By Collins OPUROZOR
One day in 2011, it was announced that one Nigerian journalist and writer in the USA would visit my alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was also expected to speak. Three things immediately informed my decision to attend. First, the expected guest had in the recent past been declared a national threat and an arrest warrant purportedly issued against him by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Second, I was a fan of his newspaper column. And, third, since he overtly professed his love for Chinua Achebe and always attempted to dress like the inimitable icon, as a lover of Achebe, it was difficult not to love him, too. In the arena of love, appearances also count. His name is Okey Ndibe.
Part of Ndibe’s grouse, as explained in his lecture on that day, was that the mass media in Nigeria, which as the fourth estate of the realm, had a mandate to interrogate and exposed social maladies, had indeed become collaborators in the destruction of the society itself. He spoke almost prophetically about a tragedy that has now befallen Imo state.
According to him, “One of the most disturbing trends that have emerged since 1999 is the practice of newspapers or groups of journalists handing out questionable performance awards to politicians. It is not uncommon for individual newspapers or groups of journalists to award “Governor of the Year” or “Best Minister of the Federation.”
“Others confer equally meretricious awards for “Transparent Governance” or prizes in the categories of education, health, agriculture etc. It is common knowledge that incompetent governors are all-too willing to spend small sums of cash to finagle these awards. Were Edmund Burke to witness the practice, chances are that he would reach for some fitting expression. Filled with disgust, he might speak about “a descent from the fourth estate to the first slum.”
He continued, “It behooves journalists to scrutinize the activities of occupants of public office. When, instead of doing so, journalists take to peddling prizes to governors, ministers and other politicians, then their ethically stinky practice deserves to be called by its proper name: a scam,”
For Ndibe still, “Too many reporters, columnists, editors and website administrators have felt comfortable suborning their witness for a mess of porridge from the master’s dining table. Unfortunately, too many members of the mass media have permitted themselves to be infected by the same grasping impulse that has polluted the political space.
“There can be no sweeter music to the ears of corrupt politicians than to realize that some journalists – too many of them, if you ask me – are for hire, willing to look the other way, to falsify accounts, even to invent tall tales of politicians’ accomplishments for the right price,” he wept.
Watching Chief Hope Uzodinma of Imo state last weekend being decorated by The Sun Newspaper as the Best Governor of the Year, what emerged was a picture of a society at war with its own conscience. Largely, it became clearer that our journalism has now gone from bad to worse. The decay that has pervaded the mass media in Nigeria also appeared irredeemable. I was in tears, and I asked myself: “Where are we going from here?” An award to a governor for destroying his state? Tufiaaa!
Imo is an entity which under Uzodinma almost all the rating boards in Nigeria have said inhabits the top positions in all the indices of social misery. Tonight, 58% of kids in Imo state will go to bed without food in their stomachs. Health prospects in Imo are getting poorer, with life expectancy in the state, which is 53 years, currently the lowest in Southern Nigeria. Unemployment has just hit 83% in Imo, even when the national average is 54%. Imo is the unemployment capital of Nigeria. It was better just two years ago.
The ravages of cancer and kidney diseases in Imo are excerbated by the fact that Uzodinma has built no single cancer-screening center, nor does he have any nephrologist on the payroll of his regime. While one in every five Imo women is prone to cancer, two in every eight Imo residents are prone to kidney diseases. Youths in the state are now staging street protests to create awareness about kidney diseases and to raise funds for the patients. Pathetic! The pain is not so much that policies have failed than that the regime has no policies in the first place.
Even in the face of all these, Uzodinma has continued to borrow endlessly to squander. Before the end of the first quarter of 2022, the debt profile of Imo had risen to N205.7 billion. Uzodinma’s borrowing spree has continued apace without any effort to redraw the industrial landscape of the state and create opportunities for the youths. To be clear: Imo is now more indebted than the four other states of the South East put together. Not a Kobo has been put into any venture that can rev up the local economy.
What exposes the ineptitude, cluelessness and confusion of Uzodinma and his band of praise-singers is the festering insecurity in the state. No responsible government politicizes or romanticizes an issue that has wrought collective grief upon its citizenry. Even when Imo has remained a killing field and a theater of war for more than one year, the self-styled Ben Johnson has never felt the urgency to address the issue in a sustainable manner. If anything, his approach and words have continued to fan the embers of restiveness and expand the frontiers of hostilities.
Uzodinma further sees in the insecurity an opportunity to frame perceived political foes and mark them out for possible elimination. He had even openly charged the so-called unknown gunmen to look the way of PDP members in their campaign of terror, destruction and death. So, being a member of an opposition party now qualifies someone for unjust, gruesome, violent and untimely death in Imo? This is terrible! Which reasonable governor encourages killers to go after his ostensible citizens simply because of differences in party identification? Imo needs prayers!
Uzodinma’s image stinks. He knows this fact. A million awards cannot change it. The agony, however, is that the management of The Sun Newspaper has allowed a stinking and sinking man to drag their establishment’s reputation to the mud for a mess of porridge. How would the kids and relatives of all the victims of insecurity in Imo see The Sun Newspaper? The internally displaced persons in Imo who are languishing in penury, how will they see the Sun Newspaper?
Make no mistakes: Imo has well over five hundred thousand internally displaced persons, which is bigger than the population of Barbados. How would they feel about the architect of their misfortune being decorated in a foreign land? What about the unemployed youths and the sick who have never seen a tablet of paracetamol from this regime? Our journalism needs empathy, depth, integrity, rigor and, above all, the fear of God.