By Charles Ajunwa
It is a measure of its indispensable role in democratic societies that the mass media has come to be regarded as the fourth estate of the realm. Over the centuries, the advanced democracies of the world have depended on the media to foster their political, economic and social development. At every stage of their advancement the media was always visible as a dependable partner in progress. That is why today, the mass media dominates every aspect of life in developed societies.
The influence is so much that many of such societies have turned into mass societies, a situation where the mass media has stripped the society of its diversity and dictates how everybody lives their lives. As if that is no enough the electronic media, especially television, has combined well with the information technology and successfully turned the world into the “global village” we have today. This phenomenon has shortened distances and literally erased national boundaries so much so that cultures and trends easily diffuse across frontiers while events in one country is followed instantly as it happens in other countries.
With this stark reality of the power and influence of the media it could be easily understood why corporate bodies, individuals and governments strive to have a voice of their own by establishing one form of media outfit or another. As the saying goes,’ if you don’t blow your trumpet no other person can do it for you’. Abia State after its creation has carved its own space in the media world by owning the three traditional organs of mass communication, namely radio, television and newspaper. But over the years, these powerful means of disseminating government programmes and policies had been allowed by successive governments to rot.
That unwritten policy of neglect worsened so much that the immediate past administration, without any compunction, converted equipment meant for the Abia State newspaper, the National Ambassador to set up a private newspaper. It could be recalled that in the 1990s the Abia newspaper was the best state government owned newspaper in the country by all standards. The state radio station broadcasting on 88.1 FM band was reaching the homes in a clear, crisp sound quality which stood it out among other radio stations. It must be pointed out that the unique tone of Abia State radio then was made possible by the local engineers! On its own part Abia State-owned television station was received in homes in and outside Abia with sharp, clear picture and sound that made it a must watch. Thankfully the prayers of Abians who longed for the return of glory days of Abia State-owned mass media have been answered.
It took the arrival of a media- friendly governor in the person of Chief T.A. Orji for things to start turning around for good of the state media organisations. In his characteristic fast paced efforts to strengthen all the critical institutions needed for the development of the state, Ochendo has directed his attention to the media. The turn-around revolution that has been going on silently at the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA) under the Ochendo legacy movement was manifested on that beautiful day of February 6, 2014. On that historic day, the magnificent ultra modern office complex of BCA was unveiled to a resounding applause of the broadcasting community and the media confraternity in general by no mean a personality than the Honourable Minister of Information of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr. Labaran Maku. That day Governor T.A. Orji’s works bore testimony to a man who has shunned the phony allure of making grandstanding a way of life in governance. Everybody at the occasion was astounded by the modern, well-equipped edifice of 48 offices standing before them in its imposing majesty. Mr. Maku in his usual frankness noted with delight the wind of positive change blowing in Abia which has impacted on the state-owned media institutions. Even at that BCA is not just about modern edifice. The staff morale has risen high with improved funding, welfare and staff training opportunities. Government has also set in motion the necessary machinery to ensure that the broadcast outfits are digitised to beat the January 2015 deadline set by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). The Director General of BCA, Mr. Tito Ezemdi captured the general feelings of management and staff of the broadcast organisations when he declared, “Never in the 22 years history of BCA have we been so loved, practically loved and encouraged.”
Ochendo did not limit his rescue mission of the state media to the BCA. The state newspaper which was gasping for breath at the turn of year 2000 and finally went under by 2003 has now received a life-saving shot in the arm. The National Ambassador is now not only a regular newspaper in the news stands but also colourful. The newspaper, which was at the verge of extinction has now survived the debilitating effects of the locust years and bounced back to life. The leadership and members of the Abia State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) are already in expectant mood following Ochendo’s commitment to build a befitting secretariat for the union.
