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Opinion: Toxic Voices And Caustic Pens, By Abdulwarees Solanke

Opinion: Toxic Voices And Caustic Pens, By Abdulwarees Solanke

The average newspaper columnist in Nigeria seethes with bitterness; most anchor-men on radio and television are harsh and unsparing in leading discussions on air; the on-line media wizards are in a world without borders lashing ferociously at what is consider unimpressive government performance in our land. All concerned with the stability of our polity are therefore pleading for the tempering of our caustic pens and toxic voices in setting public agenda and shaping public opinionon our platforms.

Sometimes in 1992 or 1993, as a political correspondent in the defunct National Concord, it was my turn to fill the week’s Political Searchlight page that normally appears on Thursdays. My topic was Eggheads in IBBs cabinet. Most Nigerians current with the military politics of the era can still remember it was a time professors of scholastic eminence had a strong presence in the government.

Then, there was a high visibility of the gown in on the corridor of power with Eggheads manning strategic ministries, departments and agencies of government, thinking and working for the gap-tooth general. Dodan Barracks and the Federal Secretariat, Alagbon, Ikoyi welcomed the academia as ministerial superintendents.From the Soyinkas to the Sam Oyovbaires, the Jerry Ganas, the Jubril Aminus, the Humphrey Nwosus, to the Tam David Wests, IBB really exploited these names to fan his flame of passion to be remembered as a man of history, although now debatable.

When I finished dissecting these scholars and their achievement or failures in government, raising doubts if those achievements would stand the test of time and serve the national interest, a senior colleague who read the piece adjudged my submission too caustic and toxic, warning me against impugning public officials as I might one day be in need of them.

Our mantra on the political desk, headed by the irrepressible Tunji Bello, now Secretary to the Lagos State Government,was No friend, no foe. We needn’t meet you physically for any pre-arranged personality interview to profile you as a public official or politician. Your work, your antecedents, impressions from friends and foes, the decisions you took in the context you found yourself in the past, what you said or was reported of you before and the circle you moved before coming to public prominence were enough to sculpt you on our Politics on Sunday and Political Searchlight pages.

This was in an age of epileptic telephone. That was in era with less developed transportation communication system; an era that email was a luxury and teleconferencing or video conferencing were yet to gain ground. New media or ICT that has crashed information walls now, for instance, GSM and all other info gadgets were not yet common place; portable gadgets  that put information right on our finger tips, on our table tops and on our plain wall without stepping out of our comfort zones and bedrooms, information   that ordinarily would have taken thousands of miles of travel, hundred thousands of naira in pocket and millions of naira worth of heavy broadcast equipment with unquantifiable man-hours of toil and hardship. So, interviewing public officials to be featured in newspapers at short deadlines could be quite herculean. When we therefore have an opportunity of meeting you one on one, it was just to confirm the details  already on our palms, details you would never know anybody has of you, details you might even have forgotten or you consider inconsequential; details you would think a soothsayer revealed to us.

Ours was a political desk with fidelity to research and history for objectivity and details, profound intellectual conviction, rigorous, critical and questioning minds. In our character on that desk, our pens were understandably caustic and our voices toxic, especially during the rituals of weekly meetings to discuss the contents of our political pages.With Bello and his fire spitting lieutenants like the sparkling  Sam Omatseye, now the editorial board Chairman of The Nation,  rigorous Victor Ifijeh who also today superintendsthe paper as its Managing Director, bohemian Louis  Odion then a young writer that has today grown to be an oak in our industry today, unassuming Gboyega Amobonye spending time in retirement now  after transiting to the public service, silent but hard knocking Felix Oboagwina, the ever-smiling historian on our desk, Jonas Agwu, now a top brass in the FRSC and my humble self, it was ahonor to be a member of the National Concord Political Desk.

