By HUGO ODIOGOR
THE role of Nigerian media in monitoring and reporting diplomatic activities took the centre stage last week in Lagos when the country’s ambassador to the United States, Prof. Ade Adefuye, carpeted the fourth estate of the realm for its negative portrayal of the recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Mrs. Hilary Clinton, to Abuja.
Prof. Adefuye was the guest speaker at a forum organised by Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Lagos, where the visit of Mrs Clinton, the future relations between Nigeria, the US and the role of the media was the topic for discussion.
The event which was chaired by Prince Julius Adeluyi Adelusi, the chairman of Julie Pharmacy Plc and one time Health minister, was a dissection of the relations between the mass media and diplomats especially Nigerian diplomats and intellectuals who had an evening robust encounter.
Prof Adefuye provided the audience with detailed account of what transpired during the visit of Mrs. Clinton which was not made known to the Nigerian media, and by extension, the Nigerian public. He berated the press for its negative disposition to the visit and gave an elaborate account of Clinton’s visit which was initially reported to have been cancelled.
Mrs. Hilary clinton
The background:According to Adefuye, the date of the visit had clashed with an earlier obligation of President Goodluck Jonathan to Jamaica to mark the national day of the Caribbean Island nation of 2.5 million people.
The Caribbean visit had been fixed five months before the proposed visit of Mrs. Clinton to some African countries came up. Jamaica is a country which is not only a major influence in Caribbean Island but a country where 80 per cent of the population strongly share affinity with Nigeria.
It was, therefore, difficult to cancel the presidential visit. It was also difficult to cancel the scheduled visit of Mrs Clinton, whose tenure as secretary of state will end in November whether or not her boss, Barak Obama wins the presidential election.
Ambassador Adefuye equally traced the special relations that had existed between the Clintons and Nigeria starting from when her husband, Bill, was the president of United States.
When the itinerary of her visit was released by the state department, Nigeria was not among the countries listed and this captured the attention of the media, to the displeasure of Ambassador Adefuye who had worked tirelessly to ensure that the Clinton visit took place. Adefuye used the post mortem to tell his audience that Mrs Clinton’s visit provided Nigeria and the US the opportunity to strengthen their diplomatic and economic ties especially in setting a firm foundation for the Bi-National Commission agreement between both countries.
He said: “First the two countries agreed to meet in September in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where the Niger Delta component of BNC will be examined. Critical to this discussion will be the issue of oil exploration and environmental degredation in that region, the three years of the post amnesty programme and the security of business operation in the region, the concerns of ethnic minorities, the rising wave of piracy, the challenges posed by the declaration of self determination by Bakassi and Ogoni people.”
The second leg of the BNC meeting is expected to be in Washinton in October where the focus will be on Good Governance, Transparency and Integrity. According to Adefuye, the Washington meeting will focus on issues of development of infrastructure namely roads, rail, air transport, power, agriculture, trade and investment among others.
The Americans are increasingly getting concerned that the Chinese have gradually entrenched themselves in Nigeria and in other African countries to the detriment of US interest.
Even with Boko Haram terrorists ravaging the North and killing Christian faithful at will, the Americans are not in a hurry to leave Nigeria. Ambassador Adefuye would want to see a more patriotic Nigerian media, which places the interest of the nation above the partisan interest of the owners and media professionals.
He said we need you as the fourth estate of the realm, we need you to join hands to project Nigeria positively. Even in America, the Republicans and Democrats are on each other’s throat than we do here but when the issue concerns their national interest, they all came together and form a common force.
The media on trial: The ambassador expected the media to show understanding to the predicament of the Foreign Affairs Ministry which has a legendary record of lethargy and tardiness in handling its diplomatic assignments. The media was completely kept in the dark as the Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Olugbenga Ashiru has never hidden his disdain for the Nigerian media.
Caught in the web of trying to handle two intricate diplomatic events, bureaucrats in the Foreign Ministry expected the media to lavish encomiums on them, even when Madam Clinton arrived in Abuja, there was no information of who she was to visit and the subject she was to discuss. It was a typical case of using the pre-first world war concept of secret diplomacy in an era where digital diplomacy is the vogue.
The unsolicited advocate: But the media got an unsolicited advocate and defender in the person of Prof. Bola Akinerinwa, the Director-General of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, hosts of the parley, who took time to educate the audience on the dynamics of media practice in Nigeria.
President Goodluck Jonathan with US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hilary Clinton during the Visit.
The challenges that journalists face to get information from officials of government, the warped concept of government people about national interest and the role of the media in democratic governance, the issue of national security and security of media practitioners in contemporary Nigeria.
According to Prof. Akinterinwa, the people in government have always seen national interest as the exclusive preserve of the powers that be. The issue of national interest in Nigeria is controversial at best some people have argued that what we call national interest is basically what the government in power define as national interest.
Constitutional school of thought
We have another school of thought which says that constitution has defined what should be the national interest yet there is another school that says that at the end of the day, it is neither the first nor the constitutional school of thoughts that have the correct answer, rather it is said that national interest is that of the president, the individual politician elected into public office or the minister.
His attitudinal disposition is basically what he feels is right, so at the end of the day, when we are asking the media to uphold national interest, we must be clear in our mind which we want the media uphold. According to the NIIA boss, I think government needs to articulate which national interest it has in mind because the concept of national interest is at best ambiguous.
Prof. Akinterinwa said “the media has a constitutional duty to monitor and report the people in government from the executive to the legislature and the judiciary.” In doing its monitoring and reporting duties, the media reports to the public and in the process, plays the rule of maintaining checks and balances in the polity.
The Director General told the audience that even in the age of Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA) bureaucrats dribble journalists and deny them access to information that is of public interest. He said, when you deny the media access to information, they are bound to get it one way\y or another and when that happens, the media should not be crucified for not presenting its report to favour the powers that be. It was a glorious night for the media as the NIIA boss told the audience that the traditional distrust between government officials and the media establishment in the country is not healthy in a democratic governance.
According to him the NIIA is working on a plan to ensure that diplomatic correspondents and editors periodically and build a relationship that last beyond summoning them to cover events.Vanguard can authoritatively recall an encounter with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja in November 2011 when it was doing a story on visa rip-off and the stress that Nigerians were being subjected to obtain visas to United States and European countriesVanguard reporters that went to the ministry were asked to put their request in writing which was eventually frittered away by officials of the ministry who told the reporters that they are under strict instruction from the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Olugbenga Ashiru, not to respond to media inquiries.
The monthly brainstorming sessions being organised by the NIIA since the beginning of this year, has become a veritable vehicle for exchange of ideas and making intellect assessment of the country’s foreign policy. The sessions have gone into its 11th session with officials of the foreign ministry showing up to make contributions or make clarifications on certain pertinent issues that have been raised. The 10th brainstorming session was very crucial as Nigeria’s diplomatic investments in the past 50 years was thoroughly reviewed.
There was noticeable absence of officials of the ministry. Perhaps what Ambassador Adefuye needs to work at is how to get officials of the ministry to purge themselves of the pathological arrogance and disdain that they feel for media professionals especially as he acknowledged that the media industry has well qualified and intelligent personnel that have acquitted themselves creditably in their profession, including sacrificing their lives in the course of performing the duties, in the interest of the country.