Broadcasting, politics and strategic interest amidst security concerns in Nigeria – written by Umaru A. Pate

Umaru Pate

Prof Umaru Pate is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication in Bayero University, Kano

INTRODUCTION

Permit me to begin by thanking the management of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) under the leadership of Alhaji Ladan Salihu for inviting me to join and share with the family of the FRCN some of my thoughts on the perspectives of broadcasting, politics and national interest in the era of widespread security concerns in the land.

Let me especially thank the Director General and the organizing committee for finding me worthy for this responsibility. I must specifically commend the FRCN on sustaining its leadership and organizational excellence in Nigeria and Africa. Similarly, I wish to commend the choice of theme for this retreat, which focuses on the imperatives of broadcasting and politics with special reference to the subject of strengthening the capacity and improving the performance of broadcasting in contemporary Nigeria. The topic is apt in helping us to re-examine our efforts in the broadcasting sector at this critical time of our nationhood when the country is struggling to fully democratize amidst challenging circumstances. I am confident that with the caliber of persons here, the subject will be appropriately addressed.

  Specifically, I have been requested to focus my attention on the linkages between broadcasting, politics and the dynamics of national interest and security concerns in the country. In doing so, we shall examine the existing national broadcasting architecture, behavior, performance, coverage and limitations in responding to national strategic issues and contributing to the resolution of evolving challenges in the land.

    In Nigeria, the radio still maintains the position of the leading source of information as well as a key element of influence in the society. This is due in part to culture, economics, and structural as well as systemic factors.  Many of the cultures in the land are orally oriented; in many of Nigeria’s communities, people talk and listen far more than they read or write. Secondly, the prevailing economic status of the majority of the citizens coupled with an unattractive reading culture limits the reach and influence of the print medium in the land; and, thirdly, television is still not freely and easily accessible nationwide for fairly obvious reasons of reach and cost. For the social media, personal computers are out of the reach of most citizens because of income inhibition and broadband limitation, even though the 2012 Gallup survey had revealed a “massive growth in “connectedness” in past few years. All of those factors coupled with the simple and ubiquitous nature of the radio combine to give it a leading position in developing societies like Nigeria.

    A nationwide study by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2011 showed that Nigerians are heavily dependent on the radio as a major source of public information. The study entitled: Access to Information Communication Technology (2011) revealed that 80% of Nigerians have access to the radio and more than 95% have no access to the computer or internet and less than half of the population, about 44.7% had access to television. The survey showed that access to personal computers and the Internet is highest in Kogi state with 17.4%, although nearly all of them are not owned. The FCT and Lagos have access rates at 15.9% and 15.8% of which only five per cent are owned. All other states have lower than 10% access rates. National Internet access stood at 3.6% in 2011 but with only 0.5% claimed to own a connection device (The Nation, Dec 20, 2011). Equally, a study by Gallup on Nigeria Media Use in 2012 revealed that: “Almost 9 in 10 Nigerians (87.4%) say they listened to radio in the past week, and nearly three-quarters (72.5%) say they watched TV, even though incidence of radio use is similar in urban and rural environments, Nigerians who live in cities are more likely than those in rural areas to have watched TV in the past week …” The study further indicated that: More than nine in 10 Nigerians (92.6%) say they have a radio in their homes, while almost as many (87.4%) say they have listened to the radio in the past 7 days. There are no significant demographic differences between radio listeners and non-listeners — radio use is prevalent across all major demographic segments. 

  Nigerians listen primarily to FM stations — 93.6% of past-week radio listeners say they used FM during that time, while 45.3% say they used AM and 28.7% shortwave frequencies. Though Hausa speakers are about as likely as other Nigerians to say they used FM, they are considerably more likely to also use AM and shortwave bands. Overall, about 4 in 10 past-week listeners say they used a mobile phone to listen to the radio in the past week, with Hausa speakers somewhat less likely than non-Hausa speakers to have done so.

  From the foregoing, it is clear that in Nigeria, the radio, because of its convenience, ubiquity, cost effectiveness and portability, is still highly revered and respected as an exciting companion, reliable source of information and an influential informer. Thus, the justification for our continuous interest in advocating and promoting the cause of credible and effective national broadcasting system that is dynamic, pluralistic, independent and widely distributed; of course being sensitive to the great revolutions in the information and communication technologies sector. 

