THE PRINT MEDIA AND CRISIS RESOLUTION IN THE NIGER-DELTA REGION OF NIGERIA

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THE PRINT MEDIA AND CRISIS RESOLUTION IN THE NIGER-DELTA REGION OF NIGERIA

ABSTRACT

The project examined the effectiveness of the print media in crisis resolution in Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the objectives of this project are, to discuss the print media and its role of information dissemination, to dig into the background of Niger Delta avengers and their modus operandi and to make recommendations on how the print media can effectively carry out its role in resolution of conflicts even in the face of constant threat and intimidation by the Niger Delta avengers. For the purpose of this study the researcher adopted the survey research design to elicit data from the study area. The reason for the choice of method is to enable the researcher to produce subjective opinion to respondents. The survey involved collection of relevant data which was analyzed to answer the researcher’s questions in conclusion the project recommended that The Federal government should re-integrating the ex-militants into civil life through re-training and rehabilitation, the speedy provision of the social and economic infrastructure required by the devastated Niger Delta region to develop with its natural resources should be a top priority, the people of Niger Delta should be enlighten on the importance of maintaining peace in the society, youths empowerment programs should be provided to engage the youths.

 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

The Niger Delta of Nigeria has become the focus of interest of the press, both indigenous and foreign, not just for the high profile economic and industrial activities that go on there, nor for the oil exploitation and exploration, but for the crises, often of a violent and fatal nature, that take place there. The people of the oil-producing Niger Delta have often considered themselves to be marginalised – politically disenfranchised and economically impoverished – in spite of being natives of the region that hosts Nigeria’s petroleum oil and gas industries, which account for more than 80 percent of the nation’s Gross National Product (Dode, 2011).

Although the agitation in the region has been predicated on the claims of injustice, inequity and the neglect of the area and exclusion from the benefit of oil wealth, print media coverage has often excluded the issues in the crisis and focused mainly on what Umaru Pate refers to as “crisis behaviours” (Pate, 2002). These crisis behaviours include clampdowns on, and closures of, oil installations, bombing of oil wells and drilling platforms, kidnapping of oil workers or other forms of abduction, killing and maiming of oil workers and security operatives, and also inter- and intra-community feuds. Levi Obijiofor (2008) has observed that print media reports on the Niger Delta are largely ‘episodic’ and ‘sporadic’. He notes perceptively: “If there are no explosions, no abductions, no shootings and no killings in the Niger Delta cities, the region would most certainly disappear from the radar of journalists. But the moment a school child is kidnapped in Port Harcourt or Warri or Yenagoa, the media would encircle that city and cover the event until it loses currency or until another event breaks out in the region or elsewhere.”

This research indicates that the sporadic coverage of the crisis is informed by the Nigerian print media’s concept of news value, the height of the drama, media ownership, and logistic challenges of accessing the swampy sites of conflict in the Niger Delta and consequent overdependence on official government sources for news information. Nwagbara (2010, p.19) sketches the scenario by stating that “the wake of partisan journalism, sponsored news programmes, commercialised media enterprise, political reporting, and propagandistic reportage” have created a grotesque picture of information dissemination in the Nigerian print media, especially in its coverage of crisis. The Nigerian print media, therefore, serve not only as chroniclers of violent crises; they also do so from the perspective of government sources, who are constantly seeking to control information flow for the benefit of the ruling elites.

However, dissenting groups in the Niger Delta have found a way of invading media space given the prolonged stifling of their voices. This is done through peaceful protests or violent crackdowns. Often placard-carrying men, women and youth are seen in government buildings demanding one thing or another – from friendlier environmental practices among oil companies to improved welfare packages as compensation for the impact of oil exploration on their lives and communities. On the other hand, masked gun-toting young men invade oil facilities leaving destruction, pain and death in their train – these are automatically reported. It has become fashionable for some dissenting groups to claim responsibility whenever such attacks occur and to use the incidents as a basis for threatening further attacks if the reason for the initial attack is not addressed as desired. This is evident in the claims of responsibility for incessant attacks on oil installations and the frequent kidnap of oil workers, especially expatiates, in the Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is a typical example here as illustrated in this report: “We wish to restate our warnings to oil companies still operating in the Niger Delta, and more especially, workers of such companies, to leave while they can. Our halt in attack was more of a tactical suspension which has come to its end. At a time of our choice, we will resume attacks with greater devastation and no compassion on those who choose to disregard our warnings” (The Vanguard, April 20, 2010, pp. 1-2).

Perhaps the most significant factor affecting crisis reporting in the Niger Delta is the concentration of much of Nigeria’s mainstream media in Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital in south-west Nigeria. This singular factor has implications for effective crisis coverage: first is that the capitalist world-view of the city rubs off on every activity as bottom-line (profit) considerations influence every decision, including news judgements. So a newspaper proprietor that is operating from Lagos prioritises profit over public service. Hence, news judgement is predicated ultimately on the promise of pecuniary returns. This is equally applicable to media outfits owned by media entrepreneurs of Niger Delta origin. Second, as mentioned earlier, the distance between Lagos and the Niger Delta creeks and the logistic challenge this poses is a limiting factor to effective coverage of conflict in the area.

Journalists are therefore quick to choose the easy way out. They use press statements from official government sources or publish emails from militant leaders who seek to invade media space by the “back door” (Liebes and Kamp, 2004, p.79). Closely linked to the problems of ownership and geographical location of newspapers in Nigeria is that of ethnic and political division in the country. In an elaborate work on the divisive role of the Nigerian print media in the nation’s early democratic history, a Nigerian print media historian has noted that the newspaper industry in the first republic was “fiercely partisan,” and it played “inciting and exacerbating” roles in the violent crisis that truncated the first republic (Ishola, 2008). Apparently, the same situation extant in the first republic plays out in current reportage of the crisis in the Niger Delta as the mainstream media are lethargic in their coverage of the region, investing only a limited amount of resources in their coverage of the region. The Nigerian media, therefore, essentially depend on what Oscar Gandy refers to as “information subsidies” where political actors “attempt to produce influence over the actions of others by controlling their access to and use of information relevant to those actions” (Gandy, 2007).

