There is a root cause, Find it Mr Minister and watch what happens!
I remember my days in Radio Nigeria and I truly wonder why things have not changed in the Broadcasting House, Ikoyi, lagos with a man like Alhaji Lai Mohammed in position as the Honorable Minister of Information and Culture.
Let me do some kind of rewind, I worked a few years with Cool FM in Lagos and that was a place anyone would love to work in, this was around 2001, it was a lovely work environment where things “worked” as they should, it was a place where the engineers listened to the radio and knew when something was wrong and they moved to sort it out immediately. I worked here for a couple of years before I decided it was time to move!
That decision came to be after a divine meeting with one of the eggheads of journalism, Prince Atilade Atoyebi and I never forget sitting on the same table at lunch with him during a conference in Ibadan, we got talking and he asked where I worked and I told him cool FM and he said to me that he was impressed with the way I presented my group work at that media conference, then he asked me “how would you like to forge a career in journalism at Radio Nigeria”?
I recall taking in a deep breath and my mind raced back to when my first cousin, Chinyere Nwachukwu was there and she took me to work a couple of times, I truly was too young at that time to understand what a good working environment was but then at the time Prince Atoyebi and I were talking, Radio Nigeria at that time still provided the atmosphere where you could get trained if you focus your mind on learning the ropes so I took the opportunity as it dropped on my laps and I said “that would be nice sir, I hope they pay is good since its government” and he outrightly told me “if you are thinking about money then Radio Nigeria might not be a place you want to go to but, you will learn on the job and you will be trained”. That did it for me and I decided, there and then to kickstart the process of moving on to Radio Nigeria, from a very comfortable work environment to somewhere, where the offices didn’t have air conditioners and no staff bus to drop you off or pick you in the morning.
I got back to Lagos, went to my Deputy MD at that time Mr Chris Ubosi who presently owns and manages Beat, Classic, Naija FM and Lagos Talks and I remember saying to him that I was moving on to Radio Nigeria, his clear question was “why are you leaving here for there’? I gave him my reason and he wished me well.
Fast forward to when I got there, It truly was a place where you learned the ropes and understood exactly why you should do this or not do that on the job. There were very many examples and people you could emulate and there were many who genuinely wanted to help you grow, so I put my head down and soaked in everything I could like a towel, made my mistakes and took the lessons there-in but the essence of this is to draw attention to the fact that just like Nigeria where yesterday is better than today according to one of my callers on The Daily report, you discover that the 60s was better than the 70s which was far better than the 80s, the 90s was more enjoyable for others and it goes on and on.
At the time I was in radio Nigeria, I recall how obsolete some of the equipment had become and the people had to devise other means to get their jobs done because they were simply after results. I recall when we had to power the studio downstairs with a small generator and you dare not leave the studio door open or else the noisy gen will register at home where your listeners were enjoying your show, we sweating in a studio that felt like an oven and I remember we used to just laugh it off cos we were enjoying the job and we had hope that things were going to get better, they never improved till I left in 2007.
Successive governments have come and one would expect that things will change but no, it is getting worse. Yes I hear that some of the studios have improved but I wonder how that has affected people in the course of their job. I can speak about it now because I have been there and I know how we worked and today I hear stories about the place where people plough in their resources to get their own tools of trade to do a job that gives credit to the Federal Civil service.
To answer your question of where I went to after I left radio Nigeria, I moved on to radio and TV continental and the difference was very wide, think about it, that was a place that gave me room to expand and explode my ideas and that was what I did, with the professional know-how I had acquired for Radio Nigeria, sailing on radio continental and breaking into TV was like a piece of cake because I had been thoroughly baked and I could confidently put my ideas across.
I remember having a conversation with Alhaji Lai Mohammed while I still worked for the station because he was a constant guest on our programmes on radio and TV and I recall chatting to him about Nigeria and where she was going, his answer gave me hope and I held on to it, don’t ask me what had happened to that hope since his party came to office at the Federal Level.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed moved from being a spokesperson of the APC to a Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture under the “APC” led Federal Government and I said to myself, Radio Nigeria, one of the Parastatals under him will change but alas, the story is simply worse than what anyone can think of.
