By Adagbo Onoja
All manner of claims have been thrown on the floor regarding what Nigeria’s own Dapo Olorunyomi, for example, has called a tight connection between the media and the great tragedies of the post Cold War. In fact, in assessing the role of the media in the Rwandan genocide in particular, some practitioners have argued that it will always serve as a reminder of how what they call such an awesome power as the media has to be handled responsibly. And a sort of consensus has subsequently emerged still in post Rwandan academia that the media constitutes a human resource whose potential to help prevent and moderate violence is begging to be discussed, evaluated and, where appropriate, mobilized in Africa.
Now, Nigeria has an opportunity to test these claims via a proactive response to the rise and rise of the media in the post modern era. The Abuja based Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development, (SCDDD) is plunging into the search for the regulatory framework and practice against Hate Speech in relation to democracy, stability and media accountability. Savannah Centre’s MacArthur funded program billed to last two years is to be guided by a 14 man council which was inaugurated in Abuja yesterday under the chairperson of Justice Mohammed Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria. The rest of the body has retired ambassadors, intellectuals, civil society activists and notable media practitioners. This is the body that will get cracking on what Ambassador Abdullahi Omaki, the Executive Director of the centre called the negative impacts of hate speech capable of fractionalizing the national space. Hence, he prioritised the search for monitoring preferences and sanctions with respect to inflammatory or hate speeches.
Professor Ibrahim Gambari, former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations added to this by warning against the exceptionalist thinking that what happened elsewhere may not apply to Nigeria, pointing out how hate or dangerous speeches could, indeed, contribute to horrendous violence in Nigeria. Oseloka Obaze, a former Secretary to the Anambra State Government under its former governor, Peter Obi and a member of the council agreed with Gambari. Recalling the overarching influence of the columns ran by some Nigerian journalists when he was growing up, Oseloka held up the role of the media as vital but expressed worry that the social media has ruptured journalism, a point Yemi Adamolekun, another member of the council did not quite accept. For her, the traditional and the social media are one and the same thing, merely different channels, differentiated, if at all, by just a matter of how words are phrased. Her concern is rather the enormity of work to be done on hate speech related issues before the next election. She too bowed down to the timeliness of the project.
Media management veteran, Mallam Wada Maida privileged a self-regulating approach to managing hate speech because the experience of regulatory bodies such as the Nigerian Press Council and the National Broadcasting Commission do not, in his view, encourage placing too much emphasis on that approach. He subscribes to the view that the question of what constitutes journalism has been taken away from the professionals, an allusion to the social media. Udo Jude Ilo, the Country Head of OSIWA, believes Nigeria owes the media a debt of gratitude when he thinks of the performance of the media during the military which he called the rich and sterling history of the media. He seemed to argue that competitiveness of the media market explains some of the crisis the media triggers, pointing out how fractious a country Nigeria is as to be just getting along in an atmosphere of ‘graveyard peace’.
Though present, Asmau Joda, the Yola based veteran of the defunct Women in Nigeria, (WIN) did not speak at this occasion. The floor was informed she had spoken at an earlier segment. Alert and attentive throughout, Justice Uwais also spoke a little but always lightening the floor each time he did. Other members of the council but who did not make the inauguration ceremony include Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, Chief Tom Adaba, Samson Itodo, Joke Silva and Segun Adeniyi. Among others, Eugenia Abu, Sola Atere both of NTA, Bolaji Adebiyi of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) and Danlami Nmodu of Newsdiaryonline were notable media executives at the occasion.
When it gets off, this project promises to generate interest if not controversies across the broad spaces of academia, media practice, peace practitioners, the civil society and the state sector. So far, everyone appear to draw a lot on the conclusion that both the electronic and the print media, whether public or privately owned, acted as ‘sound tract for genocide’ through hate communication in the case of the genocide in Rwanda although Professor Gambari equally brought in the role of the great powers in the grand failure to pre-empt that unfortunate experience. The puzzle now lies in how Nigeria might find a regulatory mechanism capable of enforcing compliance in a phenomenon contingent on media professionalism in a highly plural, uniquely underdeveloped rentier state.