By Jude Atupulazi
Make no mistake about it: titles are not for me – be they chieftaincy, knighthood or whatever. I’d rather remain just me; doing things when I like and how I like – no encumbrances. Indeed, I’ve had one or two opportunities to bag a title or two, but on each occasion, it was a no no. But if there is any title that means anything to me, it has to be one associated with my career. That is why to date, the award given to me in 2013 as the Best Journalist in Anambra State still tickles me. It tickles me because, unlike most awards in Nigeria, it is not something one can buy. It is always something to be earned, to be merited and thus to be cherished.
Presently, something is tickling me again, giving me joy and making me to continue enjoying my job as a pen pusher. That present thing is the award won by my paper in Makurdi as the best in Proximity Value/Balanced News of all the Catholic papers in Nigeria. Given the quality of Catholic newspapers, this, is no mean fit.
But beyond that, that award is great testament to the good work we are doing as long as carrying out our mandate is concerned. What is our mandate? It is to cover and capture our immediate environment, first and foremost, before any other thing, apart from proclaiming the faith via our stories. We are not under any illusions that we are a national paper. We know our limitations and we do our best to manage that aspect.
While not being a national paper, we are proud to acknowledge that we are truly the champions in our locality; local champions, if you like, and proudly so. It means that in our sphere of influence, we are truly in charge, having conquered it. The aspect of the award on proximity therefore, just about nails it. It tells the story of how well we have serviced our immediate environment.
The excitement I get from this award also emanates from the fact that journalism is such a thankless job. Write 99 ”favourable” stories out of 100; nothing happens, no one commends you. But write just one story deemed ”unfavouarble” by the establishment and all hell is let loose. The funny thing is that those letting loose the hell are those that always encourage you to do constructive criticism, but after you constructively criticize and what you get are threats and intimidation, you begin to wonder if you heard them right in the first place.
The truth is that all administrations are the same. None likes to be negatively portrayed even when such negative portrayals are the truth. Under this scenario, does the journalist fold his hands and watch? Does he kow-tow to the establishment? Does he forget his responsibility to society? These are eternal challenges facing every journalist and media house.
Indeed, the pressures are always too hot. Sometimes calls are made from top quarters for a story not to be used or to be killed, as it is known in journalistic circles. If your employers are not strong enough to withstand such pressures, my brother, that will be the beginning of your problems. I have known media outfits who sack or transfer reporters at the behest of government officials with the promise of giving them mouth-watering adverts. Such reporters are those seen as meddlesome interlopers who are literally pouring sand into the garri of government, as they say.
My friend, the current chief press secretary of the Governor of Ebonyi State, was once declared wanted in that state while reporting for one of the national dailies. He literally ran out of the state. But when the government sat down to evaluate the situation, it soon came to the conclusion that it could use the young man’s services by working with him. Today, the runaway pen pusher is now the CPS of that state government.
I’m just trying to paint to you a picture of what journalists can face. It is however not all journalists that end up with such luck as my friend had. Journalists have been attacked and wounded or killed by unknown persons in some states. They have also been imprisoned. And we know the only people who can set out to hound journalists are those who are scared of them or who want something not to be made public. This is usually the situation under despotic governments.
But over time, many journalists have not been deterred by such hazards and have pushed on, regarding whatever dangers they face as the hazards of the profession.
For me, journalism is all about courage, about being bold and tenacious. The profession is not for the chicken-hearted or the unambitious. It is a profession that gives you power, opens doors and exposes you. That is why many are able to bear with the dark side of the profession. That aside, it is a wonderful feeling to be a journalist, especially when you know your onions. It is also wonderful when you work in the right environment and there are not many environments better that the one I am experiencing at Fides. And that has been made sweeter by the award which recognizes our little effort. For that, I’m happy.
Fides, as you know, is a faith based paper saddled with the dual responsibility of serving God and man, so to say. The paper is located right in the midst of its readers, meaning that they know where it is and can access it at any point, whenever they want. We have had our fair share of the challenges I earlier mentioned and I can tell you that those challenges are more than what national papers experience. Ours is kind of peculiar because a lot of people see it as their paper and thus will readily not spare us if they feel we have stepped out of line.
Thus, it is normal to hear people complain how their paper is ”attacking them”. It is as though being ”their” paper forbids us from exposing anomalies. It’s as if they expect us to close our eyes when certain things happen that are not germane to society.
But what these people have always failed to realize is that being a faith based organization, it behoves us to tell the truth, regardless of whose ox is gored. It is almost like an oath sworn by us to tell the truth and protect the interests of the minority.
There also comes a time when we have to take a stand on issues, even when others do not. Take for instance our opposition to the government of President Muhammed Buhari. There’s no need reminding anyone how anti-Christian Buhari’s Government has been, as well as how unseriously it has treated human life. The kid glove treatment of Fulani herdsmen who kill and maim others is well documented. We know how this government which is loath to arrest and prosecute these killers will defy the speed of light to arrest and prosecute perceived political opponents or people/groups from some parts of the country.
Some time ago, a group of Northern elements gave a quit notice to Igbos in the North. This triggered an outrage against those elements. Probably in a bid to hide their blushes, the IG of Police and the Kaduna State Government ordered the arrest of those people. But barely two days after, the leaders of those people appeared on a live TV programme in which they tried to justify their sack threat. They still sounded unrepentant. One expected that the police who had been ordered to arrest them would be waiting at the gates of the TV station to hand cuff those people once they came out from the studios. Nothing of such however happened.
But when some pro-Biafra agitators clamoured for a Biafran State because of the ill treatment they received in their own country, they were quickly arrested.
Now when the time for elections came, did anyone expect us to root for a government that kept mum when two Catholic priests were killed? A government that had shown a callous indifference to the killing of her people. Of course we had to call for such a government to be voted out. We had to because its actions, inactions and policies seemed to be against our faith. We would have failed in our duty if we had kept mum.
Thus when we oppose or query some government’s policies, we are merely living up to our pact with society. Keeping mum is to betray those that look up to us.
But then, knowing the political class, they will always prefer that you sing their praises and pander to their whims. At those times you speak ”Gbowam” they believe you are working for the opposition who have hired you to attack them. This can be disconcerting, really, but we have been able to remain focused. That determination to go on and that focus have landed us an award today that says we are doing well on our mandate and giving everyone a voice. It is like a report card that says we passed the examination.
As we therefore bask in the euphoria of the award, let it be known that we fear no one but respect everyone. Our focus is on doing good to the greater number without bias.