we export crude, we keep our monies in a New York account  and denominate them in the Dollar or Reminbi rather than in naira and in Nigeria.

We are planning a trillion naira budget for 2016 and because this is an import dependent economy, the 1.5 trillion component meant for capital expenditure will be exported as we do not produce anything we need. And because of the lack of clear economic policy directions, since May 2015, the economy is tanking; the capital market a measure of the state of an economy, has lost trillions of naira due to both capital flight inflationary value and trades’ sentiment money which is the arterial life of any economy has dropped significantly in circulation. National Productivity which used to measure 6% on a year to year basis has shrunk to 2% as at this December. Our foreign reserves which has hovered around $32b in the last five years has been dwindling due to both a non-productive economy and falling oil prices engineered by America’s shale oil and hostile attitude towards Nigeria.

With an economy on a wobbly reel, there has been massive retrenchments in multinationals, and is being contemplated by some states who think N18,000 minimum wage is too high a bill to pay Nigerians. Recruitments are so minimal. The numbers of jobless youth is rising everywhere. Here in Edo State, since we love parochial and ethnic thinking, at a minimum of 3000 graduates of Edo origin per institution – Uniben, Ekpoma, BIU, Usen, Iguoriakhi, Ekiadolor, Auchi Polytechnic, Adegboyega, Igueben plus School of Nursing and Health Technology, we pour out into the streets from schools an average of 30,000 annually unemployed youths. Since 1999 till date we have produced about 480,000 jobless, unemployable and hopeless Youth – large enough to constitute an army of 480,000 prostitutes, thugs and cultists. Can we sincerely as a people say we are running  a country and that we genuinely are asking for peace?

Little wonder state security votes are rising to purchase more Hilux vans, walkee-talkies, communication and safety gadgets for the police instead of increased investments in the people’s welfare to not only lift people above poverty but produce wealth that promotes all round development.

Make no mistake about it. Book Haram as a phenomenon is a cocktail of too many things. Principally it is a combination of neglect of the poor reading of trends, misgovernance, unfulfilled moral promises. All these were ready incendiary for an unravelling Libya, an angry and unsatisfied Tuaregs in Azzawad, an unhappy bunch of Northern politicians and an impoverished North East of Nigeria. Today it is a conflagration that would take decades to snuff out, if ever we will. And now the federal government says it would need N92.2b to reconstruct the North East region. Something else we need to factor in the war against Boko Haram. At the time the Biafra Civil War was on, Nigeria waged the war without external borrowing.

We are aware of the $1b dollars Jonathan requested for, for the war. And ever since then, we hear of $2.1 million, $3.2b and others as expenses from the National Security Adviser’s office. What these figures portend means, that monies meant to develop and grow the economy are being expended on armaments instead of positive developments. Wars are expensive. Peace may look cheap but it has to be sought for by all means.

Professor Immanuel Wallestein of Yale University as far back as in the days of America’s gulf war’s predicted an end of Pax Americana, or the decline of American Hegemony. By 2008, America’s economy almost collapsed as a result of the Iraqi and Afghanistan escapades. Who knows yet the full extent of the Boko Haram war on the economy? The MEND war cost the economy barrels of oil and a dwindling federal revenue until Yar’Adua evolved the amnesty programme. We are too poor a country to be prosecuting a war, period.

It has taken us some while to realize that there is a correlation between insecurity, high level of and too many conflicts and the impossibility of development. At a time when global oil prices have sunk to their lowest 7 year low, Nigeria would find it hard to fund the war effort in the North east, much less develop the North East, confront Biafra should it escalate or attempt to raise any more defence should there be more rumpus in the Niger Delta.

Aside from these, it is clear that in an environment of overall instability or threatened instability, Nigeria while addressing conflicts, and wars, very little attention can be given to any aspect of development of the nation. Despite the dwindling resources to state, should we wish to improve on our armed forces capability in order to bring about peace, law and order, scare resources must  be diverted to security concerns rather than such positive needs as wealth creation, unemployment, health and education. Peace therefore, is a sine-qua-non for any nation to develop. Can Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan be talking about development? Their primary concern must be on peace, the end of insurgencies, armed conflicts and any threat to national stability.

