Anti-corruption: Lai Mohammed’s tackles of the media -By Ayo Olukotun

Filed under: Democracy & Governance,Political Issues |

Honourable Minister, Lai Mohammed

 

On Monday, both the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, took turns to throw barbs at the Nigerian media over their rule and posture in the anti-corruption struggle. The occasion was the 68th General Assembly of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria which had at its theme, “The Media and the Fight Against Corruption.’ Mohammed criticised the media for mocking the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s anti-corruption fight, while Magu regulated that “media practitioners that are supposed to help fight corruption have unfortunately been sucked into the cesspool of malfeasance.” (The PUNCH, Tuesday, November 28, 2017).

A semiotic reading of the messages will decode that the administration is showing irritation, if not resentment of recent frank and biting appraisals of Buhari’s waning anti-corruption fight, by the media. For example, Mohammed, a lawyer and formidable publicist, said that while the media were free to criticise the anti-corruption struggle, what he found disconnecting, was the mockery of that crusade. Can we say mockery, lampooning and poking fun are not also critical expression? In other words, is it not splitting hairs to say that the media can criticise a policy, but are free to mock that policy?

Mohammed’s sermon on the media’s allegedly wayward posture becomes stranger when he went on to give examples of mockery by the media as casting headlines such as “Buhari’s government is losing the anti-corruption war” and “Buhari’s anti-corruption war is falling”, or “Arewa youths knock President Buhari over failing anti-corruption war”. According to the minister, “This is sheer mockery, not reporting”. Really? What will reporting have looked like, other than conveying the opinions and the expressions of different strata of the citizenry? If Arewa youths and an increasing segment of the populace believe that the anti-corruption war is failing, and say so, should the media have blacked such youths out? Could it be, as this columnist suggested earlier, that what the administration prefers is a Man Friday, an echo chamber that will merely double as a department of Buhari’s information machinery? The Man of the People in one of Chinua Achebe’s novels will rather have journalists behind bars than have them criticise government. Too often, our politicians pay lip service to free expression but show irritation when the expressions are not in their favour. The media have their own failings and prejudices, but they cannot be blamed for capturing disenchantment among the populace with a policy that is noble in intention but is weakly executed and features so many gaping contradictions.

Making the rounds currently, to give an example, is rising alarm over revelations made by a former Chairman of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina, who volunteered in a recent video aired on Channels Television that Buhari approved the meeting between him and the Anthony-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. Maina, don’t forget, was declared wanted by the EFCC in connection with huge amounts of looted pension funds allegedly personally traced to him. The recent discovery that the fugitive who was dismissed from the civil service had been smuggled back into the same service, paid arrears of salary and promoted raised serious doubts about the direction of the anti-corruption programme. Mainagate, with its torrent of damaging revelations, is just one example of high level scandals involving state officials in the current administration. Should the media not have reported these scandals or failed to take account of the vacillating attitude of the administration towards cleansing the Augean stables? It is interesting to note that even high level appointees of the administration are openly confessing their embarrassment at the indifferent and slack approach of government to sensational revelations of corruption in the ranks of government. The point being made is that the media did not manufacture the chagrin of the people at the current state of the anti-corruption struggle; they only report it.

At this point, however, I digress by way of a short take.

This writer spent the better part of Monday at an International Conference on Leadership and Development in Africa, organised by the Faculty of Administration, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Of particular interest were the key note addresses focusing mainly on governance and its travails in Africa. For example, Prof. Michael Adeyeye quoting a former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, maintains that no matter how much resources Nigeria has, it will continue to amount to little until it gets its governance right. He went on to look at governance from a multi-dimensional perspective; as structure or architecture, as process, as mechanism and as strategy. Obviously, for Nigeria to get ahead, it must take into account how to improve, perhaps overhaul the different aspects of governance without excessively focusing on any particular narrow conception of the concept.

Engrossing too is a key note address delivered by Prof. Femi Mimiko, a former Vice-Chancellor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba. Mimiko alluded to African underdevelopment as arising largely from “non-inclusive, political and economic governance forms in Africa”. Two anecdotes with which he ended his presentation are revealing. The first concerns a friend of his who, after making intense efforts to win an elective post, failed to answer the simple question posed to him by Mimiko to the effect that “What exactly is your policy agenda in the event that you win the election?” According to the academic, his friend was surprised, if not grieved, by what he thought was an unnecessary question from a friend. Mimiko thought that this represented the mindset of most Nigerian politicians seeking power without governance purpose. The second anecdote concerns the acclaimed President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. The academic was pleasantly surprised that the Rwanda leader not only sat through a recent conference on development at which he gave a lead paper but took time to interrogate the paper by comparing his policies with the recommendations made by Mimiko in his paper.

According to him, Kagame would say something like: “These are the policies we have attempted and these are the results we got. Where did we go wrong in the light of your postulations?” Obviously, such a keen dialogue between policy and policy analysis is waiting to take place in Nigeria.

To go back to the initial discourse, bashing the media, or putting them on the spot cannot be the answer to reengineering Nigeria’s currently comatose anti-corruption policy. Any policy must be judged by its successes and deliverables. Consequently, even though the anti-corruption policy cannot be written off, it cannot attract high praise because it has failed so far to live up to its own state objective of sanitising the polity. It will be a lot better therefore, if government will do an audit of its own performance on this core with a view to reconstructing a policy that is obviously in the doldrums. For example, an effective policy would have required top officials including the Attorney General implicated in the Mainagate, still unfolding, to step aside. Additionally, is it not also revealing that it is the legislature rather than the executive that has seized the initiative in getting to the bottom of Mainagate?

So, rather than blame the media for doing their work, government should go back to the drawing board for the purpose of rejuvenating the anti-corruption struggle in order to recapture the high ideals with which it started.

 

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