TEXT OF THE PRESS BRIEFING BY THE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, IN ABUJA ON THURSDAY, OCT. 28TH 2021
Gentlemen, good afternoon, and welcome to this press briefing. As you are very much aware, there have been various reactions to the stereotypical story on Nigeria by The Economist. So, we are not about to rehash what has been said about that publication. But before dwelling on the focus of this press briefing, let me make a quick observation.
The Economist Group, of which The Economist magazine is an integral part, has been wrong about Nigeria before, just as it is wrong about Nigeria this time around. Recall, gentlemen, that shortly before the 2019 general elections, The Economist Intelligence Unit, also from the stable of The Economist Group, predicted that the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, will win the election. Well, The Economist was wrong. President Muhammadu Buhari won re-election by over 3 million votes. So, The Economist and other arms of the group are not infallible.
Now, to the focus of today’s briefing. Gentlemen, the Nigerian press is reputed to be one of the most vibrant in the world. This is not a fluke. The Nigerian press has indeed earned its epaulets, and its vibrancy has been honed by years of fearlessly taking on whoever crosses its path, whether they are colonialists or military rulers. It is therefore not a surprise that the media was assigned a role by the 1999 Constitution. Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution tasks the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media to, at all time, be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
In simple English, the Nigerian press has a watchdog role assigned to it by the framers of our Constitution. Please note the catchphrase, WATCHDOG. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines ‘watchdog’ as ”a person or organization responsible for making certain that companies obey particular standards and do not act illegally:” The Constitution never envisages or mandates the Nigerian press to be a LAPDOG, which is defined by the same dictionary as ”someone who is willing to do anything that a more important person tells them to do”. As a matter of fact, the Nigerian press cannot and must not play the role of a LAPDOG.
The idea of the Nigerian media, especially the traditional media, regurgitating anything and everything published or reported by its foreign counterpart is totally antithetical to its reputation of independence and vibrancy. The Nigerian media does itself a great disservice by turning itself into an echo chamber of the foreign media.
When The Economist reported its patently-wrong and badly-researched story, it was immediately amplified by the local media, without even interrogating its content? This is totally unconscionable! For example, The Economist reported that the Jihadist threat in the North-east has ‘metastasized’, and everyone knows that this is totally inaccurate. Prior to the time it was dislodged, which was before Dec. 2015 when I led a team of local and international journalists to Bama in Borno state, Boko Haram established the headquarters of its so-called Caliphate in that town (Bama), where it hoisted its flag, collected taxes as well as installed and removed Emirs at will. Today, Boko Haram has no Caliphate anywhere in Nigeria. Yet, the Nigerian press regurgitated that report by The Economist.
Again, at a time that Boko Haram and ISWAP are taking on each other in a mutually-destructive lockstep, and at a time that the terrorists are surrendering in drovesas a result of heavy pounding by the military, it is wrong to say that Jihadists are carving out a Caliphate in the North-East, as the Economist reported. In any case, why would the Nigerian media become an echo chamber for a foreign newspaper that denigrates the Nigerian military and makes light of the sacrifices of our valiant troops? Would the British or American press regurgitate a report in the Nigerian press denigrating their militaries?
Gentlemen, I do not believe that the Nigerian media hates this country, neither will I agree that the media does not appreciate our military. But I appeal to you to stop endorsing the denigration of our country, our military, our institutions by some unscrupulous foreign media. By regurgitating their inaccurate stories about Nigeria, you are endorsing their stand. The Nigerian media was mandated to be a watchdog, not a lapdog.
I thank you for your kind attention. I will now take your questions.
Editing by Adeniyi Bakare