The mass media in Nigeria

 Nigeria is a democratic federal state with a three tier system of government comprising of a federal government, 36 states and 774 local government areas. It is a relatively huge country with a big landmass and a diverse and multicultural setting that is populated by more than 176 Million people of multiple ethnic groupings, religious affiliations, political orientations, social lines and economic opportunities, among others. Imagine the complexities and divergences that exist in the stretch from Port Harcourt to Sokoto; from Lagos to Maiduguri; or from Enugu to Yola.  And, just as the geographical landscape of the country varies, stretching from the Sahel savannah in the far north to the rain forest down south, so do the people differ in their outlooks but united in their humanity. It is also a country with many contradictions in terms of economic prosperity for a few and endemic poverty for the majority, high level of illiteracy, low health care indicators, corruption, etc. Nigeria is sometime rated a poor country with an increasing poverty, even though it is endowed with limitless human and material resources that are globally acknowledged but incompetently managed over a long period time.  

  On the media front, Nigeria has a fairly advanced and pluralistic mass media system that is reflective of the diversities in the nation. The system has a rich history and tradition of activism and for being able to serve as a major source of information as well as advocate at different moments in the history of the nation. The different organs of the media create awareness and understanding of happenings among the diverse peoples of the country. 

  Expectedly, all of the diversities and contradictions in the Nigerian nation are reflected in the country’s media. Issues like ideology, religion, regionalism, ethnicity, and politics of resource allocation, power sharing and other divisive national tendencies are openly debated on the pages of the newspapers and airwaves of the broadcast stations with no conclusive resolutions. Perhaps, intrigued by the boisterous nature of the newspapers, one foreigner commented that “from those newspapers, a foreigner can acquire a sense of what makes Nigerians angry, what they hope for, where they are realistic; where they are dreamers” (Schward, F.A.O, 1985) 

Broadcasting and political developments

The story of broadcasting in Nigeria is inextricably linked to the country’s political developments, politicians and the national interest.  The establishment and operations of radio stations have been influenced and affected by politicians just like how the institution had also affected and influenced the fortunes of politics and politicians in the country. To date, no serious politician underrates the efficacy of the radio and television in his calculations. Equally, we cannot underrate the contributions of the radio in the political growth, development and unity of the nation.

  From the beginning in 1932, and for a very long time, the broadcast media comprising of radio and television have remained the exclusive preserve of the government until 1992 when the sector was deregulated by the military government of General Babangida. In the colonial days when radio was introduced, its duty was basically to mobilize the people and support the policies of the colonial regime.

After independence in 1960, the three regions in the East, West and North and later the Midwest ventured into active broadcasting to complement, and in some cases, respond to the perceived challenge or unfair attitude of the federal government owned Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) stations in Lagos and the various regions. With the collapse of the first republic and the commencement of the civil war, the broadcast media revitalized their energies and united under the direction of the federal government to mobilize the populace and work towards defeating the propaganda antics of the Biafran rebels. In fact, Radio Biafra was reported to have put up tough propaganda machinery that stretched the Biafrans to the utmost and challenged the federal forces in and out of the country. 

  The government did not take the challenge of the rebels to dismember the nation lowly. It employed all its resources including the broadcast media to respond to the aggressive behaviour of the rebels. In the words of Udeajah (2004), “the Nigerian government would not have sustained its forces in the war for six months without the broadcast media of radio and television which tended to counterbalance the power of Radio Biafra…” At the end of the civil war in 1970, it was clear that the broadcast media had contributed significantly to the war effort. According to Udeajah (2004), “the media mobilized the populace to fight in order to keep Nigeria one. Constantly, they convinced the listeners and viewers that they were to be the beneficiaries of the resultant conquest of Biafra…they had to mobilize the citizens not only to accept the regime’s justification of the war but also to mobilize them to volunteer to fight…”.

  With the civil war over, the country embarked on the programme of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation to heal the wounds of the war and strengthen the unity, integration and cohesion of the nation. A number of policies and structures were implemented under the National Development Plans. The broadcast media took up the challenge and devised and carried several relevant programmes that facilitated the realization of the objectives of the National Plan and the reconciliation policy of Government. By then, Nigeria was already divided into twelve states with each of the states having a station of the NBC and its head office in Lagos; and the former regional headquarters maintained the big regional stations managed through the common services agreements. Some of the new states also established their TV stations thereby giving the country wider and diverse media coverage. Stations in different parts of the country exchanged programmes, they also hooked on to the NBC head office for national news in English and the translated versions and other nationally significant programmes.