It is in recognition of this overreaching need for peace, stability and orderly social order and progress that today – Alicia Shepherd of the college of Journalism, University of Maryland in 1994 advocated for what she called – Public Journalism. The ethos and focus of public Journalism is that journalists need to team up with the public in search for solutions for community woes. In a paper she titled – the gospel of pubic Journalism – she said:

“The goals of public journalism or civic journalism is to reconnect the citizens with the media, their community and the political process”
About that same time, a number of journalists in Geneva after surveying global conflicts – in Iraq and Afghanistan about that time and an incipient Boko Haram and the about to break forth Arab Spring, with its after math, began to consider that the media, from a social responsibility perspective should play a role in minimising conflicts globally.

Thereafter was conceived a new subset of journalistic practice called PEACE JOURNALISM.

They advocated certain principles and guidelines to be followed amongst which were

i.    Professional conduct in reportage
ii.    PR methodology for advocacy and persuasion
iii.    Evolution of a peace building model.
Professional Integrity In Reporting

Integrity demands that the well-known code of professional conduct be maintained at all times by journalists, which are:

1.    Fair and balanced reporting
2.    Seek the truth and report it in an honest and fair manner
3.    Courage in gathering and interpreting information.
4.    Minimizing harm.
5.    Being free from any special interests and obligations in order to ascertain independence of action.
6.    Always noting that the public has a right to know.
7.    Being accountable to readers, listeners and viewers.
8.    Always being ethically driven.
9.    Utilizing the informational model in news reporting, which is describing events and issues from a neutral point of view and
10.    Adopting the non-partisan model which is to analyze occurrences and advocating remedies.

Social Integration Through Public Relations
The media has a centrality in the dynamics of societal communication. Given any society’s polarization and divergences which in our case are mainly ethnic, political and religious, the social organ best suited to articulate and communicate issues, opinions and ideas vertically and horizontally is the media.

In our complexity, filled with hostility, prejudice, ignorance, poor inter-cultural communication, the media must bridge the gaps of misunderstanding in order to forge cohesion and mutual understanding amongst the publics. An apt way to look at it is from the perspective of the famous author of “Spin” in PR, Edward Barnays who said: “PR is the attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement or institution”.

Arising from this, then, the media must ensure that in its editorials, news of violence, conflicts, use of pictorial and visuals, that inflammatory positions are never taken. Rather, it should seek a balance that ensures mutual understanding, inter-cultural communication and the common good. To achieve this, the methodology recommended is that of advocacy for understanding of issues, of contending parties points of view and of super-ordinate goals in order that through persuasion, there is an attitude change.
Peace Journalism

Where PR methodology fails, the last resort known for now is to Peace Journalism, as we believe the media can act as an interventionist agency to reduce the level of conflicts, political violence, religious intolerance, and inter-ethnic feuds in order for peace to reign. This role is played in the areas of intercultural communication, social and attitudinal change and factoring the values and interests of all stakeholders.

Peace journalism entails communication which is more than just reportage of events and issues, but a definite strategy to win hearts and minds. The special skills needed evolved from the 2006 methodologies for Peace Journalism. The skills start with understanding the personalities involved in a conflict, cultures, wars and conflicts, nature of negotiations skills, diplomacy, human relations skill and a firm understanding of the Seville Statement.

The thrust of the Seville statement in a summary, is that man is not an innately aggressive animal. Rather, wars and conflicts are the results of socialisation and conditioning.
   
Peace Media is always value and truth oriented. It is people centered, conflict resolution integrated and solution oriented.

Beyond this, there are other skills and knowledge which drive peace Journalism which we cannot go into, in a public lecture like this. But suffice it to say that there are stages that peace Journalism requires in order to be effective. Beyond winning Hearts and minds, there would be need to evolve a Peace Building Module, a Dialogue and Peace module and a fourth stage which is the Development paradigm. In this last stage, the media shows the path to growth, inspires the people to unleash their creative potentials, directs everyone on the need for good governance, justice and fairness and finally provides directions for a purposeful and functional political education.

Why is Peace Journalism very important today? The views of Professor Nordestreng of Tampere University, Finland is most enlightening. He avers that there is a correlation between the absence of peace journalism and the lack of development and the series of conflicts in Africa. The Congo is mineral rich, the richest in Africa. But what is its Human development index today? Extremely poor. Contrast that with Rwanda, which is the poster child country in Africa as the fastest growing country, despite its 1994 genocide experience. Look at Somalia today, ravaged by Al-Shabab, and with not too stable a government. The alternative to conflicts is Peace. Hence Peace Journalism. The media has an important role, what remains is the training of more journalists in its special skills and its applications to our wider society and the world.
Thank you.

• Abolo, an elderstatesman and educationist, writes from Benin City.



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