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Media and socio-economic development in northern Nigeria (III)

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By Umaru A. Pate

The poor record of the North in maternal health has also qualified it as one of the leading non hospitable areas on earth for pregnant women. The statistics are shockingly worrying. Average maternal mortality ratio (MMR) figures are 800 to over 1000 for every 100,000 live births with a life time risk of 1:14-16 (NPC, 2007).
What of the zone’s ranking on the national table of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases? Regrettably, the zone is still grappling with the challenges, though significant progress is said to be made in fighting and reversing the trend of the diseases.
Can we then say, perhaps, the zone is faring better in sustaining the environment? That may not be correct considering the critical levels of deforestation, pollution, shortage of housing, waste management, erosion, energy crisis, drying up of rivers and lakes, (Lake Chad has receded to 2500 sq Klm from its original 250, 000 sq km) and above all, the consequences of climatic changes that are dangerously confronting the communities. The question is: what right have our generation got to destroy the rich environment we inherited from our forbearers? What environmental legacy do we hope to leave for future generations?
Even for the eighth Goal on the MDG List that focuses on developing global partnership for development, one is still uncomfortably confronted with the sad reality that the communities of the zone are miserably placed on the fringes, with weak infrastructural base particularly in aspects like electricity, transport and technological capacity.
Now, to what extent have media organizations in the zone been monitoring the progress and evaluating the successes of the MDGs implementation at the community, local, state and even national levels to ensure that the zone is not disadvantaged or short changed in this journey? As captured by the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan (2005), the media is not just “an indispensable partner in delivering services to the poor at the scope required by the MDGs but it can also catalyse action within countries on pressing development concerns, mobilising broad-based movements and creating grassroots pressure to hold leaders accountable for their commitments”. Can the communities trust the media to concretise the advice of Kofi Annan in acting as the watchdogs in this respect?
Diversity and Conflict: Without doubt, the Northern region is complex, heterogeneous, multicultural and pluralistic in every sense of understanding. Naturally, such a complex and diverse mix will, if poorly managed or irresponsibly politicised, lead to occasional conflict that can be violent. One can cite numerous past and recent or even ongoing examples of such unfortunate conflicts at different levels involving various actors. The rise in ethno-religious violence, political disputations and general state of fear of the unknown in recent times is literarily undermining our individual and group understanding and manifestation of trust as the basis of peaceful co-existence in Northern Nigeria.  Arguably, these are the consequences of poor management or politicization of communal diversity that are resulting in violent and damaging conflicts with devastating consequences like bloodletting, destructions, hatred, spread of fear and other signals of tense existence thereby promoting disharmony, misery and poverty to the detriment of sustainable development. For instance, between 1976 and 2010, it has been estimated that over 100, 000 people had lost their lives and property worth billions of Naira destroyed in the process of ethno-religious conflicts in Northern Nigeria (Newswatch, Nov 2, 2009). Professor Isawa Elaigwu (2004) had put the number of such crises between 1980 and 2004 at fifty, which left in their wake political, social, economic and psychological losses and pains. And as you may realize, the region has recorded a lot more conflict in severe intensity characterised by bloody clashes and massive destructions since 2004.
The expectation is to see how the communities are able to live peacefully, appreciating the existing differences and turning the diversity into collective strength. The communities are generally peaceful and they desire and need unlimited peace at all times. But in order to improve in their effort, media professionals in the zone need to have a good understanding of the various communities they are serving; their history, geography, sociology, anthropology, multicultural set up and much more. In fact, with the knowledge of recent unfortunate happenings in many communities, the local media should increasingly imbibe the new spirit of peace journalism that stands for the truth as opposed to incitements, lies and propaganda that often dominate war or hate journalism.  The peace journalist thus has eyes for the essential; the devotion both to fact and hope; it takes right training, determination, environment and exposure to institute these elements in the polity. The question is: how professionally equipped are the media in the North to competently offer the required service of uniting the diverse peoples of the North, in particular and that of Nigeria in general?
Values: Values are cherished ideals that guide the conduct of a people. Every community has its values, code of ethics and standard norms and behaviours. Equally, there are shared values that are common to all the communities in the zone. This is further strengthened by their adherence to the two religions of Islam and Christianity. Some of these values emphasise issues like honesty, respect for the elderly, courage, dignity of labour, truthfulness, sympathy for the weak and the disadvantaged and community spirit. Additionally, most cultures in the North appreciate the position of women, the beauty of children, the sanctity of the family and supremacy of the community. Today, the culture of materialism and total disregard for appropriate behaviour and decency are eminently displayed with negative consequences on our development.  In this respect, the communities have two clear needs. One, they require the media to promote and advance their community values for societal well being and secondly, they expect that the operators in the media industry to uphold and reflect the best of the values in their conduct and output while at work. This is the more reason why the media must be guided by professional code of ethics for it to have the moral courage to act as credible watchdogs and whistle blowers instead of compromising and mortgaging their integrity to corrupt officials to the detriment of the collective good.
Setting the Agenda: 
So far, the discussion has tried to highlight few of the fundamental needs and expectations that the communities of the North need to be creatively and competently addressed in line with global and national expectations. Of course, the media and its professionals are undoubtedly central to any visible progress we may wish to achieve in the states and the country.
The media, in whatever form, are involved in the business of ideas; great ideas that can transform societies. Through the media’s collection, processing, management and dissemination of ideas and knowledge, they can create public awareness, increase knowledge, change attitudes, transform behaviour and foster engagement; some essential elements that influence and energize the society towards growth and development (McQuail, 2006). As Sachs (2008) explained, “Great social transformations…all begun with public awareness and engagement”. Thus, the duty of the media is to lead in setting the societal agenda based on some of the issues earlier highlighted. The media should be able to set the agenda for the people and leaders through advocacy, continuous engagement and effective dissemination of messages. They should be able to set the people thinking and talking about issues with the hope of enhancing their participation in the development process for the region and nation to actualize the dream of being among the twenty most developed economies in the world. However, while we expect the media to rise up to the challenge of meeting the needs and yearnings of the diverse communities, it will only be fair of us to also highlight few of the challenges that may hinder the best of intentions of the media in their individual and collective effort to meet up to the expectations of their communities.
While the media in the North and indeed Nigeria may want to continue and surpass playing their constructive role as they did in the past in strengthening and promoting our socioeconomic values, we must, however, acknowledge some of the major challenges confronting them both individually and collectively.  Some of the weaknesses are structural; others are internal while a lot more are external. Let me here, particularly reiterate the fact that the people of the North are more heavily oriented to broadcasting than the print media for obvious reasons of culture, literacy level and income disposition. In fact, a recent study by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that 80% of Nigerians have access to radio; more than 95% have no access to computer or internet (NAN, Dec 19, 2011). It was also clear from the statistics that states of the North are more radio oriented than in the other zones of the country. Because of that, we shall be focusing more attention on some of the challenges in the broadcast sector than perhaps in the print, though, many of them cross-cutting issues.
Multiplicity of Communities and Diversity of Cultures: Northern Nigeria is hugely complex with hundreds of ethnic groups, multiple religions and a large land mass and population. The region shares international boundaries with four different countries of Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger. Each State of the zone has an average of two to three radio stations and TV houses. Many of the States have newspaper publishing outfits as well the availability of private press scattered all over the region. But, it must be noted that in many of the states, the ability of their individual broadcast stations to effectively cover their expected areas of operations are severely and frustratingly limited by many factors.

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