This ranks as a significant project more so as Abia remains the only state in the South-east where the NUJ operates in rented office. Unfortunately, none of the past administrations since the creation of Abia in 1991 deemed it necessary to execute this important project. But it is heart-warming that Ochendo has committed himself to break the 23-year-old jinx by including the NUJ secretariat among his legacy projects. The Information Minister was on hand on to lay the foundation stone of the N145 million edifice on that momentous day of February 6, 2014 at the fast changing Ogurube layout. The Abia State governor has equally created conducive environment for journalists and other media workers to ply their trade. It is a known fact that without adequate security, journalists cannot freely carry out their constitutionally recognised duties of holding government accountable to the people in addition to informing, educating and entertaining the society. And so the media professionals are great beneficiaries of the peace and security that Governor Orji has brought to God’s Own State. This is a mark of a leader who sees the media as indispensable partner in progress.
Trade unions by their nature do not easily give commendations to employers. But Ochendo has meritoriously won the hearts of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Radio, Television and Theatre Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU). Both the NUJ Chairman Abia State chapter, Comrade Hyacinth Okoli and the President of RATTAWU, Dr. Oluyemisi Bamgbose, were in unison affirming Governor T.A. Orji as a media friendly governor. Bamgbose was moved to declare that the BCA office complex “is the best administrative block of any broadcast organisation I’ve ever seen in Nigeria”. He went ahead to acknowledge the man who made it possible, noting that Ochendo did not make the mistake of neglecting the state-owned media organisations like some governors would usually do. And taking into consideration all that the media friendly governor of Abia has done, the RATTAWU leader ranked him as “number one out of several” others. While the Abia State chapter of RATTAWU, crowned him “The Pillar of Electronic Media”. In showing appreciation, Ochendo went further to donate a bran new Hummer bus to the state branch of RATTAWU and made available land for the building of its secretariat.
One pertinent question that bogs the mind is: why should Governor T.A. Orji have a positive disposition to the media after all. It is on record that Governor T.A. Orji has seen the bad side of the media when enemies of progress exploited the dysfunctional side of the media to paint God’s Own State in bad light. It was a painful experience for not only the state governor but for all the good people of Abia as every bad thing was linked to Abia no matter its origin. But then it was the same media that changed the image of Abia for good, a feat that Governor Orji has continued to acknowledge and appreciate. In fact, he was to explain that he was duty bound to cultivate the friendship of the media for redeeming the image of the state. But it should be pointed out that the media cannot redeem the irredeemable hence it was the outstanding performance of Abia’s hardworking governor that facilitated the media blitz that removed the tar on the face of Abia.
While the Legacy Governor is busy at work to build a new Abia, the media should be on guard to ward off the enemies of democracy who are bent on distracting him. The Information Minister rightly observed that anti-democratic elements have quietly taken over the media and are bent on running down every good work accomplished by the present administration in order to score cheap political points. During his recent visit to Abia, the Information Minister had cited both President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor T.A. Orji as examples of good performing leaders who have continued to be maligned by the anti-democratic, opposition elements, whose stock in trade is to peddle vicious rumours and paint every achievement of government in bad light. These enemies of progress not only use their newspapers to launch their diatribes at their target they have also found the social media as a veritable channel to castigate our good leaders. Should the media so loved by Ochendo be allowed to be used by the enemies of progress to discredit the good works going on in Abia State? Certainly not.
This, therefore, is a clarion call for the state media organisations to brace up to counter the brazen lies, distortion of facts and campaign of calumny being dished out by those who have vowed not to see any thing good in God’s Own State. The state broadcast and print media organs should use facts already presented by the evidential performance of Ochendo to puncture the propagandists’ balloons inflated with lies. The e-governance team on its part should be a major player in the social media platforms and educate the ignorant and gullible on the true position of things in Abia State. On their part, the Correspondents of print and broadcast organisations posted here in Abia should do their job professionally. It would serve nobody any good to indulge in sensationalism at the expense of developmental journalism. Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been harping on development journalism as a veritable tool to drive development in developing countries. Abia needs such positive media coverage as the state moves in leaps and bounds to catch up with others after the drags of the locust years. As the Austrian writer, Karl Kraus (1874 – 1936) said: “It is the mission of the press to disseminate intellect and at the same time destroy the receptivity of it.”
*Ajunwa is chief press secretary to governor of Abia State.