Remember Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, that seminal work first published in 1972, which audacious thinking set the academia on fire?
In the Nigerian university campus of the 1980s, you didn’t belong if you hadn’t read the book; and pressed, into service, its enchanting quotes.
Given the current media temper, marked by slanted stories, unfazed finger-pointing and pseudo-analyses, perhaps a Rodney follow-up is due: How the Nigerian media underdevelop Nigerian politics! Is any media scholar game?
Were you to transpose media fare today back to the 1980s, the unceasing stream of jeremiads, on the alleged hopelessness of the Nigerian situation, would probably have inspired another band of military pseudo-saviours to storm the Bastille.
But maybe the media had always misled the polity with sensational reactions, when a reflective, introspective and well-reasoned option would do.
Maybe that had always helped to derail the state, and feed it to a military train, clanging and chugging to nowhere.
And maybe, present media howling aren’t producing past follies simply because the media, in its fatal hubris, is blissfully shackled to the past — far behind the society it has thrust itself to lead!
That’s why its havoc on politics — and the polity — would appear humongous indeed; but which the fourth estate, in its holy rage, appears to least appreciate.
Ringing renunciation from within? Perhaps! But maybe ringing media naivety, always passing the routine as the novel, explains why.
Take the hysteria over the so-called “cabal”.
The word cabal crept into pubic consciousness, during the Goodluck Jonathan presidential cause of 2009-2010, when a Katsina power bloc tried to stonewall the then Vice President, in the name of fatally ill President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
It was a battle well fought and won, in the best tradition of Nigerian media crusading; dating back to the era of the old masters: John Payne Jackson and his son, Horatio (Lagos Weekly Record), George Alfred Williams (Lagos Standard), James Bright Davies (Times of Nigeria) and Herbert Macaulay (Lagos Daily News) to mention just a few Titans in the early Nigerian press.
Since then, however, no thanks to analytical naivety, if not outright analytical corruption, “cabal” has seized a section of the southern media.
From Yar’Adua’s “Katsina cabal” to Muhammadu Buhari’s so-called “Daura cabal”, you would think a governmental inner caucus was novel. It isn’t.
Indeed, between 1967 and 1983, approximating early military rule and President Shehu Shagari’s 2nd Republic, the southern media was fixated with the so-called “Kaduna mafia”. That was at the apex of the northern power hegemony.
Even if “Kaduna mafia” was justifiable southern angst against blatant northern political domination, a “mafia” or “cabal” is a harsh power reality.
Indeed, where two or three are gathered to form a ruling bloc — over an association, town’s union, government or even churches and mosques — there probably is a cabal.
Why, even President Jonathan, of the minority of minorities, had his “Ijaw cabal”! So did the all-powerful Afenifere of old. Or why did some peeved Oyo-speaking partisans back then rail at the so-called “Ijebu mafia”?
But make no mistake: a cabal or mafia that skews public policy, in favour of its narrow clan, deserves ringing condemnation. Thus, the Yar’Adua era “Katsina cabal” deserved all its knocks. So does the Buhari “Daura cabal”, if charges are proved.
What is not right is freezing extant cases — proven or speculative — hold them up as novel but eternal and proceed to approach every matter, no matter how harmless, from that skewed prism.
That is the cul-de-sac much of the southern media have run themselves into. At best, it is analytical mischief. At worst, it is analytical fraud, which full wages may yet, in future, plague a southern president.
After all, no section of the country boasts a monopoly of terrorism — media or otherwise.
Take the needless controversy over the reported Buhari instruction to the World Bank to concentrate developmental efforts in the “North”. In a media driven by good faith, that should sound asinine to anybody.
For one, Nigeria’s North East, scene of Boko Haram’s humongous destruction and grave human misery, couldn’t have been in the “South”, whether by Nigeria’s politics or geography. Are fellow Nigerians up there not entitled to some quick relief?
For another, the statement clearly issued from the naivety of the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, whose honest statement was wilfully slanted to suit Nigeria’s explosive political geography.
The controversy raged nonetheless, with full venom, based on the faulty premise — but sweet emotions — that a northern cabal, with full presidential charter, was there, at the ready, to do in the “South”!
A fierce, anti-south northern cabal must also have driven the sensational report, by a business newspaper, that President Buhari’s “appointments” were skewed eight-to-two, in North’s favour.
It was a scandalous stacking of cards, toward a preconceived direction, to suck in the unwary. Brandishing a “fact-check”, its skewed “facts” indeed “proved” Buhari’s presidential appointments were 81 per cent “northern”. But arrayed against fairer parameters, one-sided cynicism never barged so loud!
Incidentally, the report excluded — cleverly? — ministerial appointees, perhaps because that did not paint the one-sided picture it was pushing. Yet, that opened a more even vista into the subject.
From the breakdown later given by presidential sources, the South West got the highest (40, after delivering 15.7% of presidential votes), even above the president’s native North West (30, which nevertheless gave him 46% of the votes).
The newspaper’s mischief, if not outright malice, was even more manifest from the South East tally. For 1.3% of the vote, that region got 22 ministerial appointments, only two less than North East’s 24 (18.5% of the vote), but one more than North Central’s 21 (for 14.7% of the vote) and a clear two above the South-South’s 20 (for an equally lowly 2.7% of the vote.)
So long for reportorial fiction from a southern media, unfazed about cutting its nose to spite its face!
Still, the ever ready riposte — where are the “juicy” portfolios? Simple: if you want “juicy” portfolios (whatever that means) deliver juicy votes.
Frankly, it is dishonourable and unconscionable to deliver minuscule vote but insist on ministerial juice! The juice is no manna from heaven. Some citizens put it there by their votes.
Still, this is no ringing endorsement of the Buhari presidency. For its blunders, it must take adequate knocks, if only to show that the people are the masters in a democracy; and that the media is their chief agent to assert that right.
But in seeking to chase a northern cabal, the southern media has itself developed a cabalistic mindset, which spews nothing but hate, malice and bigotry.
That is a self-imposed tragedy — which shows how it might be under-developing Nigerian politics — and polity.
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