Agenda for Peace and National Development: Are Public Service Media Still Relevant?

Public Service Media
Abdul Warees Solanke is Assistant Director, Strategic Planning and Corporate Development (SPCD) Voice of Nigeria (VON)

Abdul Warees Solanke is Assistant Director, Strategic Planning and Corporate Development (SPCD) Voice of Nigeria (VON)

In most developing countries, including Nigeria, there is a lamentable agony on the pervading, but a self-inflicted crisis of development being grappled with. But how can there still be that in this 21st century, it is the talk of evils of colonialism and the neo-colonial agenda that dominate our public space in the content of the mass and social media when countries of the Third World are themselves equally guilty internal despoliation?

One has read Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Undeveloped Africa’ and Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth’ over three decades ago and their contents are still used to illustrate the failures of Third World countries. One of the set-books on African literature that shaped this writer’s consciousness of the African tragedy is Ayi Kweh Amah’s The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born’.

The same theme of corruption still permeates most of Professor Chinua Achebe’s masterpieces including ‘Things Fall Apart, A Man of the People’ and No Longer at Ease’ or that of Prof. Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Man Died’ and numerous plays, prose and essays. Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the American scholar who can be credited for the blueprint of the Millennium Development Goals and the successor Sustainable Development Goals actually addressed the challenges of Developing Countries. In all the genres of the mass media, amplified by the new or social media, the dominant themes are these same crises of development without offering creative or pragmatic solutions.

But more dangerous is the hate promoted therein so that rather than seriously focusing on addressing the challenges, we are now more preoccupied with how to destroy, destabilise or demolish the nation. Rather than considering options for national construction, the agenda mostly set or the issues mainstreamed are national dissolution to set the stage of civil wars or genocide.

Today, however, I no longer blame our woes on the former colonial overlords because comparatively, we can measure up to them intellectually. The unfortunate thing is we are only outdoing them in how we are destroying our own lands and exploiting ourselves. So, it is our fault, despite our huge endowments if we still depend on the expertise of the West to address our development challenges.

It is our stupidity (or is it madness?) that we value the advice of foreign consultants who possess only a fit all template of solutions to all the Third World peculiar problems when better educated and better-qualified scholars and technocrats with a rich understanding of national or local values are available but rotting away.

What is all the nonsense about brain drain and marginalisation that we cannot qualitatively reverse? What incentives are real and readily available to stimulate the in-gathering of our experts, scholars and professionals slaving in some cold lands and arid deserts of the world to help in our nation-building projects like the return of the Jews who recreated from the arid region the nation of Israel, although in controversial circumstances?

 From Mali to Madagascar, Ghana to Guyana, Laos to Liberia, Cambodia to Cameroun and other poor countries of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Ring, the Small Island nations and the Caribbean we have made so much fuss about reform, launched so many elaborate development programmes and projects which outcomes and impacts are only in the bulging bellies of the elites and certain members of the implementing teams, in their sartorial suits and flamboyant native dresses.

We can only see the transformation they are to facilitate or inspire in the number and opulence of their mansions, the fleet and exoticness of their cars and the prestige of the foreign universities their children attend or of the hospitals they seek medical attention. In all these, we see the waste of national wealth and resources; we see promotion and adoption of despicable values in hedonism and Epicureanism. We see only corruption.

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So, our reform projects suffer some fundamental crises and contradictions in their implementation process, public acceptance and support because those that are supposed to be its drivers and facilitators abuse or compromise the process. That it is why we are always returning to the drawing boards.

That is why we talk of policy somersault, inconsistency or lack of policy continuity in most of the Third World. Ab initio, therefore, policy and reforms are victims of public mistrust because the average citizen in sub-Saharan Africa doubts the genuineness of intention and the sincerity of purpose of the policy elites in and outside government who promote their introduction.

Even where the promoters are sincere, reform projects and programmes are often open to abuse and exploitation by the underpaid street-level bureaucrats who see the implementation and enforcement process as their own pot of honey or pathway to success. They take joy in the extortion of offenders and confiscation of their properties. Such officers become the law unto themselves, defeating the purpose of the law they are to enforce or the policy they are to implement.

Simply, therefore, the implementation and success of any reform agenda whether social, economic or political, whether, in the pursuit of some behavioural changes, modification of certain public values are contained within a continuum of factors, which exclusion or weakness at any point will result in some dislocations.  At one end is the genuineness and sincerity of intention of the promoters and at the end point is the leadership will, commitment and exemplariness in pushing through.

There are three major anchors within this implementation continuum. First, the process of implementation is smoothened by the depth and quality of research that go into identifying the issues and problems. This is assured and reinforced by the expertise of technocrats, consultants and professionals, who were engaged to address the problems, prescribe realistic, workable and cost-effective solutions that are sensitive to and accommodating of local values, traditions and authorities.

