Fellow Nigerians, you must be wondering why I chose this title for my column today. If you wait a moment and you want to know the real reason, I shall explain in the next few lines. Television has become a most important platform in the world of media today. Its attraction derives from the simultaneous usage of audio and visual mediums. As a young boy growing up in the ancient city of Ile-Ife, I used to marvel at the magic behind this extraordinary human invention. As a “bush” boy, I actually imagined at some point that some people must have been smuggled into television boxes by those wizards and goblins called oyibo (White people). Till this day it remains the eighth wonder.
In those days, television was a rarity. It was mainly in black and white. Only one big man, Chief S.O. Fadiora, popularly known as Baba Larele, had television in our neighbourhood. We had the privilege of standing by his window to watch some programmes. This opportunity fired our imagination. We saw events from far-flung places. We watched football. We enjoyed musicals. We savoured boxing. Wow, Mohammed Ali was the greatest. We had to stay awake and endure the giant mosquitos making a feast of our exposed parts anytime he was fighting. Even Nigerian television paraded exciting programmes. The adverts were nice, decent and easily remember-able. Life was good and Television was a must watch for us.
If television was that important then, you can imagine how powerful it has become now with live broadcasts in vivid colours from any part of the globe. There is no subject under the sun that is not covered by television. You can virtually study from the comfort of your home. You can visit anywhere in the world without going near any airport. You can witness human advancement at the speed of light and the collapse of nations at the drop of a hat. The world has become one box office movie. Everything has been demystified and decoded. Television has of course been amplified and expanded by its social media variants through You Tube and other variants.
Where am I going with this preamble? It is simple and straight-forward. No serious leader should have excuse for failure. Ideas are available practically free of charge to those who need and want it. Power is no longer a product of abracadabra. Videos, smartphones, laptops, iPads, and others have contributed immensely to the growth of television. Social media has even done so much to bring information nearer home. Any information can be obtained without fuss or stress. You can build or penetrate any library in the world. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. How come our leaders have refused to take advantage of the globalisation of anything and everything?
Someone sat down somewhere in Dubai and said he wanted to build the tallest building in the world which used to be the exclusive preserve of American cities. The same man sat down and decided that the biggest airport in the world can be built in a tiny Arabian desert. He didn’t have to travel or globetrot. Anything he wanted was handy at the touch of a button. He probably got ideas first from watching television and thought to himself I could do this better.
I got inspiration for this column this week from watching the Brussels, Belgium, attack on television. Even as I sit down to write this the whole world is still gripped and held spellbound by events unfolding in that country which are being beamed live on diverse global news channels. They’ve killed our sleep at night and replaced it with insomnia. My brain is pounding and racing with endless questions about why we are not able to replicate these things despite being blessed with some of the brightest and smartest human souls on earth.
The first lesson I expect our leaders to learn from watching the spectacle on television is that our present problems would never go away until we learn how to do things differently. For example, the war against terrorism is largely a matter of intelligence combining the resources available to different arms of security forces especially the Police. In Nigeria we drag the army out of their barracks to fight terrorists with weapons of war. Watching Belgium on television, the army plays a lesser role and they are called out in very extreme conditions. What this tells me is that we need to retrain and upgrade our ragtag police force. They can’t achieve much in their current configuration. They must be well educated, trained, equipped, empowered and remunerated. The Police is the umbilical cord that joins humans and society. It is not the Army or indeed other segments of the Armed Forces. It seems that we have allowed our recent past which has been dominated by military oppression and suppression to overshadow the activities of our security forces and how they operate. That is not the way of the world and it is not how we will make progress if we are to secure our people and even borders. The truth is that the military is ill-equipped for the task and role thrust upon it by our leaders not because they do not have the equipment but because they do not have the temperament and domestic savvy required for operations such as this. On the contrary all the military should do is to complement the efforts of the other members of the security forces like the Police, DSS and other ‘civilian’ security agencies.
The second lesson is the power of determination and tenacity. The Belgian government launched a blistering counter-attack after the bombs that reverberated through the airport and Metro. True, the security forces appear to have missed early warning signs, but they quickly made up for their lapses in the manner in which they responded to the dastardly and cowardly attacks. Since the bombings, the security offensive has been relentless and productive. What is noteworthy is that the media has been kept as informed as possible. The result is that the people, who are probably the most significant object of security, are fully involved in the security operation, contributing their quota by supplying valuable information, like the taxi driver who provided the valuable nugget of information that led to a second suspect being sought in relation to the Metro bombing.
