The editor and the masquerades
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.