AKPABIO,THE PRESS AND NATION-BUILDING
In any nation's history, there is always a liberation figure. Sometimes, individuals or groups turn out to be the people's hero. Thus, while Nigeria prepares for the celebration of her 50th independence anniversary, Governor Godswill Akpabio has singled out the press for commendation.
The role of the media in the final rescue of the nation from the grips of the colonial masters has remained undisputed over the years.
According to the governor, without the fearless contributions of the press, the independence of the nation would have been delayed beyond the 60s. He also added that journalists' contribution in restoring civil rule to the nation cannot also be wished away.
True, journalism has been in the vanguard of fighting oppression and injustice since the days of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who pioneered the vocation. Today, there is fresh breath of democracy which we recently celebrated the eleventh unbroken years of civil participation in governance.
Yet, in recent times, in celebrating the democratic gains, very little or nothing seems to have been credited to the press. The practitioners and the auxiliaries are left without much of respect to the extent of being forgotten in the allocation of political positions. Despite the poor regards given to the press, the practitioners are still vigorous in the pursuit of their responsibilities both at State level and at the national scene.
But to its credit, the press has remained the critical segment of the society; the voice of the voiceless.
All those and more, Akpabio noted last week at the National Executive Council meeting of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Indeed, it was a memorable gathering of those in the pen profession. Although it was not the first of such meetings since the coming into existence of NUJ, it was significant in the sense that it was the first time the body would single out an individual for a 'Responsive Governance Award!'
Yes, the army of journalists from across the 36 States and Abuja in the Federation converged to honour one of the living stars of democracy in the country. As he handed the unique award to Governor Akpabio, the national president of the NUJ, Mohammed Garba, noted that it was in recognition of the physical and social development engineered by the governor across the state.
Picking out Akpabio for the honour from among the 36 governors of the nation goes beyond the symbolic presentation of the plague. Significantly, the press simply continued in its avowed duty of contributing to good governance and instituting democracy as the best system of governance. That is because the verdict came from an independent assessment from an unbiased evaluator. In the end, commendation for a good job would only go a long way to boost the morale of the governor. Interestingly, it would also challenge other public office holders to emulate Akpabo in order to be faily judged by the Press.
Obviously, without democracy, it would have been difficult for the nation to reap the full talents and potentials of men like Akpabio. Garuba, on behalf of the journalists said the recognition was to further encourage the governor to attract more basic necessities of live to the entire nation. He mentioned that the press expects Akpabio to use his experiences to offer services to Akwa Ibom State and the country more than before. His words: 'the NUJ as a body will continue to support you. We will be seen standing courageously to project the truth about you and the relevance of various developments through your initiatives, attainments and visions'.
Looking at the achievements of Chief Akpabio which prompted the honour, the national president said that Akwa Ibom State government has given enough support to the national leadership of the country by encouraging peaceful coexistence among the various ethnic groups living, visiting and doing legitimate business in Akwa Ibom State. The profile of achievements, the NUJ said, indicated that good governance has been brought to the door steps of the people through free and compulsory education programme; building of an international airport; free health care, etc.
Conscious of the expected influx of traffic to the State for the extraction of natural gas and crude oil resources abound in parts of the State, Chief Akpabio has constructed a flyover to compliment the existing massive road network constructed across senatorial districts.
The action of the NUJ as a professional body in honouring Akpabio cannot be taken as another round of sycophancy. The body only confirmed earlier recognitions from Thisday, Daily Independent, AIT, National Daily, etc. Instructively, at each of the honour sessions, Akpabio has never taken such awards as the end of his service to mankind. Instead, he has always, in humility, dedicated the awards to the entire Akwa Ibom people, especially the children rescued from child slavery, forced prostitution and humiliation of becoming house helps.
At the NUJ award, Akpabio told the press, 'expect that in honoring me with the award of Good Governance, we will redefine our relationship and compliment each other in achieving the desired goals of development.' He was also very realistic to recognize that like any other profession, the press also has its own share of challenges. He noted that with regret that the Press has been taken over by 'ill qualified journalists, who are not college-trained and do not understand theories like the 'theory of Social Responsibility' which guide practices. Such people do not have any respect for truth and wallow in spinning lies.'
It is true that many people, apparently of the wrong notion that journalism is nothing but a mere ability to string words together, have soiled the image, reputation and heritage of the noble profession. Even with its bravery and courage in fighting for the enthronement of democracy, the influx of fakes, illiterates and quacks into the profession has remained one of the greatest challenges. Akpabio was therefore right when he submitted that,' There is nothing wrong with journalism that journalism itself cannot correct', arguing, 'I believe that journalism is itself a self cleansing profession which has both the moral will and professional strength to rid itself of the hired character assassins in its midst'.
He was even happier when Garba said the NUJ has started repositioning the profession, aimed at restoring confidence. Maybe due to poor pay packages, the qualified ones even bend low by compromising to corrupt practices, hence, Garuba mentioned that the issue of appropriate pay has been pursued to an advance stage with the Salaries and Wages Commission in Abuja. To protect genuine practitioners from the hazards associated with the profession, the NUJ, he said, has also gone into arrangements of an insurance policy for its registered members.
Hopefully, the pen profession is back on the path towards assuming its position as the defender of the truth. When the boys are eventually separated from the men in journalism, it is expected to lead to reduced incidents of gutter and yellow journalism, as well as the casting of fictions as facts for public consumption. Analysts insist that the present situation, where every Tom, Harry and Johnson claim to be journalists would only negate the laudable contributions of the media in nation-building.
•Mr Akpan is a journalist based in Uyo