I wish to welcome you all this morning to the 9th Annual Trust Dialogue at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja.
Let me first of all congratulate the Chairman Malam Kabiru Yusuf, members of the board and management as well as all the staff of Media Trust Limited for this very inspiring annual Dialogue which over the years has tackled the most pressing issues of the day, be it democracy, corruption, elections, women and politics.
This year, the theme of the dialogue is Media and Politics in Africa. When the chairman of Media Trust Ltd Mal Kabiru Yusuf came to my house to invite me to chair this occasion, I took one look at the topic and wondered why he wants me to be present when the media in Nigeria and indeed Africa and the world is doing a soul searching on itself.
Maybe I was chosen because they feel I am the man in African politics and governance who has received the biggest bashing by the news media. For those of us who have been at the receiving end of media bashing for nearly three decades, I think it is long overdue for this soul searching on the relationship between the media and politics in Nigeria and indeed on the African continent as a whole.
I can understand that a man who finds himself in the seat of power is a fair game for the newspapers, radio and television stations, and even for what is today called “the new media”, internet, Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry Messenger, Google Talk, Windows Messenger, MySpace etc.
I can also understand that a man who has been out of public office for nearly two decades but who declares himself to be a presidential aspirant must also be ready to answer endless questions from the press not only on what he intends to do in the future, but also about some events and episodes of the past. Never mind that many of the events of the past that the media relishes in asking questions about are rumours, hearsays, conjectures, concoctions, innuendoes, not to say “the fertile imaginations” of some people.
What I find difficult to understand however is that even after leaving office and not seeking any public position, a man is still the subject of insinuations and battering by the news media. I think I know what to do. I want to borrow a leaf from the former American president, Richard Nixon. In 1962, when he lost the race for Governor of California, Richard Nixon decided to retire from politics and he told the pressmen, “I have news for you. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”
Today, I also have news for the Nigerian press. Although I may continue to be involved in advising up and coming aspirants, I have decided not to seek any political office again in this country. Therefore, my dear Nigerian journalists, you won’t have Ibrahim Babangida to kick around anymore!
And so, from my lofty perch of smug detachment this morning, I will comfortably sit and listen to the media conducting a soul search of itself. I am very glad to note that Media Trust Limited has assembled a very distinguished team of experts to examine in depth this issue of Media and Politics in Africa.
Let me at this point welcome Mr. Fred M’membe, the distinguished publisher of The Post newspaper who came all the way from Zambia to share with us his very rich experience and perspective on the issue of Media and Politics in Africa. When we were growing up as young men in this country in the 1960s and 1970s, Zambia was a country that we all respectfully looked up to because of the great and inspiring leadership of President Kenneth Kaunda.
I know that things have not been very rosy in Zambia under subsequent presidents, but as one of the very few countries in Africa that never experienced a military overthrow of the government, I am sure Zambians have a lot to teach Nigerians and other Africans about political stability and the role that the media can play in attaining it. The publisher of Zambia’s leading newspaper is an ideal person to tell us a few secrets of his country’s stability and we look forward to sharing your rich insight this morning.
I would also like to welcome Mr. Ragegh Omar, the international correspondent for Al-Jazeera. Yours is a television station that increasingly commands a lot of attention here in Nigeria. It gives many Nigerians a fresh alternative to Western domination of our news channels, for which we are very glad.
Even though you had your hands full throughout last year covering the Arab Spring protests, I will like to remind you that there are some African Summer protests taking place here which you should not ignore. If you ignore them, I assure you that you will wake up by the time we export them as an Asian Autumn, later on as a European Winter, and still later as a North and South American Ice Age.
Another distinguished speaker this morning is Dr. Abubakar Sadiq Mohamed of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Dr Sadiq has associated closely with the media as a contributor and commentator for many years, but he is a distinguished academic who over the years has earned a reputation for his diligent research, copious writing and very rich insight into national and international issues.
In order not to attract controversies to myself when I should be in well-deserved retirement, I would have said that Dr. Sadiq is not like many of his colleagues in the Nigerian academia who are incessant arm-chair critics of people who find themselves in public office.
Let me quickly add that not all Nigerian academics are arm-chair critics. There are many distinguished academics in Nigeria who fall into the mould of what Americans call “action academics.” These are men and women who are not afraid to go into government service in order to enrich it with their deep learning and research and to in turn gain from the experience of the real workings of government and policy making.
In my years in office, I worked very closely with many such distinguished action academics, including the late Prof Olikoye Ransome Kuti, the late Prof Babs Fafunwa, Prof Jubril Aminu, Prof Tam David West, Prof Jerry Gana, Prof Wole Soyinka, Prof Grace Alele Williams, Prof Bolanle Awe, Prof Sam Oyovbaire, Prof Humphrey Nwosu and many others.
I would also like to welcome another distinguished speaker, my younger brother, the Honourable Minister of Information Mr. Labaran Maku. During my years in office, Honourable Labaran Maku was one of the hot-headed young student leaders in this country who was always leading student demonstrations against SAP and against very minor increases in fuel prices.
Later on, my younger brother Labaran Maku became one of the restless young reporters in Nigeria who wrote copious reports and articles against what they called the “interminable IBB transition program.”
I am very glad to note that a robust young idealist like him has now found himself in government. In fact, he is now the spokesman of the government at a time when it is facing a lot of criticism from hot-headed young and not-so-young labour, student, academic and civil society critics for deregulating fuel prices. I am sure that Labaran will use his wealth of experience as a critic of government policy and marshal all the necessary arguments to rebut the phrases and coinages of hot-headed street protesters, since many of the phrases they are using today were in fact coined by him and his friends in the 1980s and 1990s.
You can therefore see that with this great assembly of talented and experienced media men and academics, today’s discussion on Media and Politics in Africa is going to be a very worthwhile one. Thank you very much.