THE PRESS AND MILITARY RULE IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF IBRAHIM BABANGIDA’S MILITARY REGIME
The press is the watchdog of the society and a virile press represents the conscience of the people. The duties of the press can only be achieved in an atmosphere of press freedom of expression, freedom to be informed and to inform as well as all fundamental human rights as expressed in various charters and treaties of the international community and above all the Nigerian constitution. Nigeria, like most third world countries was still under military dictatorship that sees any opposition as a threat and direct confrontation.
The only solution known to it is militarised solution. Hence the countless arrests, detention, assassination and obnoxious decrees dole out to snuff life out of the press. Despite all these, the press did not shy away from its moral and constitutional duties all aimed at creating a better society for this generation and indeed generation yet to come. This work is aimed at critically examining the conditions the press found itself in during the repressive years of military rule in Nigeria. It examines the working conditions of the press and commendably highlights the bravado of Nigerian press in the fight against tyranny and suppression of the populace at large.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
A Virile press is the conscience and voice of the people, it plays and optimises this Role only in an atmosphere of complete freedom termed “press freedom” an atmosphere where ideas, information and opinion are expressed freely without intimidation, fear or favour. Unfortunately, this atmosphere can hardly, if ever, be guaranteed by any form of dictatorship and military dictatorship in particular. These military dictators are only accountable to themselves and owe nobody any subordination.
From medieval times, the hallmark of dictatorship anywhere in the world is to whip every segment of society into a streamlined position of society into position of their choice, held rigid with “Iron Bars” and any deviant either by way of thought, speech, act, opinion, or behaviour expressed privately, publicly or secretly is summarily crushed. Using various instruments of intimidation and coercion such as imprisonment, physical assault, confiscation and destruction of properties up to death penalty for “culprit” and members of family including wives an children. One then appreciates the magnitude of problems facing the Fourth Estate of the Realm from 1985 to 1993 years of military dictatorship which bore in the Herculean task of information educating and mobilising the populace for and against perceived government ill policies.
The mass media literally rolled out the red carpet to welcome Babangida’s administration who in turn remained a darling and toast to them while capitalising on the “New found love” to gain wide credibility and acceptable, both locally and internationally. Soon enough the honeymoon and funfair was over. The press had sung the praises of this man (Babangida) too soon. Subsequent evidence however contradicted these praise songs.
Media houses were shut down with magazines and newspapers confiscated. Journalists were harassed, detained and draconian decrees enacted to curtail press freedom. In October 1987, Mr. Dele Giwa, one of the Nigeria’s finest Brain in Journalism was killed buy a parcel bomb. This ended the new found love between the press and the General Ibrahim Babangida. From then on, it was the closure of one newspaper house or the other, numerous detentions without trials, numerous death threats, countless physical harassments and mal-handling destruction or confiscation of a whole publication machineries and vehicles. In 1990 the Punch Newspaper was sealed from April 29 to May 20. Their offence was that the government viewed their News item on the Abortive Gideon Okar’s coup too detailed and informative.
Also, the premises of John West Publishers of Lagos News was sealed off and the top Editorial staff incarcerated for similar reasons. It was the turn of Vanguard Newspaper on June 11 when it carried a story on the demonstrating traders of Alaba international Market. This time, it was the order of Lagos State Governor under Col. Raji Rasaki. Following an interview granted by Mrs. Braithwaite, wife of Tunji Braithwaite, a frontline politician on July 7th 1990 the office of T.S.M Magazine was ransacked and the entire week’s publication seized or destroyed. The Editorial staff was arrested and the publisher Mrs. Chris Anyanwu began her match to a subsequent seven years imprisonment.
Several journalists were also arrested and detained in similar circumstances including Chris Maman, Egbosa Aimufua Toye Akinjode, Emma Agu, Dan Bala Abu and a host of others. Non of these journalists was arraigned before a civil court or charged with any offence.This wanton arrest and detention did not stop at members of the press alone, it extended to their immediate family, wife, children, friends ad well-wishers with no respect for age, sex and social status. In June 24 1990, nursing mother Mrs. Ladi Oloruyomi wife of Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, a wanted editor of the News was detained at Alagbon along with her three month old baby, when the military authority could not get her husband arrested.
Similar and countless number of arrest was recorded for notable “friends” of the press, such as Human Rights crusade like Gani Fawhimi, Mr. Femi Falana Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba. This oppression is not limited to print media; it transcended all segments of journalism from print media to photo journalism, and electronic media. On July 22, 1993, the premises of Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) was shut down along side the premises of Sketch, the Punch and Concord Press. On August 11 of same year, the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) dismissed Mr. Ladi Lawal a newscaster for casting the Day’s News without prior vetting by the military.
