The Nigerian Media And Nigeria’s Image
For several years, Nigeria has had a battered image, both at home and abroad. At home, Nigerians have no confidence in the country while overseas Nigerians are simply not trusted. All these resulted from the actions of some unscrupulous Nigerians. Now, things are changing yet Nigerians are still protesting that we are doing it wrongly.
I read an article in one of the dailies some time ago by a public commentator who argues that Frank Nweke Jnr, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Communications, should stop lying to the world about the changes taking place in Nigeria. This is because the commentator feels that whatever happens in Nigeria is immediately transmitted to the world via the internal or some other wire services and so there is nothing that they do not know about Nigeria.
That is correct, but perhaps Mr. Commentator would like to tell me how much of what happens in America or Europe he knows as they happen? People post the things we read on the internet, including things that happen in the developed countries. But we do not get to hear or read so much of the horrible things happening there because they know the implication of such stories on their nation’s image.
That is where the difference is. Stories about Nigeria by Nigerians, even on the internet, emanate largely from Nigerian media and they smirk of disdain, callousness and appear calculated to scuttle the country’s efforts at whatever progress she is making. These stories cost Nigeria in the long run because of the wrong impressions they create about the country.
Perception is everything. Or so the wise say. Perception is a product of our actions. When we act consistently in certain ways, we create images that others identify us with. That is the reason why it is important how the Nigerian press writes about Nigeria.
Media reports largely influence what Nigerians think of their country. Out of ten Nigerians, 7-8 are likely to tell you this country is bad. And sadly, not one in these 7-8 would like to help shape things up; instead they would prefer to form a committee of complainants and criticize the remaining 2 or 3 who are trying to change things.
Nigerians are always the first to complain that things are not working well and government is not doing anything about it, but each time the government starts doing something, the same Nigerians are the first to complain that the government is doing it wrongly! We blame government for everything, including our irresponsible behaviours!
Largely, Nigeria’s poor image does not arise from government’s irresponsible behaviour but from those of Nigerians! It is the ordinary Nigerian who litters the streets with trash. It is the ordinary Nigerian taxi or bus driver who gives out twenty naira to policemen instead of getting all his vehicle papers right. It is the ordinary Nigerian who shunts queues at filling stations, banks, or wherever order is required. to the consternation of the rest of us. It is the ordinary Nigerian who vandalizes NEPA property, NNPC pipeline or other public property, thus disrupting the meagre services the rest of us should receive from these sources. Yet it is the ordinary Nigerian who blames government most for all his woes. It is the ordinary Nigerian who creates bad publicity for this country, but it is the government that takes the blame. I am sad at this irony.
Yet, now that the government has started something to get the image right, it is the ordinary Nigerian that is squealing foul! How many times do we read or hear US or British citizens condemning their countries? You might say things are working well there. Who made their systems to function well? Are they not citizens of these countries? What do you suppose would happen if every Nigerian chooses to do what is right?
We have had foreigners visiting this country who confess that Nigeria is not half as bad as the western media has made of her. For instance, sometime late last year, 50 Cent, an American Rapper, said in Lagos that Nigeria was not as bad as he thought. Sadly though, not a single Nigerian newspaper or media house carried the story from this perspective.
Supposing Britain or US was struggling with an image problem and such a comment was made of her, the British or US press would so eulogize that comment that you would not remember anything was wrong with their country. Which is exactly what is happening today – they show the positive sides of their countries.
In Baghdad today, American soldiers commit despicable atrocities against the Iraqis, but you don’t get to know about these, largely because the western media cover it up. However, anytime they are constrained to let it out, they so downplay and coat it with the American icing that you do not see it as bad as it really is. They are conscious of the underlying implication of releasing such a damaging story on America’s image, both at home and abroad. What guides their reportage therefore is the American interest, which is what matters most, not profit.
And to the American media, this interest is “America’s Positive Image.” So they do whatever it will cost them to project that image. While blackening other countries, and with the active support of their governments, they show the positive side of their country, using what is working for them. Al Jazeera is the Arab response to CNN, BBC and other western Media imperialism. Al Jazeera exists to project a positive Arab image. So does SABC, South Africa’s response to the same western media imperialism.
In the same way, I believe the Heart of Africa Project, is Nigeria’s response to western media imperialism, and it is only normal that it should tow the same path – use what is positive and working for us to tell the Nigerian story. But some Nigerians feel that is a waste of time and resources, while others argue that the resources should be deployed elsewhere.
I accept that many things are not working in Nigeria. For example, our roads are still bad, electricity supply is still epileptic, water increasingly trickles in fewer pipes and all, but there are a few things that are working.
For instance, Nigeria has experienced a phenomenal growth in the telecom sector, virtually every major city is on one network or another. Nigerians have access to virtually anyone anywhere. Similarly, between 2001 and today, Nigeria has attracted over $4bn in investment in this sector alone. Is this not a drum we can play? Is this not something positive about our country that we want to show the world?
It is undeniable that people like Soyinka, Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Agbani Darego, are icons that have done this country proud. Similarly, places like Obudu Cattle Ranch, Yankari Game Reserve, Jos Rocks and water falls, Tinapa Business Resort, as well as festivals like the Agunugu Fishing Festival, the Durba in Kano, the annual Osun Oshogbo Festival are some of the beautiful things we can use to play our drums before the international community.
Similarly, that Nigeria has repaid her foreign debts is another drum we can play. But how do we do these? Who will lead the dance? Obviously we do not expect a private sector player to do that. It falls squarely on the government to package a programme through which we can manage our image. In my understanding, the Heart of Africa Project of the current government is a good programme that holds the promise of helping to achieve that goal. If my understanding is correct, then I believe Nigerians ought to support rather than condemn it.
Take American films for instance, belying everything in their films are America’s icons on display. You hardly see the bad sides of the US in their films. Whatever happens, the film will eventually project the image of America as a strong country. The same is true when you watch CNN, BBC or Sky News. What guides their kind of journalism is a subconscious awareness of their duty and responsibility to promoting their country’s interest.
Apart from the Nigerians and the Nigerian Media, no one else would project Nigeria’s positive image for us. Nigerians must simply learn to acknowledge that certain things are positive and working in our country. We simply need a programme to package it. The Heart of Africa Project is one such programme.
I also expect the media to be in the forefront of rebranding Nigeria, just like the western media does.
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