  In 1975, as part of the effort to strengthen the nation’s unity, the Federal Military Government took over all the state owned television and the regionally based broadcast houses in Kaduna, Enugu and Ibadan to form the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).  Meanwhile, the existing federal government owned NBC stations were reverted to the then twelve state governments. At the same time, the Government took over the northern based New Nigerian Newspapers and acquired 60% shares of the Lagos based Daily Times. The government said that its determination to control the national media institutions should be “seen as a means of ensuring national cohesion in the process of nation building”. Then, in 1976, the broadcast sector received a big boost with the establishment of new radio stations by the additional newly created seven states.

  With the return to democratic rule in 1979, the broadcast media landscape in the country changed courtesy of two major policies. First, the states under the opposition parties opted to establish their individual television stations following a Supreme Court ruling that enabled the States to own and operate television stations. That judgment enabled the states to establish their stations. Accordingly, States like Borno, Gongola, Bendel, Plateau, etc established their individual stations in addition to the federal government owned NTA stations. On its part, the Federal Government established FRCN stations in all the States ruled by the opposition parties substantially to facilitate the NPN’s capture of the States in the 1983 general elections. Whether the stations had contributed to the success of the NPN or not, it is not for me to say here. That lasted for some months until the December 1983 coup that ushered in a new military government under General Muhammadu Buhari. In 1984, all the new FRCN stations in the states except the major national stations in Kaduna, Ibadan, Lagos and Enugu were closed down and their facilities handed over to the respective hosting states. 

  The tradition of establishing new radio and television stations continued with the creation of additional states to increase the number to the present thirty six. Correspondingly, the number of government owned broadcast media outfits also increased to the equal number of the States until the return to civil rule in 1999 when the Federal Government under the PDP government of President Obasanjo, once again, established FRCN FM stations in the States. Before then, the liberalization of the airwaves through the establishment of the National Broadcasting Commission in 1992, with the responsibility of licensing and regulating the broadcast industry had also facilitated the setting up of private broadcast outfits in the country, thus opening up radio and television services to private investors. Currently, state of the art private broadcasting outfits operate in many of the big cities in Nigeria, perhaps except in the North East part of Nig, where so far, there are less than four functional private radio television station in the whole zone.

The FRCN mandate

Nigeria operates a two tier broadcasting ownership system: state and private. The country is yet to implement the third leg of the globally acknowledged third tier system that incorporates community broadcasting. Hopefully, that may come soon. The state or public broadcasting system in the country is fashioned along the British and Indian style corporation type of public service broadcasting in which a board of governors with diverse representations is established to provide policy direction for the broadcaster on behalf of the government. It is important to emphasize that the broadcasting regime in Nigeria is structured to reflect the political arrangement as well as the diverse and heterogeneous nature of the country. The federal government owns and operates the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and the Voice of Nigeria (The External Broadcaster) while the individual states own and operate their broadcasting channels independent of the federal stations. 

  The FRCN has four zonal stations in Kaduna, Enugu, Ibadan and Gwagwalada, Abuja; an operational office in Lagos, and the national station at the headquarters. I am also aware the zones have been increased to six with one for the North East and the other for the South-South.  These zonal stations under the direction of the head office coordinate a network of over thirty seven channels operating in the states. By law, the FRCN is the radio channel with the exclusive right to broadcast on the Short wave band so that it can effectively cover the whole country.  On the other hand, all states and commercial stations are restricted to the MW and FM bands so that their signals are restricted to the boundaries of their states or areas of coverage covered by their licenses.

   From the above map, one can see that some parts are generously endowed in terms of the availability of radio facilities in the country while some appear to be in need. Perhaps, it was to avoid such a scenario that the federal government designated the FRCN as a national public service channel that is structurally designed to respond to the broadcasting needs of multicultural diversities in Nigeria. For example, conceptually, the zonal stations are designated to have language services, possibly operate multiple channels to effectively cover their individual zones in news and programmes and importantly be able to reach all parts of the country, so that, for instance, an Igbo man in Maiduguri can remain connected to the East through FRCN Enugu while getting informed about happenings in the West through FRCN Ibadan or the North through Kaduna.

