– The Sun News

Media and development challenge in Nigeria at a time of crisis (1)

Emma Okocha

These are interesting times in Nigeria. In many ways, they are troubling times. But if history teaches anything, it is that trouble can be opportunity. The apparent threat to human progress by extant reality in Nigeria could be the point of surge for progress, or, if inappropriately handled, the curvature from which we either tip into Jared Diamond-type collapse or Robert Kaplan-predicted anarchy.

Given the multifaceted nature the challenges confronting nation building and economic development in Nigeria both efforts at explication of the nature of the crisis and paths to solution have to be multidisciplinary. I am fortunate, therefore, that I came to the issue with a multidisciplinary academic tooling, beginning here at UNN with Mass Communication and then spreading to Policy Economics, Political Science and Business Administration. I have in fact found that I have followed enough economic historians that I now find myself being referred to as a historian.

In many ways though a good Mass Communication person needs to be a bit of all of those, and much more, if meaning of value is to be transmitted from source to the receivers of what we push through the channels that are infected by all kinds of physical and semantic noises that impact the fidelity of the message.

Besides, the superior logic of a multidisciplinary approach to reflecting on the media’s role in assessing and shaping development tradition draws us to that approach. Much of what was media and society research was led by scholars from other disciplines.

When Ithiel de Sola Pool died of cancer at 66 in 1984, I related to the much-celebrated MIT political scientist at that time as a PhD in Political Science, but I first encountered this author of the 1973 “Handbook of Communication” as an undergraduate in Mass Communication in UNN after the return of Ralph Chude Okonkwor inspired a select number of my classmates such as Ike Emeagwali, Isah Momoh and I to take an interest in Media and Society Research.

Indeed, it is worthy of mention here that my first two publications, which were in a refereed European academic journal within two years of my leaving UNN, started their journey from the library of the Jackson School. The piece “Historical-Philosophical Foundations of Media Ownership in Nigeria,” whose first draft was written in my final year, here at UNN, was of a multidisciplinary conception, drawing from my interest in History, Political Science and Public Administration, in addition to media studies.

I am pleased therefore to turn, today, to Structural Economics, International Political Economy, Institutional Economics, History, and Comparative Politics to suggest how the media may shape the agenda that could determine whether Nigeria

claims the promise of the dawn of self-government or tip over into anarchy.

We shall turn next to the state of the economy and the process of media influence to establish the context of the dilemma of progress in Nigeria.

What is the current state of the economy?

An incredible test of the way things are, is how they vote with their feet. There is exodus from Nigeria at the bottom and the Middle. The statistics of upper middle class, well educated, well paid managers and executives emigrating to Canada almost leaves the sense of scramble off a sinking ship. Why are IBTC managers, former bank MDs abandoning Nigeria even in middle age?

At the bottom, we are regaled daily by images of Nigerians being repatriated from Libya after torturous time crossing the dessert, and a taste of slavery. This is even far less gory than images of scooping bodies of those drowning in the Mediterranean.

The perception that things are not just bad but are likely to get worse is driving these choices. I have numerous anecdotal personal encounters, from a couple in the New York subway last September to that which led to my OPED piece “The generation that left town.”

Should a country endowed so generously be the domain of such economic underperformance? Why are nation’s poor, and how do rising expectations and global media impact the sense of self-worth in a country managed such that it is performing below potential, leaving its people dispirited, destitute and easy recruits for terrorism, insurgency and criminal gangs involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and political thuggery.

In 1996, I wrote the book “Why Nations are Poor” and several years later even dared to suggest in another book that Nigeria acts as if it desires to be poor, in spite of the abundance of resources, human and material, that could make it a very wealthy country.

Mass Media Society Theory and Media Influence

If the forgoing be the state of the human condition in Nigeria, largely captured from Political Economy perspectives, how can media be used to influence the course Nigeria could travel in the face of these realities, and more importantly, how can journalism or Mass Communication be taught here in a way that may affect those who move from the Den to arena of proxies and can have impact that could orient the path of history?

I would like to open this section of the discussion with two caveats that provide some insight into my view of the essence of the university and its influence; and my view of how history aids explanation of social Phenomena.

About 18 years ago, I returned to the green hills of Nsukka as speaker to give one of the lectures to mark 40 years of the University of Nigeria. Back then, Karl Maier’s book, “This House has Fallen – Midnight in Nigeria,” had just been published. A few years earlier, I had also responded to request from Enugu campus to share the podium with Justice Chukwudifu Oputa to speak on the idea of a university, revisiting John Henry Cardinal Newman and the mission of the university.


(To be continued next week)


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Tokunbo David
Tokunbo David

Writer and editor.

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