WAR OF THE WORDS

Ah… sometimes I wistfully ache for the good old days when the media channels for this political war was limited to a predictable daily cycle of newspapers, television and radio. Nowadays the news cycle is twenty-hours and there is, of course, social media and the Internet. The medium might have changed, but the message remains more or less the same, think APC vs PDP both positions reversible depending on what day it is. The more things change….Enjoy

There is a war going on out there. An internecine war of words… invectives, innuendos, lies, sycophancy, half-truths, and sometimes sheer fantasy. A war being fought on numerous fronts by diverse armies. And the conflicts have been steadily escalating since the first uncertain exchanges of seventy-nine…and with eighty-three around the corner, the war is bound to take on a more explosive dimension. The stakes are very high, the munitions, the media, and the victims, you and me.
Day after day, in unrelenting waves, through the radio, the television, and most of all, the newspapers, we are force-fed with lopsided information about the true state of things in the Nation, the polarities of the various political parties, and the importance of certain political figures to the destiny of this country. And the general public is largely caught up in a cross-fire of carefully thought-up propaganda involving the two major combatants, the NPN and the UPN, and their various allies.
In a primitive, but effective kind of salesmanship, each seeks to cut open the other — the NPN insisting that an ethnocentric UPN promises nothing but chaos and disaster for Nigeria, and the U.P.N. fighting back by portraying the incumbent NPN as a bunch of bungling, inept, Abuja contractors. The question now, is not who is right and who isn’t, but rather, why so much venom? Why so much subjectivity? Why so many lies?
A healthy dose of propaganda in a presidential system is permissible (especially during campaigns) because you have to convince the people that you can deliver. But when it degenerates to building a cult around certain personalities, open abuse against others, and the dethronement of reason and objectivity… you want to ask: is this what democracy is all about?
In the war of the words, all divisions of the mass media are enlisted. 
You cannot escape; everywhere you turn, you are assailed by blinkered opinions of individuals representing one party or the other, everything is said… except the true state of things.
On state-operated radio stations and the news, everything is about the various state governors and the political parties… national interests are of secondary importance. On Federal Radio, the news is about the NPN and the President’s latest trip.
On television, partisanship becomes even more glaring, heightened by the visual images of politicians extolling the virtues and achievements of their own party, while at the same time, lambasting other parties and their personalities.
On National Television, the NTA constantly issues an irksome reminder of who the incumbents are. If it’s not the President on tour or receiving visiting diplomats, it’s an announcement for an NPN convention. If it’s not the President inspecting the site of the still uninhabited federal government low-cost housing scheme, it is a minister or a top party member vehemently denying some allegation or the other (and nowadays, a PUNCH news item).
And if it’s not the inimitable K.O. Mbadiwe, launching an Exocet missile against the venerable Zik, it is a lukewarm analysis of the progressives. And if you make the mistake of turning to LTV Channel 8, the story is the same. If it’s not an imperious Awo, sporting his V for victory sign, and waving to a noisy and unruly mob of sycophants, it’s the monthly crew of the progressives, shifting uneasily in their seats.
If it’s not Governor Jakande inspecting the Chicken-Coop buildings of one of his secondary schools, then he must be commissioning one of his news-time mini waterworks, that doesn’t seem to work. And if it’s not film footage of Awo’s last pilgrimage, then it must be some UPN politician debunking the NPN.
The war goes on, and the most formidable weapon in their arsenal is the newspapers. Every day, every morning, we are reminded of the weakness and machinations of the other parties and their personalities and the strength and achievements of ours. Objectivity is not important; what is the accuracy and destructiveness of our missiles.
The UPN-controlled Tribune, in its characteristic vitriolic style, daily detonates bombs against the NPN and its personalities, in the form of fantastic exposes. The overtly NPN concord, dive-bombs the UPN at Mach 2 Speeds, in its equally caustic reprisals, punching holes in the UPN fabric.
And everywhere, the story is the same, in the various state-owned papers; when not being incredibly partisan, the papers report the latest mundane happenings in the life of its governor or his wife. They, in effect, become daily chroniclers of a-day-in-the-life-of-governor. “Governor X is constipated because he ate two boiled eggs.” “Governor X has done this, Governor X has done that.” All trivialities that should be confined to after-dinner chit- chat, which has no place intruding in our lives.
So here we are, hopelessly caught up in a crossfire, and every move we make suspected as a political move. In such an atmosphere, it is incredibly difficult to be seen as objective. Every statement is polarised: you either have to be with the N.P.N. or with the U.P.N. and the progressives, or at least in their orbits.
It is not enough to be patriotic and apolitical, you must take sides. You should be sentimental, you should defend your party even if it means lying, stalling, and duplicitous manoeuvring, and the war must be won. But at what price?
It’s one thing to want to enhance party credibility, and it’s another thing to have an open exchange of verbiage. Maybe if there were clear ideological delineations of polarities, we would have been saved all this blustering and propaganda.
All this noise just distracts us from the real problems facing this country. And it would be more credible to read or have constructive criticism aimed at improving the living standards of Nigerians, than all this tripe and malicious mudslinging aimed at the parties or personalities. Let’s have objective and frequent reporting and a representation of the state of affairs of the nation instead of the poppycock we are now being fed.
The war must stop, and we have a right to know the truth.

The Punch,
Saturday, June 12, 1982

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