The edi­tor and the mas­quer­ades

Sunday Trust - - OMBUDSMAN -

Lucky coun­try, Nige­ria. Its cit­i­zens, pa­tri­otic and true, know what ails the gi­ant of Africa with the soft feet of clay. They have the courage to ask the peo­ple, through the demo­cratic process, to give them the right to go and sit in the som­no­lent com­fort of Aso Rock villa to fix what is bro­ken in our coun­try. In pedan­tic English they are called pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. And sure, many things are bro­ken, badly bro­ken, and need ur­gent and skil­ful re­pairs in the 58-year-old coun­try.

The mas­quer­ades, big, medium and small, are out. There are 30 of them, 29 of whom are chal­leng­ing the in­cum­bent, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari. This is the first time in our his­tory that we have so many men and women jostling for the one job ev­ery­one cov­ets. Why so many? Power has ir­re­sistible lure for and pull on men and women. They were not born to re­sist it.

Funny thing, democ­racy. It con­fers power on the pow­er­less. Who would think that the po­lit­i­cal fate of th­ese big, rich and pow­er­ful men and women lies in the hands of the har­ried roasted yam and roasted plan­tain sell­ers and their sis­ters in the mama put road side restau­rants? Yet, it is they who will de­cide who be­comes what in the ex­ec­u­tive and the leg­isla­tive branches of govern­ment in our next elec­tion cir­cle, 2019. Awe­some.

Their de­ci­sion is a sim­ple mat­ter. They cast the vote on the elec­tion day. Things are not that sim­ple for the news­pa­per edi­tor. It is his pro­fes­sional duty to drive the process that leads to the de­ci­sion­mak­ing on elec­tion day. This presents some se­ri­ous chal­lenges com­pli­cated by per­sonal choices and the need to be pro­fes­sion­ally de­tached and fair to all con­cerned. It may sound easy but it is any­thing but.

How fairly, hon­estly and pro­fes­sion­ally the edi­tor drives the process may even­tu­ally give vic­tory to one of them. The­o­ret­i­cally, the edi­tor helps the peo­ple, in­clud­ing those who do not read news­pa­pers or watch tele­vi­sion, de­cide. It is an awe­some power. I would imag­ine that the sheer num­ber of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates now in the field or the mar­ket square is night­mar­ish for all ed­i­tors who want to be fair and pro­fes­sional. I do not envy my young col­leagues.

We need to make three points here. One, an edi­tor faces the ex­ter­nal cri­sis of ex­pec­ta­tions. Ev­ery one of the 30 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates ex­pects to be recog­nised as a se­ri­ous con­tender and to be so treated. He ex­pects to be seen and heard. He ex­pects what­ever he says in pur­suit of his am­bi­tion to earn a front page ban­ner head­line. His right to be seen and heard is pro­tected by both the laws of the land and our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture and con­ven­tion.

Two, the mas­quer­ades are not of the same size. Some of the

How fairly, hon­estly and pro­fes­sion­ally the edi­tor drives the process may even­tu­ally give vic­tory to one of them. The­o­ret­i­cally, the edi­tor helps the peo­ple, in­clud­ing those who do not read news­pa­pers or watch tele­vi­sion, de­cide. It is an awe­some power.

po­lit­i­cal par­ties that threw up most of th­ese pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are not well known to the pub­lic. The same goes for their pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. It fol­lows that when the law of in­equal­ity kicks in, the big mas­quer­ades would be the only dancers ap­plauded in the mar­ket square. It of­fends the fair­ness doc­trine.

APC and PDP are big­ger than the other 28 par­ties in the field com­bined. PDP had ruled the coun­try for 16 years; and APC has been in power for more than three years. Their vis­i­bil­ity is not in doubt. Their can­di­dates are not un­known quan­ti­ties ei­ther. They have deep pock­ets too, con­tain­ing enor­mous fi­nan­cial re­sources that the other par­ties and their pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates can only dream of. In­equal­ity rules in all hu­man so­ci­eties.

Three, an edi­tor, like the rest of us won­ders why peo­ple who know they have no chance in hell of get­ting into Aso Rock as pres­i­dent would bother to waste their lean re­sources try­ing. Do they merely want to hug the lime­light to pos­si­bly im­prove their stakes with the big­ger and more cred­i­ble play­ers? An edi­tor’s an­swer would, more than any­thing else, de­ter­mine, how he treats those he re­gards, not un­fairly, as mere noise mak­ers in the mar­ket square.

Given their rel­a­tive in­equal­ity in their size, ex­po­sure as well as hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources, an edi­tor faces the pro­fes­sional chal­lenge of be­ing fair to all. But he can­not. This is where the edi­tor’s dilemma throws it­self in his face. Some can­di­dates make bet­ter copies than oth­ers. Ed­i­tors cul­ti­vate such peo­ple be­cause they help to sell their pub­li­ca­tions. Ed­i­tors are nat­u­rally tempted to con­cen­trate their re­sources on cov­er­ing those can­di­dates they be­lieve have the best chance at vic­tory and ig­nore those they be­lieve are jok­ers who do not de­serve to be taken se­ri­ously.

Is it for the edi­tor to de­cide who should merit a kingly treat­ment in his news­pa­per among the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates? Many an edi­tor would say yes to that. Af­ter all, he is only driv­ing the process. He is not the news maker. He is the news re­porter. He can­not be ex­pected to treat equally the can­di­date who gen­er­ates more news with the one who is hardly seen or heard.

That is the easy op­tion. The harder one is this: de­spite the law of in­equal­ity, the men and women who are less known and have less re­sources than their big­ger, rich and more ex­posed po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, the edi­tor has a pro­fes­sional duty to give each a fair hear­ing. Not all those we call jok­ers are in it as comic re­liefs. They are se­ri­ous­minded men and women who are driven to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo and cause a pos­si­ble par­a­digm shift in how we carry out the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic busi­ness for the good of the greater num­ber of the peo­ple. Rad­i­cals and thinkers are of­ten found in the ranks of the dis­pos­sessed.

My take? Our ed­i­tors should fish for them by giv­ing them the chance to air their views in the pub­lic space. There are bright men and women among them who are, sadly, marginalised by the sta­tus quo. If our ed­i­tors re­ject the easy op­tion and se­ri­ously fish for new views and voices among them, we might find an Obama or a Macron among the crowd of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. And then, hope­fully, noth­ing would be the same again in our coun­try, lead­er­ship wise.

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