The common phenomenon all over the world is that most dictatorial regimes are never comfortable with the press, be it print or electronic media. They never want criticisms, constructive or otherwise. The media is always at the receiving end since they stand between the dictators and the rest of the society. It is a dare devil operation when one runs a media house in a society where the man at the helm of affairs is an outright dictator.
In the struggle for democratic governance in Nigeria, the press played a central role and it is on record that the press suffered the worst form of persecution, harassment and intimidation. The obnoxious decree four of the military era is still very vivid in our memory.
Even when Olusegun Obasanjo was incarcerated as a result of his stern criticisms against the Abacha led government, the press took the struggle for his release to the international community. It won’t be wrong, therefore, to conclude that Obasanjo is a major beneficiary of the Nigerian press.
It is most unfortunate that it is the same Obasanjo who was very active in criticizing Babangida and Abacha during his active days, and who benefited immensely from the press, is the same person that is now destroying the press. He has forgotten how the gentlemen of the press put all they had to fight for his freedom at the time he was walking in the valley of death.
He has also forgotten how the same press jubilated with him when he regained his freedom. He has forgotten how the press marketed his candidacy in 1999 even when his own people were against him. Our memories might be short but history is ever present to remind us of the past.
Sometimes late last year, Saharareporters, a website dedicated to reporting events in Nigeria, reported extensively the money laundering activity of President Obasanjo and his former aide, Andy Uba. Obasanjo threatened to sue them and had taken measures to close them down. Thank God they are not operating from Nigeria; their office would have been razed down under mysterious circumstances and the editor cooling off with the SSS.
The Chair of Thisday editorial board, Mr. Godwin Agbroko was recently killed in a mysterious circumstance. Though the Nigerian Police made us to believe that it was a case of armed robbery attack, as they claimed that some men of the Force also lost their lives in the incidence, no one knew the identities of those policemen.
Shortly after this, the same newspaper lost the Penthouse of its corporate head office complex to a mysterious inferno. Daily Independent had their office shut down and their Publisher and General Manager arrested by men of the SSS for what the government of Obasanjo called ‘embarrassing statement’ in their account of how Peter Odili lost out in the just concluded party primaries. Abuja Inquirer has also been shut down for no obvious reason.
Most of the media houses have their stories to tell. You play along with the government and you get patronized by way of advert placements. But once you are perceived as not towing the lines, life would be made so terrible for you that you’d regret the day you decided to venture into media business. If you are not very lucky, you could be permanently shut out of business. However, this is only for a short while.
If the same Nigerian press could come out victorious from the dark days of the military era, it is not an exaggeration to say that it will overcome the present persecution from the Obasanjo led administration.
A government will come and go but the press will always remain.
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