Let me take you to the Radio Nigeria Training School, a place where I was trained under the supervision of the late Madam Veronica Osawere, it was somewhere you wanted to go because you know the “old brigade” who knew the drill will take you through the furnace over and over again until you are fully baked and ready to be served to the listener, we didn’t have a full class where you had 200+ students like you have today and stations saw reasons why they needed to send their staff there.
That institution is a shadow of itself now and the plight of many who go there and still can’t hold their own in the journalism space is a story for another day.
Recently, the Federal Government approved the review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant related laws to increase fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speech, inciting comments and indecency and I asked the question, what exactly defines hate speech?
What this may cause is that Radio and TV stations may now do away with programmes that talk politics where people call in and express themselves because they do not want to run foul of this directive up here.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed said in the new dispensation, a willful repeat of infractions on three occasions after an initial levy would attract suspension of broadcast license. Who wants to get his license taken off?
That simply means that Duty Continuity Announcers will begin to talk like persons walking on eggshells which negates the principles of being yourself on air. Let us note here that I am not a party to abusing government officials but focusing on the issues by drawing daggers without using any is what I have always advocated but this new directive is capable of breeding zombies who simply dish out what the government of the day wants to hear!
Minister Lai Mohammed also said that President Muhammadu Buhari had equally sanctioned an upgrade of breach of divisive political remarks to ‘’Class A’’ offence in the Broadcasting Code.
Currently, he says there are just 200 staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations and the deployment of equipment and technologies for NBC as well as enhancement of welfare packages for employees to avoid their being compromised in the line of duty.
He noted that the decisions followed the deliberations on the unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations, especially before and during the last general elections.
So it is clear that this could be a government that is not ready to hear the truth from the masses and this might spell doom for Nigeria as a nation because when you muzzle the voice of the people or gag those who give them a platform to speak then how do you measure development or feel the pulse of the people?
It takes my mind to Kubanji Direct, a programme that brought the issues of governance to the front burner, one programme that had the likes of Alh lai Mohammed as guest, a programme that was created and presented by the fearless Momoh Kubanje of blessed memory, a programme I inherited after my mentor and boss Femi Sowoolu assigned it to me shortly after Momoh passed on, that programme on Radio Continental was the toast of Nigeria, it was hot in the days when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in office and people were allowed to talk to the issue, yes some people went off track just as people do with all politicians who were being x-rayed and it takes the presenter on air to call the person back on track and we did that most of the time.
Others who handled the show, Ayo makinde, Tokunbo Ojekunle and Jones Usen all did what every professional would do when people went off track but that programme died and rests today just like the man who created it, the resting of the programme happened because the station rebranded but my point is, why would the government decide to gag people with this fine that has been slammed in our faces, you find that stations are having meetings and meetings to decide how to maintain a clean slate, how that will happen is what no one truly understands now.
For me, it would have made more sense for the Minister to focus on reviving all the radio Nigeria Stations so that they can compete with private stations, welfare packages need to truly change, work environment should top notch, obsolete equipment should be thrown to the dustbin and replaced with newest of what the industry offers.
The Radio Nigeria Training school where people come from all over Nigeria should be upgraded or even handed over to private individuals to manage but that might not work because because government still wants a hold on it but why not? I still wonder how a woman like Funke treasure Durodola was left to go, that’s a woman with a natural talent to teach and you have not choice to understand what she pours out during her trainings, she retires and the management lets her go. She will kill me for this but, I will say here that she would have been the magic that Radio Nigeria needs to revive that Academy that is gradually dying!
If Minister Lai Mohammed wants to manage information flow, he needs to look again at the workings of the NTA and Radio Nigeria alongside the National Orientation Agency (NOA), National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Voice Of Nigeria, Nigerian Press Council, News Agency Of Nigeria, Advertising Practitioners Council Of Nigeria amongst others.
I believe if the workings of these organizations are properly outlined, the government will have nothing to fear about because if you start by gagging people, they find other ways to express themselves.
I have just clicked on https://www.nta.ng/category/news/domestic/page/4/ and observed that it had no news about the opposition or other smaller parties, it was basically about president Muhammadu Buhari and one wonders why It has to be just about him in a country of 200 million Nigerians.
We truly need to change the way we do things so that people can be carried along and understand why things are the way they are.
I am watching closely to see how government intends to drive this its policy and we await the document that outlines exactly what constitutes Hate Speech!