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The Media and the Democratic Process in Nigeria (1)

By Professor Sam Oyovbaire

T HE value of the media in the development of the Nigerian nation-state became prominent in the struggle by the Founding Fathers of Nigerian nationalism against British colonial rule and imperialism, mildly in the late 1920s and much more forcefully from about 1944. As the struggle intensified, and colonial ruleinaugurated a process of tactical retreat through negotiation with the emergent yet fragmented political class, the media acquired a front seatand status as the mouthpiece of the anti-colonial struggle. In this role, the media and individual journalists experienced all forms of vicissitudes and punishment by the colonial authorities.

The origins of the media however predated the nationalist struggle for independence. Without recourse to a repeat of long history here, we acknowledge the fact that the Nigerian press is a product of evolution from the early Christian missionary establishment in the South of the country. Between 1842 and 1885, the Church Missionary Society, the Baptist, Methodist and the Catholic Missions established their presence independent of one another in various locations, particularly in Abeokuta, Calabar andOnitsha. The desire to spread Christianity to the local people in their own language and anthologicalenvironment caused the CMS to start what is generally acknowledged as the first newspaper in Abeokuta. As it was reported, the Rev. Henry Townsend of the CMS was said to have observed, "my object is to get the people to read; and get them to inculcate the habit of reading."

This motivation of the CMS resulted in setting up the newssheet called Iwe Irohin. Other newspapers followed the Iwe Irohin not only in Yoruba, but also in English Language;and their locations were mainly in Abeokuta and Ibadan areas. The Newspapers of the period, however were short lived as most of them lasted between six months and two years only. The important point however, is that between the 1850s and the late 1920s, the Christian press acquired some status of not only discharging the responsibilities of religious proselytisation but also of incursion into questioning the emergent colonialism and its multiple oppressive practices in Nigeria. One other significant element of the press at that time is the establishment of printing as an industry, profession and trade. Naturally, this new techno-economic and professional activity became rooted in the South West of the country before other areas such as Onitsha. It should also be acknowledged that the target audience and market forces for the press together with journalism as a new profession propelled and fostered by western education became dominant in the South West.

As we would expatiate later on in this essay, the origin and location of the media began gradually to create and consolidate a world-view for it. In the struggle to undermine British colonialism and obtain independence, the media also acquired a highly nationalistic and Pan-African world-view and commitment. Apart from Christian evangelisation, the object and focus of process discourse were, of course, hostility to foreign domination, and, conversely, the interest of the media coincided with the emerging Nigerian national interest. The national interest was however, yet to unfold in its proper character at the point at which the media was already an acknowledged social force in the promotion of political development.

The overwhelming critical features of the press in its relationship to the unfolding democratic process had emerged as early as the late 1920s. The role of the modern press pioneers such as the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others was to pushforward and entrench the role of the press as "the watch-dog" of Nigeria's nascent interest. In the period leading to independence, the"watch-dog" enterprise was against the "British-colonial masters and colonialism"....
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