The importance of the mass media cannot be undermined. It plays a pivotal role in the development of any country through information dissemination.

Information as it were, is as important as the air. The average man regards whatever emanates from the mass media as the ‘’gospel truth’ ’the implication of this is that the mass media can actually supply veritable and accurate information in appropriate context, be it sustenance of a nations democracy resolution of conflicts.

According to Akpopveta and Ogbemi (2005) mass media means the totality of the institution such as newspapers, magazines, books, radio, television, motion pictures and others used for mass communication without this, the message(s) cannot be transmitted simultaneously far and wide.

In the same vein, the word search site Wikipedia defines the mass media as media technologies, including the internet, television, newspapers, films and radio, which are used for mass communication.

More also, Nickolas Luhman (2000) elaborates on the concept mass media as those institutions which make use of copying technologies to disseminates communication, provided that they generate large qualities of products whose targets groups are yet undermined.

In a similar vein, the mass media can help effectively in the resolution of conflicts. Wright (1990) stated that the word conflict is derived from the Latin word configure meaning to strike together. It was anticipated that conflict may occurred in a physical sense when two or more different things moves to occupy the same space at the same time which there is logical inconsistency and the process of solution are identical. While Akpoveta and Ohewere (2005), citing Walton (1969) sees conflict from two perspectives to include:

· Interpersonal disagreement over substantive issues, such as differences over organizational structures, policies and practices and;

· Interpersonal antagonism, that is the more personal and emotional difference which arises between interdependent human beings.

Laue (1990) expressed that conflict my rise when wants, needs and belief between two or more parties struggle to agree.

Conflict may arise as a result of differences in race, religion, political affiliation, sex etc. every conflict has its own peculiarity. The nature of the conflict determines to a large extent the type of mass medium to employ in managing it.

On the other hand, conflict resolution is a wide range of methods of addressing sources of conflict, whether at the interpersonal level or of continuing it in less destructive forms than say, armed conflict resolution.

The mass media in Nigeria have in their own way tried in the area of conflict resolution. The mass media has a duty to integrate diverse group whose interest may be in variance.

Iredia (2010), in his book “A gift to Nigeria at 50” says that in Nigeria’s short history as a nation, it has experienced enough conflicts that could ordinarily leads to its disintegration but the mass media as earlier mentioned played a pivotal role in Nigeria being one entity today. According to him, some conflicts in Nigeria that the mass media had successfully helped in its resolution; most of them are election-based.

Moreover, others which include the youth restiveness in the Niger Delta which culminated in kidnapping, destruction of lives and properties etc. the mass media in collaboration with the Federal Government led to the disbarment of the militant and the introduction of the amnesty programme that is still ongoing in the region.

Conversely, the focus of this study is the huge threat by the Boko Haram sect. the existence of this sect is a dent to the image of Nigeria and her existence. The most talked about conflict today in the country is that posed by the Boko Haram sect. how can the mass media assist in sustaining Nigeria in the face of threat posed by this sect? This will be discussed in the course of this study, but first the Boko Haram sect will be placed in perspective.

The term Boko Haram comes from the Hausa word Boko meaning Animist, Western or otherwise non-Islamic education and the Arabic word Haram figuratively meaning “SIN” (literally, forbidden)

The sect who is officially known as “Jama’atu Ahli-SunnahLidda’awatiWal-Jihad”,based in North-eastern Nigeria had orchestrated series of deadly attacks which have left hundreds of lives dead and property destroyed. These attacks which started in July, 2009 when the Nigerian Police started investigating the sect, following reports that it was arming itself, have gone sophisticated with bomb detonation every now and then. The sect which opposes Western education, culture, Modern science and democracy was formed in 2002 by late Ustaz Muhammad Yusuf in Maiduguri.

However, the group itself and studies on the group remained inconclusive about its origin. According to some sources, the group have evolved from various efforts by extremist’s elements dating back to the 1940s through the end of the 1990s that sought to radicalize various segments of northern Nigeria, especially the North-East. To some other sources, the group started in 1995 as “Sahaba” and was initially led by Lawan Abubakar who later left for the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia for further studies. The late Muhammad Yusuf was said to have taken over the leadership after the departure of Abubakar and indoctrinated the sect with his own teaching which he claimed were based on purity and Sharia’s Law.

Shortly after his takeover, he commenced what many described as “Intensive Membership Mobilization” after his first release from police custody in November, 2008 in Maiduguri. This intensive mobilization recorded a huge success. He allegedly had over 500 members before his demise and usually taxed them one Naira, which approximated to 500 Naira daily (Madike, 2011). The Almajiri system made this mobilization easy to nip the festering crises in the bud, the late President Umaru Musa ‘Yar’aduwa ordered the deployment of the military to contain those government described as dissidents. After initial resistance, the sect fell to the superior fire power of the military, and Yusuf, the leader was arrested and handed over to the police. Hours later, the police executed Yusuf alongside sponsor Alhaji BujiFoi, who was the Commissioner for Religious Affairs during the first term of former governor Ali Modu Sharif of Borno State.

After the death of Yusuf, the group has continued its attacks; in fact the insurgence has gone critical and indeed assumed a very dangerous dimension. From the time the group was formed to the present day, it has carried lots of successful attacks most of which were bomb blasts which have left lots of people dead and property destroyed.

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