To show that every paraphernalia of military dictatorship is involved in the oppression of the press, the Nigerian Army as an institution warned journalists, on the 4th of May 1990 that it would ruthlessly deal with any media house that publishes news items which intentionally or unintentionally embraces or seem to embarrass the military or members of their family, relations and friends. Overall, the members of the press were arrested, detained or killed for exposing the corruption , nepotism, insincerity and brutality of the military as typified by General Ibrahim B Babangida junta.
Apart from caging the press by way of denying the press freedom, government licensing of the electronic media, that is, Radio and television services was a very strong control mechanism, considering the potency of both media in mass education and mobilisation among Nigerians; majority of whom are illiterates and rural dwellers. Hence, for a long time and indeed throughout the military era in review, only government owned the electronic media. The workers of such outfits were usually turned into propaganda machine often against the dictates of their conscience with demotion, stagnation and outright termination of appointments as the price for choosing to uphold your conscience and ethics of the profession. A case of he who pays the piper dictates the ‘dance’ not only the ‘tune’. The press is not completely innocent and in fact some media practitioners could be directly and indirectly linked with the military government. The corruption that has pervaded every sector of the nation has not spared the press either.
More so, members of the press engaged in destructive criticism of democratic government. Sometimes out of sheer ignorance but mostly deliberately in order to get undue attention, sell their product or the services of their pay-master who may be disadvantaged in the political terrain. This always occur after a national election.The over-blowing of normal democratic process such as debates and disagreements often portray the politicians as incapable of running the affairs of the state. The press in its report always fails to highlight that the disagreement are healthy to the polity; in the second and fourth Republic, a lot of disagreement between the legislature and executives were reputed in bad light instead of bringing out the real issues. Hence the passive turbulence between the former senate president Chief Anyim Pius Anyim and the executive.
At times, press often over-heat the system with provocative news against the interest of the state, especially in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and democracies like our society Nigeria. Such over-heat news items helps enthroning military rule. A vivid case was the alleged contract scandal for planting of flowers by late Dr. Okadigbo, senate president federal Republic of Nigeria as well as the alleged numerous fabulous estate of chief Pius Anyim in Abuja, and the likes of other serving governors and federal executive members. Such news items reoccurring on the news stand before proper investigation only serve one purpose of over-heating the system thereby inviting the military indirectly.
Even though the politicians are more responsible for the arrival of the military, it is often done in tight collaboration with members of the press under partisanship of the press and the perceived tribal nature of the Nigerian press, the acronym of WESTERN PRESS, EASTERN PRESS and NORTHERN PRESS, e.t.c all play a great role in enthroning military rule. Corrupt pressmen collect the Brown envelope in order to publish a deliberate falsehood, thereby portraying their benefactor in an underserved favourable limelight while his enemy is portrayed as worse devil and enemy of the state. In other instances, corrupt members of the press can actually collaborate with enemies of the state to plot and execute the over-throwing of a democratic government.
The arrival of General Ibrahim B. Babangida government was highly welcomed by the press who actually ‘danced’ round town with Brilliant Headlines screaming the praises of a man who later turned to be “Evil genius”. The press was highly instrumental to his being accepted locally and internationally.The press were rewarded with the abrogation of Decree 4 of 1984. This however, turned out to be a creek gift. They also benefited with juicy political appointments as members, Board of Directors of parastatals, ministers and commissioners as well as press secretaries to political appointees, thereby creating a symbiotic relationship with the government of Ibrahim Babangida indeed. It was a great ivory of creation for two “parallel line” to suddenly meet. The cat suddenly became friendly with the fish. That marked the beginning of his baptism as “maradona”. It also marked the beginning of compromise in the duties of the Nigerian press during the military rule.
Also, Babangida penetrated the media high command, enlisted practising journalist as propaganda agents and employed a combination of intimidation and coercion against forms or dissent. He was subtle yet determined and ruthless.
THE PRESS AND MILITARY RULE IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF IBRAHIM BABANGIDA’S MILITARY REGIME
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEMS
The ill-advised and ill-fated Dimka coup of February 13, 1976 inadvertently threw into National spotlight a leader that will rule Nigeria in the name of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who was born in August, became president in August and left office in August. Numerologist and Astrologists could have some explanation of his personality. The question is , “Did IBB actually manipulate the media for self perpetuation?” The media was contaminated by IBB and forced into perceived compromise from which it is yet to recover.
1.3 OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The issue of repression of the press was a recurrent phenomenon of the military era. This work attempts to highlight the uneasy relationship between the press and the military in Nigeria. It aims at reviewing the performance of the press under military dictatorship and in performing its societal role. Equally this work will examine both endogenous and exogenous factors responsible for press repression.