In comparison with many other countries of Africa, Nigeria has a very robust and vibrant civil society. The Nigerian press, in particular, is the fulcrum or centrepiece of this civil society.
The Nigerian press is like the Socratic gadfly whose duty is to always keep the country awake, to put it on tenterhooks. Socrates told the Athenian society that the state was too heavy and dull that it needed a gadfly like him to keep it awake up.
The Nigerian press has kept the Nigerian nation awake, to put its leaders on their toes, otherwise Nigeria would have been like such African countries as Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, etc., whose leaders are bent to perpetuate themselves in power.
Former Nigerian leaders like Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo, who sought to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians by attempting to extend their tenures, did not find it easy with the Nigerian press. In consequence, they quickly threw in the trowel and abandoned their plans.
The Nigerian press is no respecter of persons or institutions. It is purposeful and active. It is bold, fearless and stubborn. Members of the Nigerian press will look you in the face and tell you who you are, no matter your position or status in life.
A story was told of a former Zairian dictator, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mobutu Sese Seko, who made a stopover in Lagos in the 1970s, just to complain to the then Nigerian military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, how he was being assailed by the Nigerian press.
After listening to his complaint, Obasanjo told Mobutu to bring him a copy of the newspaper where he was attacked, which the man willingly obliged. But in that particular newspaper edition, there were as many as three critical write ups against Obasanjo himself, which he showed to Mobutu. And the man was dumbfounded and had nothing else to say!
Almost every Nigerian leader, past and present, has one name or the other invented or given to him by the Nigerian press.
Thus, when you hear of “Baba Iyabo”, you know the person in question. Before then, he used to be called “Uncle Sege”. Now, it is the “Letter Writer”.
“Maradona” is just not the name of a former Argentine footballer. It is the name given to a former Nigerian military President, who is also known as the “Evil Genius”. And when you read in the press about the “Maximum Ruler” or the “Dark-goggled General”, you readily know who they are talking about.
There was a former Nigerian President called “Baba Go Slow” who was succeeded by the “Clueless President”. And today, if you hear anybody talk about “Jubril of Sudan”, you know who the person has in mind. That’s how funny the Nigerian press is.
The path of the Nigerian press is often laced with many obstacles and road blocks, but they never prevented it from performing. The practitioners usually have a way out. Think of Decree Number Four of 1984. Think of the murder of Dele Giwa with a letter bomb. Think of the so many other journalists that were either killed or jailed, etc. In face of all these, the Nigerian press never surrendered nor wavered.
The Nigerian press is usually impatient. It wants results. It has no permanent friend, or permanent enemy. If you work hard and succeed, it will hail you. But when you begin to complain and to shift blames and in the process fail to meet its expectations, it will not spare you. It will begin to attack you.
In 2015, General Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC), were the toast of the Nigerian press because it thought that they would perform. Today, it is ” Ichabod”, the glory has departed. Buhari and the APC are no longer the friend of the Nigerian press. They have shifted their gaze to Atiku Abuakar and Peter Obi. But if tomorrow, the duo fail to meet their expectation, they will also change camp.