Mixed metaphors, Where are the journalists?

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By Sonala Olumhense

To begin: Has anybody seen Air Nigeria? Yesterday ended April 2022, the month the Federal Government promised to have its new airline up and running. Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika made the declaration in November 2021.

That event came three years after Sirika first announced the airline in July 2018, scheduling its take-off for December of that year. But it turned out to have been a hoax, and just two months later, Minister Sirika’s fictional airline crashed without ever taking off.

In November 2021, he re-assembled the pieces. Air Nigeria would now take off in April 2022, he said, bringing 70,000 jobs. Apologies are due to the people of Nigeria because the new hoax is characteristic of the administration he serves. Some of us could see the deception six months away.

And speaking of character, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) last week celebrated that his administration has done “exceedingly well” in improving the business climate of Nigeria, citing the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ latest index, which showed Nigeria had moved from 146th to 131st.

But Buhari did not interpret the date, nor did he disclose that the WB last September discontinued the report because it was found to have been rigged.

It is widely known that a lot of businesses have either closed since Buhari assumed office, left the country, or avoided Nigeria. Power and other infrastructure have grown worse. Widespread insecurity continues to limit business severely. In the cities, the traffic situation has deteriorated. No self-respecting tourist goes to Nigeria, and even airline professionals do not step out of their hotels.

If business is “easier” for anyone, that is perhaps only in the sharp practices industry. At Murtala Muhammad Airport (MMA) recently, I met hostility at immigration recently because the officer wanted a bribe, warning me against presenting only an Emergency Travel Certificate, as if that is illegal. When I challenged him to have me deported to Ghana if he wished, he told me he was doing his best, and then asked if I had “anything” for him.

At Baggage Claim, only one carousel worked, as has been the situation for many years, something that seems to be unknown to the ease-of-business propaganda teams. I then came face to face with the unprecedented: five customs officers none of whom even bothered to glance at my luggage: they simply looked into my eyes and openly demanded money.

If you want the punchline to this joke, it is that all of this was happening in an airport which has enjoyed no air-conditioning for decades! There is no other airport anywhere in the world that is at once as shameless and shameful. An airport is the first and sometimes a traveller’s last image of a people or a place, no matter how many charter or presidential jets its leadership deceives itself with, and ours sadly fill travellers with revulsion.

For many years for instance, Sleeping in Airports has rated Nigeria’s airports to be among the worst in the world. Even in Africa, MMA and Port Harcourt are routinely in the worst 10.

Similarly, since Skytrax began its airport surveys in 1999, all our so-called international airports have been rated badly. In its World Airport Awards for 2021, two South Africa airports are listed among the best, none from Nigeria. Worse still, in the Africa region, five South African airports made the Top-10, with no Nigerian appearing.

Even when we do the right thing, we make certain to do it wrong: Buhari commissioned the new “world class” international terminal at MMA only a month ago, for instance, bragging about its counters and desks and departure gates.

He showed no concern that it is of no attraction to most airlines because it cannot accommodate modern widebody aircraft, leading to most airlines now avoiding the terminal.

Nonetheless, Buhari did not invent the repulsive Nigerian airport, and it would be unfair to blame it on him. His preference for propaganda over excellence and the truth is however more detrimental. In every conceivable conversation, his government chooses proclamations of how everything is working when nothing is, including where Nigeria-style aviation has become a deterrent to business.

A consensus candidate who will commit the most crimes takes precedence over the best candidate who will do the most good.

Think about it: the world out there continues to be stunned by how much Nigeria has degenerated into a jungle in Buhari’s hands. An article in the Council on Foreign Relations journal following the deadly attack on a Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) Abuja-Kaduna train carrying nearly 400 passengers, was headlined “Nigerian Democracy in Peril as Country Descends Into Lawlessness.”

The writer said, “Violence in Nigeria is multidimensional and pervasive, ranging from perennial herder-farmer clashes to gang violence, armed robbery, attacks on state infrastructure, especially police stations, airports and power transformers, intercommunal violence, lynching, ritual killings, mob justice, and casual intimidation of ordinary citizens by law enforcement.”

No Nigerian, unless he is in the Buhari inner circle, disputes this national characterisation.

Within that circle, however, this scandal is dismissed as false, and the very worst ministers in the government are lining up for the juiciest offices. People around Buhari on the party high table or in his cabinet who should be tendering public apologies are greedily prospecting for higher responsibility.

These are people who see nothing wrong with paying a whopping N100m for party candidature forms in a country overrun by hunger and poverty. And they express their thirst for power not by speaking to voting Nigerians but by cozying up to traditional rulers.

This is as convoluted as Nigerian politics gets. In a normal situation, these politicians would be visiting the mass media and sharing their vision of the future and being questioned on it. They would be holding press conferences for them to make their case to being the best candidate for that office.

But being avoided should be no excuse, and journalists need a new playbook. They should be grilling every pretender at interviews and Town Hall-style events, discussing suitability for office and readiness for responsibility, with members of the public invited to ask questions of their own.

This is the time to question such people as Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar on their character, records, and ideas; Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on his location in the past seven years of the Buhari maladministration; Rotimi Amaechi and Ngige on their messy governorships and even messier ministerial tenures. Why is AGF Abubakar Malami getting a free pass to run for governor, given his reputation as probably Nigeria’s worst Attorney-General since 1960, a man who has allegedly merchandised both assets and justice?

I mean: it is established that Air Nigeria, like Buhari’s “anti-corruption war,” is a farce, and that there is one wherever you look. Every presidential candidate ought to be asked that question, as they should about how rich they individually are, and how they made their money. For the record, they should be asked to look into a video camera or into the eyes of a respectable journalist and describe how they would impact the future.

To end, then: Journalism writes immediate history, but in the long run—journalists must be warned—history writes journalism.

1 May 2022

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