  Equally, anybody at any point in Nigeria should at anytime of the day tune to the FRCN and get the latest information in any of major languages without waiting for a probable connection at the local level by 7 am, 4pm or 10pm. That should be the minimum service that an ordinary Nigerian should expect from the FRCN. But to what extent is the FRCN being able to effectively discharge its mandate as Nigeria’s public broadcaster? Is the corporation able to reflect contemporary realism in terms of being a national institution that is sufficiently and professionally covering the entire nation as it did in the past? What is the state of its shortwave transmission facilities since the last ten years or so?  How are the existing FM stations in the states faring in terms of operations? How is FRCN sustaining the loyalty of 100 Million listeners as advertised on its website? How is the corporation addressing some of its obvious challenges that have mounted over time? Are the capacity and the potential of the FRCN sufficiently utilized in addressing strategic national interests?

Perception of broadcasting in Nigeria

To say that Nigerians love and cherish the broadcast media is an understatement. Repeated surveys and careful observations have proved that point. Similarly, the contributions of the sector and particularly the FRCN to different facets of our national life have been variously documented. However, careful observation of emerging trends in the industry is facilitating the formation of some perceptions that can be challenging to the Nigerian broadcast professionals and policy makers. And, this is critical because the credibility of messages that emanate from the broadcast media largely depend on their perception by the general audience.

  Currently, one can easily summarize the general perceptions into the following categories.

First, broadcast media stations particularly government owned are hardly objective in matters that involve their principals and their ruling political parties. In other words, there is a picture of a voluntary alliance between broadcasters and authorities that pertains to paternalistic relationship. Perhaps, the federal government owned stations are slightly better compared to all the state government owned stations. There is hardly any exception among the states. Many of the stations are tightly controlled and heavily subjected to the aprons of the individual governments, thus undermining professional independence and affecting their credibility. At any rate, the level at which people believe a particular station is correspondingly proportionate to their perception of its truthfulness, competence, relevance and independence especially on matters of politics

  Secondly, even though there is a huge increase in the number of radio stations and their owners in the country, however, one may not be wrong to suggest that there is also a decline of pluralism in content, diversity and even quality. Seriously researched documentaries, journalistic exposes, exciting drama, and such quality programmes have given way to hurriedly packaged phone in programmes and huge dosages of entertainment.

  Thirdly, foreign broadcast stations are seen as more reliable in providing credible information about events and personalities in the country. Such a perception can easily undermine the confidence of the audience in believing that the media can perform its duty of monitoring and reporting transparency in governance and administration.

Fourthly, the resource poor, the rural majority and the female gender are peripherally involved in broadcasting.  They are treated merely as receivers than partners in the entire process.

  Fifthly, the current commercialization of society has deeply eaten into the broadcast media thereby severely restricting access by the public and subverting the ideals of news, killing the spirit of investigative journalism, and devaluing the content of programmes and news on radio and television stations.  Additionally, the concept of commercialization has completely defeated the concept and essence of Public Broadcasting Services in national institution like the FRCN. The blanket implementation of the commercialization policy automatically disables majority of the people from any form of involvement in the airwaves.  The high charges demanded by the various stations for almost everything disqualifies many people and sectors from any kind of meaningful engagement with the media. As a result, the airwaves are exclusively appropriated by governments, their organizations, money bags, business groups and big social institutions.  They remain the only actors that have easy access to the expensive airwaves thus further widening the existing unequal balance of power relations in the society.  In fact, even editorial judgment is subordinated to economic determinants. 

  The usual defense of managers is that their stations are dangerously and grossly underfunded that they need to devise alternative sources of survival.  I agree with them.  In fact, the penury and poverty in some of the stations are glaringly reflected in the quality and quantity of their services and the intolerable conduct of some of their staff.  Today, we have broadcast outfits that ably qualify as epilepsy patients whose standard hours of daily operation/seizure are unknown.  They simply operate on the mercy of the PHCN or the availability of a gallon of diesel.  

  Finally, the collapse of shortwave broadcasting in the country is affecting the country’s security and strategic national and international interest; it is also promoting the culture of intolerance and hatred across the nation because of ignorance, spread of dangerous rumours, absence of correct information on ourselves and building of stereotypes across the nation. Even though government has deregulated broadcasting, the urban, elitist and commercial disposition of existing broadcasting stations leaves a large population of people unreached. Due to the prevalent use of FM transmission facilities in most of the states, the reach of each station is less than 100 kilometre radius. Even many Federal Government-owned radio stations that used to operate SW transmitters have now resorted to the FM mode, thus, limiting their reach to the federal and state capitals only, which excludes communities located beyond such radius.  The map below shows significant parts of Nigeria, particularly in the North that are not covered by broadcast signals originating from Nigerian FM radio stations. 