It was also an honor to be an associate as we also often invite some very good hands in the house like Lanre Arogundade, Frank Igwebueze, Yomi Idowu, Ayo Aluko-Olokun, Waheed Odusile and Dan Aggbofode from the features, foreign and business desks when we needed to treat specialized issues on the political pages. Each week Thursday and Sunday therefore, our pages were collectors’ items, feared and revered for its fearlessness and objectivity. We were indeed caustic and toxic, but it was genuinely so, and not necessarily to destroy the nation with our biting writings.

It was our own way of holding public officials and those angling to enter the political arena as elective or appointive public officials responsible and accountable, not beholding to any special interest.  After all, it was in the era of the military preaching level playing ground for the new breed, a time we wanted a clean break from the politics of wetie and penkelemeesi, haraba and other dysfunctional dispositions that sounded the death knell for the first and second republics.

However, since the late 80s when we started the democratization journey to build a failed third republic to the present  that we are managing  the fourth republic, actions and conducts of many political office holders, their utterances  and machinations continue to fertilize the grounds for disturbing writings  in newspapers and social media   and  destabilizing discourses  on air. It is a difficult task, tasking a writer confronted with grim abuses by unpatriotic public officials not to see or hear evil committed by enemies of Nigeria.

It is difficult to pretend that we are on track to meeting and delivering on the UN development goals when some public officials are ripping off the nation, difficult to assume that every stakeholder is faithful to the implementation of the government programmes, project, agenda or vision, to believe that corruption will be been eliminated in our public life,It is indeed difficult to keep silent on the enemies of the state who, whileparading the state houses, sponsor state terrorism, according to public and media insinuations.

It is really difficult not to condemn criminals in power who appropriated the commonwealth to build empires on quicksand as evidenced by former governors featuring as regular guests of EFCC.These are the pains of the caustic pen-wielders and the virulent critics on air. Otherwise, men and women with hollow moral fibers will continue to have excuse for smooth ride to power.

The challenge of governance today requires that whistle –blowing becomes a strong pillar of deterring corruption in public life; it also demands fearless but dispassionate criticism of public policies as a tool of evaluating programme and project cost and impact; it necessitates robust and incisive discourses and analyses to assist government appreciate the concerns of all interest groups and stakeholders in order to mainstream such views in delivering public service.  I believe we will soon have very good reasons to temper our caustic pens and toxic voices.

Our columnists and anchormen are patriots whose tongues were broken in the past by leaders who did not fulfil their electoral promises and mandates. They are straining to keep their voices of reason in the interest of the nation, to keep in touch so that the Fourth Republic will endure.  But we also have honor and integrity to protect as builders whose concern for perfection must not result in throwing away the baby with the birth water. There must also be something good to tell about our nation, discoveries to be made, hope to be given; praises and adulation to be showered to give encouragement and motivation for good performance.

It is therefore gratifying that we are subjecting our caustic pens and toxic voices to the test of integrity by allowing for ombudsmen in our operations, right of reply to views we canvass, corrigendum on errors we commit and code of ethics we now openly proclaim. Check out Daily Times, The Nigerian Tribune, The Daily Trust, The Nation, the Daily Sun, The Guardian, Vanguard, The Punch and other newspapers and online news content providers who have openly declared their policies on ethics and advertorials.

Check out our codes of reporting and editorial guidelines; check out the national broadcasting codes to which our radio and television stations subscribe and you will know that there is in-built mechanism in our field to temper our caustic pens while mirroring the nation.

As the Watchdog of the polity, we remain the greatest defender, promoter and facilitator of good governance in any polity because in our functions we assure openness, accountability, giving voice to the underserved and calling attention to official negligence, just as we offer our platforms as performance measurement and peer review mechanisms in governance. We must however not recede on these noble obligations to the state.

*Abdulwarees, an assistant director of Strategic Planning and Corporate Development, Voice of Nigeria volunteers for the Muslim Public Affairs Centre Nigeria as Director Media and Strategic Communications.


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