For the first time in recent times, the appointment of a professional to man the Federal Ministry of Information became a reality when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu nominated and appointed Alhaji Mohammed Idris Malagi as the Minister of Information and National Orientation. The emergence of the publisher of Blueprint newspapers, among several media endeavors he founded, including his sterling profile as Nigeria’s consummate public relations expert, went a long way in convincing many Nigerians that his appointment fits the description of a square peg in a square hole.
The relevance of his appointment is coming against the backdrop of the negative perceptions some Nigerians have on management of public information organs and the performance profile of the immediate past Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, whose negative popularity was anchored more on the propagandist style he deployed to defend the last administration that saw Nigeria plunged into the hole of global headquarters of poverty under the eight years of former President Muhammadu Buhari.
Inheriting a negative past
The former minister, who hails from Kwara State, ran into stormy waters many times as citizens wondered what was actually the problem with the nation’s information organs under Lai who was popular for his press statements and played key roles in ensuring the victory of the opposition in 2015.
As a curtain raiser of what the public should expect of him as the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Malagi, during a reception ceremony held at the Radio House to welcome to the ministry, declared: “For me, I am actually a reporter reporting for duty and I meant it with every sense of the word. The President has asked me to come and tell you that this is a brand new Ministry of Information and National Orientation. This is a ministry that is set to be repositioned like never before. I have been in the industry for nearly three decades and I should know where the shoe pinches.
There is a crisis of information delivery arising from the incapacity of relevant government agencies to work in harmony due to lack of synergy. More worrisome is the acceptance by Nigerians that government establishments engaged in dissemination of information are more prone to act in defence of government, not the realities on ground. The consequences of this have led to declining public interest in the activities of news agencies owned by the government. Some Nigerians have refused to patronise these public news outlets due to slanting of news items towards defending the interest of the government even when such news items and analyses offend the truth. When public agencies involved in providing information indulge in the defense of the government’s position; propaganda becomes a weapon that doesn’t serve the public good.
Revamping the lost glory
In a democracy, the interest of the people remains supreme. It is the mandates of information agencies involved in the management of information to serve the citizens through availing them of the truth. It is apparent that when public agencies engaged in providing information resorts to propaganda; such a practice stifles the information highway. That explains why many Nigerians patronise private media since government platforms have become the gong through which reality is denied.
Before the advent of satellite broadcasting that brushed aside the glorious era of the Nigerian television Authority (NTA), the privatisation of the broadcast industry by former Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida opened up the space for competition as the private sector took the lead in broadening the frontiers of media development. Not only did Nigeria witness a decline in the quality of service delivery by these public agencies engaged in information dissemination, the emergence of private broadcast stations with higher quality services relegated the status of these public agencies to the background.
Presently, many Nigerians no longer rely on the NTA and other news platforms for news. Frustrated at the poor quality services of these public mediums, citizens now resort to foreign stations and private broadcast media and other outlets for news dissemination. This lack of confidence by the public information outlets has not been without consequences. Decrease in revenue generation and poor budgetary allocations by succeeding governments have led to the sorry state of these news stations and platforms.
In many instances, news provided by these information agencies have been confined to deliberate cover-ups in denial of the truth. In a modern world characterised by the advent of social media whose illumination has changed the dynamics of modern information system, these agencies have been lagging behind in terms of speed and content. Not only are these agencies characterised with outdated equipment and denigration of ethics, former ministers have in the past recruited non-professionals and deployed other unethical practices to manage some of these agencies.
It is on record that the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in times past have employed non-professionals to handle operations of the agency. Even when professionals are brought in, they are not allowed free hands to manage the corporation. More than getting professionals to man these agencies and ensure ethics are observed, the need for infrastructures cannot be overemphasised.
Can Malagi be different?
Many Nigerians are expressing hope that the new minister has the capacity to resuscitate public confidence in turning around the fortunes of public information management. Having been a key player of public information dissemination in the past 30 years or so, and coupled with the knowledge of public information management and its relevance in a democratic setting, Malagi is well positioned to turn around the uninspiring story of the public information management system for good.
While the nation’s information management is not solely hinged on profit, these agencies should be equipped effectively for global competition. We must avoid a situation where poor service delivery drives revenue to the private media platforms. A nation that treats its information management with levity is actively involved in encouraging her citizens to look for other avenues for information. It is even more worrisome, when people no longer have confidence in public bodies engaged in providing information.
During a visit to Nigeria, in 2000, former President of the United States of America, Mr. Jimmy Carter, advised then President Olusegun Obasanjo to always provide information to the media as that is the only recipe against falsehood by the opposition. The greater challenge facing Malagi is to obliterate the current trends that see public information management as simply hinged on backward-looking theory.
The new minister is well endowed with the competence to brighten the nation’s information highway by ensuring proactive and all-inclusive public information strategies for strengthening Nigeria’s democracy. He is not only a reporter; he is a successful media owner who is at home with the nuances of information dissemination. The cap perfectly fits him as someone who can transform our nation’s information organs for national development.