By Tunde Akanni, PhD
Don’t be surprised that the Kaduna State Government was recently declared as the most transparent in the country. The journey started way back in 2016. My witness account: Veteran media professional and well wisher of all times, Taiwo Obe, affectionately hailed T.O, constituted a gender-balanced team of younger colleagues including your’s sincerely. In his democratic way of doing things, he told us we were going to Kaduna to interact with colleagues in the civil service of that state manning the information desk across all ministries, departments and agencies. He was the lead trainer. On account of my development work experiential assets, I was made to lead the session on Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. I titled it “Leaving No One Behind”. With me also in that team were multiple award winning travel writer, Pelu Awofeso and distinguished communication amazons, Iyabo Olubunmi Akinkugbe and Anike-Ade Funke Treasure.
After each of the sessions, T O himself led clarifications with comments and or questions. He reiterated to the participants the all-important relevance of the online media to their work in this age. That training programme immediately initiated online groups enabling participants to henceforth, professionally ventilate information, including photographs and other forms of illustration, on the activities of their respective organizations. Since then, the online presence of Kaduna State Government has remained unmatched, including relentless improvement.
Kaduna’s Governor el-Rufai appears to have learnt so much from the values that accrued to campaigns from the use of social media and he was determined to tap into them and even sustain them for his government and the development of the state. Ironically, the huge lessons el- Rufai imbibed, perceived to be the handiwork of its party’s publicity team had been lost on the arrowhead of the team then and now, the Information Minister, Lai Muhammed. Consequently this is impacting the vision of the government given Lai Mohammed’s strategic position.
Sometimes you wonder how inexplicable, far reaching decisions are taken by government functionaries, taking the communities of the informed and others alike by surprise. I was in the thicket of a media mapping of Nigeria for a global media player when the story played out: The old Ministry of Communications has been renamed Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. It was a little exciting against the preceding era of what I had described as that of “communication governance of indifference”, (https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2016/12/19/nigerias-communication-governance-of-indifference-by-tunde-akanni/). Nigeria couldn’t have had a worse regime in the sector, I had thought. But even the recent movement from the public subsector of communications to the private sector by the same people who had played regulator to the same private sector rendered one somewhat hopeless. Minister Pantami’s seeming initial enthusiasm was, therefore, interesting. Pantami reinforced my excitement further with his engagement with the price regime of data and allied issues.
As one tried to ruminate further on the renaming of Ministry of Communications, Minister Lai Muhammed blared out the plan by government to regulate social media. Incredible! Nigerians thought they had fought the last battle on this when one strange Senator Ibn Na’Allah introduced that bill during the Dr Bukola Saraki-led Senate. If anyone was in doubt, the Senate President, Dr Lawan, later broached a rather more severe one that his Senate was working on the legislation that would ensure that anyone who runs foul of the planned hate speech law would face death penalty. To achieve what? Many have queried. Nobel Laureate Soyinka even asked: Is it now cool to kill?
While Minister Pantami seems to be interested in calming the troubled nerves of those who have been bothered by the seemingly ceaseless abuse of privileged positions in the regulatory sector, the gesture leaves so much to be desired. His renaming gesture is as seemingly intuitive as it is exclusivist. Digitech is rather all- encompassing, economy being just one of the variables.
Communication professionals and scholars of diverse leanings locally and internationally have engaged deeply with the evolution of digital technology. Almost consensually, they have also reiterated that it is as multidimensional and open as much as it is rapidly transforming the lives of people globally even as much more is expected with the looming Internet of Things, IoT, phenomenon. A particularly convincing multidimensionality of internet which is even a strand of digitech manifests in the decision of Oxford University to set up what it calls Oxford Internet Institute. It harbours specialized internet-related programmes from the perspectives of communication, political science and so forth.
Even in Nigeria, such is the stretch of digital technology through the gamut of human life that no fewer than three recent, well researched, multi-author publications by Nigeria’s leading communication scholars of diverse bent have focused on it in varying degrees. And more are in the works, indeed, believably to the knowledge of Minister Pantami himself. Given the obvious cross-cutting relevance of digital technology, therefore, the Ministry should have been made to have a more accommodating outlook by renaming it rather as Ministry of Communication and Digital Culture. Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is rather exclusivist than being all-encompassing.
If the renaming suggested above would be reflective of the minister’s readiness for genuine democratic disposition to business, it should, in conjunction with the Information and Culture minister, be extended further to the repealing of the Cybercrime Prohibition and Prevention Act of 2015. The Act, among others, provides for Cybercrime Advisory Council with members drawn from different public sector organizations. In spite of the centrality of the internet to the operations of the operations of all contemporary media organizations, none of the media inclined professional bodies is included on the council. Not even either of the Guild of Online Corporate Publishers, GOCOP, or the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, OPAN, whose main operational terrain is the internet. And to think that a GOCOP member, Premium Times, is a Pulitzer awardee, with all the global respect and reckoning?
Most important perhaps is the need to perpetuate democratization in the scheme of things in relation to what has been described as the most open technology in the world. But what is the current level of participation in the annual global Internet Governance Forum, IGF, as well as the regional ones which avail us all with the inspiration to update on global best practices? It may as well not be out of place for our policy makers to reckon properly with the two major annual conferences of communication experts held here in Nigeria annually. They should ensure that representatives of all relevant government organs especially those in charge of communications, Information and Culture attend the scholarly conferences dutifully.
The author, Tunde Musibau Akanni, PhD, is Director of Digital Media Research Centre, DMRC, of the Lagos State University, LASU. Follow him on Twitter @AkintundeAkanni