A popular saying goes that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. This statement I am convinced may never have been heard by all the groups that constitute what may be called Imo media. Taking this position may find justification in the recent travail suffered by a journalist/media practitioner in the state who was whisked away or kidnapped or abducted on his way home after he rose from a program. It was reported that on that July 2, when Sunny Uma Anderson got missing, the popular On Air Presenter had done a program that was critical of a state government agency-Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA)Same day the report further indicated was the day the Reach FM 104.9 where Uma does his stuff to the delight of his Igbo audience was shot down by state actors.
Reason for the clampdown according to sources was the failure of the radio house to produce the building approved plan for a structure the owners claimed was acquired some years earlier. Until the day he resurfaced after 10 days, it is not known that Imo media (NUJ and all), the government, RATTAWU, the police and civil rights activists made any efforts concerning the young man’s whereaboutsSunny’s popular radio program sometimes draws attention to the ills of governance especially in the state. The media it is claimed is the watchdog of the society, a role clearly very risky for the practitioners especially when power is in the hands of evil men who are not committed to delivering an improved society. The same society Sunny sought to improve also abandoned him at critical moments of need when his life was at stakeThe most worrisome aspect of the matter is that his constituency, the media did not wake up to fight for his life until he was released. Outside splashes of social media messages from a few friends and news items in some tabloids, it never mattered to any media group to go beyond that to challenge the authorities. It speaks so much about how the media practitioners value themselves and how they appreciate the critical roles they play.
It is a well known fact that some professions like the Nigerian Medical Association, or the Nigerian Bar Association would not go to sleep when one of its members find himself under circumstances such as this. They will down tools until he is released. Although there is not yet a direct link to the authorities the circumstances of the boy’s loss and the manner the government has related with the media points accusing fingers in their direction, observed a human rights activistIt is hypocritical that same government that wants a co-operating media to show case its activities would at same time be hounding the press. Truth must be told that drawing from feelers from the Imo people this government is not in their good books. Anyone in contention of this fact is challenged to go and sincerely survey the people and deliver the result for the world to see. While the government is pretending to be working, operating in deceit and open lies, it does not want its under belly to be exposed because it is full of rot. This is the crux of the matter and the challenge of the media.
This is the reason it struggles to keep the media under its jackboot or compromise it in order to pocket it. In less than two years there are clear indications that the government does not mean well for the press no matter how it pretends about it. A media observer once described it as an ‘unfriendly friend’. Innumerable facts abound to support this claim. Let us sample just a few of the unassailable facts.
On assumption of office the Chief Press Secretary to the governor like an attack dog pounced on the journalists describing them in the most derogatory language. On seeking confirmation of information he would threaten you with court action “should you write nonsense”. Perhaps this may have emboldened the legislators who took turns to be beating journalists. The Trumpeta newspaper nearly received same ‘VIP treatment’ from OCDA over a story the government and its agency frowned at but they screamed loud enough.
Barr Vivian Ottih, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) chairperson in the state who was until recently recalled was placed on indefinite suspension for asking for the salaries of his work colleagues. It was like an anathema to ask for your right while the government lies all the way that it does not owe anybody.
In one case, one Nwaneri, an aide of the governor pounced on the working tools of the news editor of Darling FM, Kingsley who was covering planned protest of unpaid pensioners, seized it and wiped away all information on the phone. It took pleadings from another government spokesperson to retrieve the gadget from him after 4 days. What could be more humiliating trampling on a media personnel? Where did he get such powers?As if beating is their stock in trade, the governor’s brother also showed the stuff he is made of by beating up a journalist, Precious Nwadike, publisher of the Watchdog newspaper. Not quite long security operatives also pounced on state vendors accusing them of selling papers carrying IPOB stories. Both the Commissioner of Information and police authorities denied knowledge of the incident. Five of the vendors were released after they went on a one day strike.
The Commissioner of Information once in a radio program was combative against the presenter in an argument and displayed behavior considered embarrassing for his status as a government official. The popular presenter, Nonso Nkwa who stands with people has continued to cry out loud that he has been receiving threats and once his newspaper office was burgled and office equipment stolen.
The undue interference in the media affairs of journalists in the state by the authorities as part of its effort to pocket the press is quite worrisome. The clandestine role the government played in the NAWOJ election is what has split the group into two factions. It is sad and unfortunate. Except one or two tabloids speaking out, Imo media appears cowed and pocketed and no longer plays the so called watchdog roles.
News Echo editors has constantly been under the harassment of the Chief Press Secretary to the governor and until recently the Adviser on Print Media. If they are not complaining about the headlines, they will complain about the editorial or the column and have made the editors the talk of their office. Their challenge is not that you are stating wrong facts but why are you saying so because they have never challenged the veracity of the facts. I would not be surprised if they come after me after this publication. The world should therefore look in their direction in case anything dangerous happens to me.
In all of these what has the media in the state done collectively to stem further humiliation and protect itself and its members? In what appears a response, a female journalist had this to say, “Oga Afam, what do you expect when the state NUJ is split and one group is backed by government. Our publishers are one side doing senior conja, begging to get attention of the government which continues to ignore them, why are they begging to see governor. Our colleagues in the government are also not helping matters, is like everyone is on his own o!’’Does this mean the situation is irredeemable for the media that everybody is looking up to salvage the situation for the people? Only journalists can best provide the answer. Sunny Uma, welcome back and please don’t let darkness comprehend light. Change your style; there are still many ways to kill a rat.