A Nigerian press tragedy (1)

Olatunji Ololade


MALICE, peculiar to the individual, is a genre of private experience. But when co-opted for leverage and wielded by a journalist’s employer, family, or friend in the mathematic of social enterprise, it becomes a weapon.

The wielder becomes venomous, armed to the teeth. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many a journalist have been chewed upon and spat out, like putrid primeval desert, by employers, friends, and family.

The joke persists in press circuits that, these days, when you place a call to a friend outside your field of calling, the first thought that crosses his mind is: “What does this one want again? I don’t have any money to borrow him.”

The friend could say: “This pompous prick has called to ask for a loan again.” Just as a News Editor overheard his “childhood friend,” and a bank’s publicist, saying recently, unaware that the journalist had gotten to his door.

“The most painful thing was that he was discussing me with one of my reporters, who is his lover. He showed her my number, dialling his’ lamenting that I always disturbed him for money. This was a man I practically fed and clothed through school. He was shocked to see me. He couldn’t look me in the eye,” said the editor.

Many a journalist has become the butt of rancid jest and roast, even among family. “Na to blow grammar you sabi. Cheddar (Money), you no get,” a colleague’s younger sister told her recently.

The staff of a southern newspaper lamented how she was ridiculed by her siblings. Afterward, her mother made her younger sister replace her at the head of the table during a family dinner because her sister who is wife to an internet fraudster (Yahoo Boy), single-handedly financed their late dad’s funeral. They showed the journalist, that, honour is earned and best given to the child whose goatskin feeds the family.

The latter’s husband got laid off in July 2018. Their marriage broke up five months later. Realising that she was two months pregnant, she terminated the pregnancy stressing that she couldn’t birth “an innocent child into poverty.” Yea, it gets so bad for the female journalist.

For the male journalist, it gets grislier. His wife and children totally lose respect for him at home, especially as he grows older and his means of income fade out. Many who got laid off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have lost face at home.

Another male colleague lamented that since his wife assumed the role of breadwinner, the power equation has tilted against him at the homefront. Neither religious nor cultural homilies has stemmed his reduction before wife and child. I would say that his descent the totem pole was gradual but steady over the cause of his grievous career, before the bad news of his sack, he simply failed to see the signs.

Some journalists, who smartly pitched tents with politicians and corporate organisations have it better but this lot eventually mutates from society’s watchdogs to society’s lapdogs, to Nigeria’s detriment.

Kudos to the persevering, incorruptible editors and media managers. Kudos too, to the diligent mid-career and young upwardly mobile journalists – for they are journalism’s finest breed. While some do earn well by their sweat, others are simply keeping faith.

Faith is all they have to live for, in a calling that has impoverished too many professionals and their families. Few months ago, an Editor-in-Chief had his salary slashed to N150, 000 at a newspaper owned by a prominent politician and deep-pocket.

No one expected the latter to fund operations from his own pocket but until COVID-19 devastated media economies, Mr. Deep-pocket politician persistently looted his newspaper’s coffers, forcing his editors to divert revenue from the publication’s corporate account to his personal account – thus stifling growth and expansion of his media enterprise.

The curious character, driven by a frantic desire to impoverish his editorial staff, imposed paltry salaries upon them. He subscribes to the predatory logic that recommends impoverishment of journalists by their employers, to prevent them from getting “too comfortable,” “too objective,” and “too ethical” – a starving, underpaid journalist is forever subservient and desperate to play dumb, predators would say.

While the newspaper proprietor is notable for doling out millions of naira and dollars to girlfriends, commercial sex hawkers, and political associates, he impoverishes his newspaper staff in extreme delight. Well, he never established his press to improve journalists’ living standards, or make heroes of them; he established it to fight his political battles, like too many of his ilk.

“There are many hungry Nigerians out there. If dem like make dem resign. I will always get fresh employees at a pittance,” he would say.

Of course, not a few bankers and investment analysts would insist that newspaper management should never be left to journalists. My response to such drivel, at an academic forum, impaired my relationship with the PR manager of a Nigerian bank.

I argued that with adequate experience, fiscal, and management training, a journalist could run any business. For instance, the newspaper I cited in previous paragraphs, made profit, and went ahead to acquire properties to the chagrin of its publisher.

But the PR goon scoffed, and spewed the ugliest gibberish, detailing how he funds journalists’ child-christening ceremonies, marriages, transport fares, and kitchen needs. To this, I responded that he had been dealing with the worst breed of quacks masquerading as journalists, and he purchases their loyalty for a token, which is a sad reflection of his worth and exposure as his bank’s image launderer and propagandist.

Yet he clownishly insisted that journalists aren’t good managers thus making me highlight the pitiful mediocrity, theft of customers’ savings, corporate prostitution and staff whoredom, maladministration, and other massive corruption pervasive of Nigeria’s banking sector.

Bankers aren’t the astute fund managers, administrators, and economists that they are mistaken for; at the last count, about 52 Nigerian banks have been bankrupted by incompetent managers. But nobody has said banking mustn’t be left to bankers.

Despite the fraud and bankruptcies fostered by Ivy League-trained financial and management gurus, they are often “bailed out” and pardoned by their cohorts in government and regulatory agencies.

Of course, he took exception to my truth, taking things personally. We aren’t so chummy anymore. Good riddance!

This brings us to the nub of this discourse: journalists deserve better. Where you treat them shabbily, only a paltry few would tow the ethical path – its a Nigerian malady and its systemic.

Society should quit berating journalism for its stench: the stink you smell is from the excrement you pass.

No publisher wants his child to work as a newspaper reporter. No politician or magnate wants his wife or child to grovel for a pittance as a writer or correspondent.

But they frantically deploy journalists as beasts of burden, forgetting that every journalist is some parents’ ward, some community’s hero, some spouse’s beloved, and some child’s father.


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