  In many parts of the North, most people, for most part of the day turn to the Hausa Services of foreign stations like the BBC, VOA, DW and RFI to satisfy their information needs, even on issues about their immediate communities in Nigeria. In the past, Radio Nigeria Kaduna filled in the gap but nowadays with the epileptic performance of the exhausted SW transmitter of the station, the people have been left with no option than to seek for alternative sources of news outside the Nigerian shores.  Currently, there is a huge gap for credible sources of local information that can facilitate development. Evidently, the gap provides a good opportunity for outside broadcast media outfits to mentally control our people and define the agenda in our communities.

  Those observations, contentious as they may sound, have implications on the ability of the broadcast media and particularly the FRCN to continue to meaningfully influence the minds of the people.

Consequences

The consequences of the above challenges are enormous for the system. Some of the effects are:

The general population has little confidence and trust in the credibility of the broadcast media system to act as watchdogs and platforms for the promotion of democratic values and developmental goals in their immediate communities.

People may continue to rely on international broadcast stations for crucial information that affect their lives and nation.  Thus, the external media may be determining the local and national agenda instead of the reverse. This could lead to serious consequences for the nation.

New forms of information disseminations techniques like the Internet and GSM are increasingly rendering non-reforming media outfits obsolete and non reliable, thus irrelevant particularly to the youth.

The potential strength and centrality of the broadcast media can be severely undermined by the visible absence of diversity, accessibility, courage and relevance especially for the stations that are not reforming as we cannot have analogue staff and managers operating digital equipment.

A large portion of the population and pockets of areas that are distant from the state capitals are completely uncovered by the local radio signals. This is risky to the strategic interest as well as the security and developmental agenda of the nation.  

Based on the above premises, one can then conclude that our broadcast media houses as our national assets have huge responsibilities in positively altering the emerging perceptions by involving all segments of the Nigerian society, based on the principles of inclusivity, diversity, transparency, autonomy and accountability in their desire to build a broad based national democratic process.

The way forward

Currently, Nigeria is engaged in some major battles that it must win. One, our democracy must succeed irrespective of whatever challenges the country is experiencing. Secondly, we must defeat terrorism, insurgencies and reduce to the minimum incidences of violent conflicts that explode in different part parts with devastating consequences. Equally, Nigeria must get its economy right and ensure the fulfilling of the Millennium Development Goals even after the target date of 2015.

  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”. 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. In all of these, the FRCN is strategically placed as a national asset to carry the people. Accordingly, it must respond to the challenge of reactivating its SW transmission services all over the country.

  A large number of people in the North and possibly the country still rely on the shortwave radio either because their state radio stations cannot reach them or because the big stations give them diverse, credible and better produced content. The alternative is to allow the stations to die and risk the minds of our people being colonized by external radio houses. I believe that there are many pressing problems beating down the nation, namely, corruption, abysmal poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, population explosion, ethnic and religious conflicts, poor healthcare facilities and absence of basic civic services, among others, that the SW stations can, as they have done in the past, help to creatively and effectively address. I passionately plead with the Federal Government to please respond to the challenges and give the FRCN stations a new lease of life. Let them experience a renewal as part of the transformation agenda.

This is also an opportunity to renew the call for the actualization of the community radio dream to fully complete the third tier of broadcasting as it is globally practiced. The African Charter on Broadcasting has recognized and advocated for a three tier radio regime in individual African countries: public/service; private/commercial; and community. Without doubt, the community radio can fill in the gap and effectively complement the existing broadcasting system in the provision of regular information about the immediate environment for the people. It can act as a voice as well as a bridge between the communities and the rest of the world.

  Finally, on this special occasion of the FRCN management retreat, let me pay tribute to its founding fathers, commend the doggedness of its leaders and appreciate the efforts of its staff and numerous artists and associates that have given it a unique identity and spirit of courage. The audiences too, must be acknowledged for keeping faith with the station. The Federal Government, its owner deserves our praises for being able to maintain the institution. One would only plead with the Government to continue in its effort and invest more in the corporation and indeed the broadcast sector to restore the full glory of the shortwave stations in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna and Enugu. 

Pate, is a professor in the Department of Mass Communication Bayero University, Kano

 

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