Nearly two years after over 200 young girls vanished into thin air in Chibok, nothing tangible has come out of the search by the former and present governments. I appreciate the fact that the Government has apparently very recently rescued about 830 hostages from Boko Haram in Borno. In this regard one must commend the security forces and the Government. But this success merely highlights the dismal failure with regard to the Chibok girls after a couple of years. In relation to the missing girls, the body language was and continues to be very worrisome. Life seemingly continues as normal. What should have been a national tragedy uniting us was even politicised. The few selfless individuals who chose to draw attention to this unprecedented disaster were treated with disdain. In Belgium, about 30 people died and 300 were injured and the world was literally brought to a standstill because the government knew the huge responsibility bestowed on it. It was reminiscent of the attitude to the French shootings and killings earlier on this year. Our leaders get angry when asked to do their job. They take it personal, forgetting that this is one of the reasons they were elected into their positions in the first place. You become an instant enemy.
The third big lesson from watching Belgium on television is what I saw as efficient and coherent management of Information. Every department explains its role and achievement or challenges. I did not see any Information Minister, Special Adviser, Senior Special Assistant, Presidential Media Support Group, I Stand with the President Group, Special Adviser Social Media, Special Assistant, Chief of Staff, National Security Adviser and others competing to take charge of media. There was no cacophony of misinformation. No one harassed the Media. Even two prominent Ministers offered their resignations but were rejected. Government elsewhere would have taken hurried decisions before realising that sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know. It would be impossible for new Ministers to know what to do in the middle of this crisis. Better to chase the hyena away before returning to the hen later.
The fourth lesson is the level of preparedness. Everything needed and necessary was ready and pulled out immediately the bombs exploded; ambulances, oxygen, blood, dogs, fire trucks, hospital facilities appeared in a jiffy. Even hotels were converted to emergency clinics. The nation and the world stood together. Effort was made to identify victims dead or alive. Within days so many suspected or confirmed terrorists were trailed and apprehended. I saw a sense of mission and commitment. There has been no attempt to trade blames yet. Errors have been identified and accepted. But people have moved on immediately because there is a common enemy to be overcome. No political party or politician took advantage of the brouhaha to advance personal ambition. It is obvious there are sharp disagreements and undercurrents here and there but everyone is doing what needs to be done for now. There is always time for recrimination later.
The fifth lesson I learnt from watching television is that Nigerian leaders are too flamboyant and ceremonial. Even in the middle of our intractable crises, we have refused to tone down the pomp and pageantry of power. Our leaders still waste our dwindling resources on over-bloated personnel. Our leaders still travel abroad with security aides in full military regalia. If they watch television and take time to study protocol and etiquette they would realise that their style has become outlandishly archaic. Why should journalists want to capture the speech of a President and they are forced to take pictures of two people because of an outdated security trend. As mundane as this may seem, it is one of the things that shows the world that we are not serious. I saw Nigerian First Ladies in the past roaming the streets of Washington DC and London with uniformed orderlies. Why are we so uncouth? I have not seen world leaders or indeed their spouses being obviously attended by uniformed men abroad. The truth is that effective and efficient security of leaders is now an unobtrusive thing. I often wonder how an Aide-de-Camp dedicated to taking a bullet for his charge can do so from behind the person? Indeed what can he even see from that less than vantage position that would enable him to protect his ward? Na wah!
I’m very convinced that our leaders must watch good channels on television. It is impossible not to do so given the preponderance of votes in their budgets for this purpose. We have a few Nigerian channels but something must be done to bring NTA up to date with the rest of the civilised world. It is shameful that a country as big and powerful as Nigeria is not able to run a world class television channel that would compete with CNN, Al Jazeera, Sky, Fox, BBC, CCTV News, French, Russian, Chinese and others now rocking the world and expressing the views of their home country owners. A nation as strong and powerful as Nigeria should have a voice of its own. This is what Nduka Obaigbeina is doing with Arise News and Tony Dara did with NN24 before it went under. These are geniuses who like their forerunners Raymond Dokpesi, Gabriel Igbinedion, Osa Sonny Adun, Steve Ojo, Busari Gbadeyanka, John Momoh, Ben Murray Bruce, Bola Tinubu and others invested heavily in television, a casino of sorts. Lack of enabling environment and too much government control has made television business extra tedious in Nigeria. A government of Change can turn things around for the better if it sets its priorities right. But it would amount to nothing or mere wishful thinking if the leaders don’t watch television or prefer channels that engage in hero-worship.
It is time for a CHANGE!