The second anchor or factor is the efficiency and integrity quotient of the bureaucracy that is the engine-room of policy implementation. The bureaucracies of many countries of the Third World are peopled by under-remunerated and unmotivated workforce even if they are well-trained (and most are not because the percentage of professional and officer cadre are nothing to write home in comparison with the clerical and manual low paid workers that are eventually saddled with directly contacting the public in the implementation process). And, if we add the lack of sincerity and trust in public engagement and communication, we see where most of our reform initiatives failing in the Third World.

How can those in authorities be trusted when they do not explain to all that matter that is the critical stakeholders before acting and within enough time to prepare those to be affected for adjustment? How can people see the long-term benefits in sight and so endure the pains of reform and change when they are not given hope or some little incentives?

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How can they believe reform is not punishment or denial when they see in those mouthing reform, obscene abuses of the law and flagrant compromise or violation of the process, or when in periods demanding austerity, they see the leaders in the immoral display of ostentation and conspicuous consumption?

Every Third World country offers a peculiar case study of policy glut and multiplicity of reform initiatives. In the economic and social sectors, they have failed woefully. They have not sufficiently stimulated productivity and development among their citizens. Rather, they have compounded their failures with dirty politics of mistrust and betrayal. In Nigeria for instance, citizens have come to accept that the nation the nation does not lack the people or the ideas to reform the country.

But constitutional experts and political leaders have reached the level of advocating for a return to the previous constitutions or structure of government while many are now questioning the viability and legitimacy of her nationhood just because many Nigerians have not focused on building the nation but interested in milking her, which has been the pre-occupation of many policy salesmen and implementing agents. This is our tragedy in most of the Third World countries.

These tasks can only be made easy within an environment where the public media are sufficiently empowered to play the role of facilitators of national cohesion and development. More significantly, however, there is the need for a new altruistic training and orientation for leadership recruitment system in every Third World country. We must do away with the culture of clientele, patronage and political reward in our leadership recruitment and selection process to evolve a merit and experience based system.

We must factor public service record, using past achievements. But If we think of newcomers, such must be seen to have potentials as we do not need dropouts and maladjusted youths to populate our political space and be introducing or making policies they have least knowledge about, policies they make to make money for themselves and their acolytes.

In all these, one sees the continued relevance of public service media, especially in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean countries where much of these tragedies of underdevelopment are prevalent to tell inspiring or motivating stories about our development processes. This apparently underpinned the focus of the 2018 Asia Media Summit held between May 10 and May 12 in New Delhi, India. The theme was Telling Sustainable Development Stories: Asia and More.

In my paper for the summit, I argued that it is our responsibility as public service media content providers, distributors and managers to tell compelling and impactful stories about our countries which would galvanize all stakeholders to commit themselves and indeed ensure the attainment of the sustainable development goals within the target. But how do we tell these stories?

 These are the concerns of media managers and what our contents and productions should feature in Sustainable Development stories in our daily programming or what our periodic publications and the social media should contain as stories that address poverty and how to lift our peoples out of backwardness, diseases and disconnectedness in a globalised world that is now neatly networked by technological explosion.

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These are stories that we should mainstream to address our development challenges and how to overcome them or sustain the strides we are achieving in the transformation of our societies while pursuing the sustainable development goals and strategies we set for ourselves globally.

In our content generation, processing, production and distribution across various platforms and genres, these are the sustainable development issues that we must continually interrogate and reflect in creative ways and means to ensure that the stories we tell create the needed impact in sensitising the government to the needs and challenges of the nation, mobilizing popular understanding,  support and participation for policies and programmes that will bring about positive change in the country and stimulate transformation in the quality of life of the citizens.

These are the objectives of the 17 sustainable development goals as adopted by most member-countries of the United Nations. These are the goals around which our stories must be crafted, told and delivered to our people.

They must be told creatively and engagingly for them understand that it is in their interest to think and act responsibly in their exploration and utilisation of the resources of the earth. These are what we must commit ourselves to if we in public service media industry must live up to the demands of our roles as facilitators or agents of change in the stories we tell our society.

It is compelling that we tell stories of how to regenerate, conserve, protect and manage the earth resources so that the environment we are bequeathing to the future generation is not over-used, abused or compromised. In specific terms, the following are pertinent in the way we tell our stories, not only in Africa but other countries pursuing or implementing policies on sustainable development as enunciated in the 17 SDGs by:

  1. Assuring fidelity to policy, plans and programmes for poverty elimination
  2. Stimulating Productivity in Industry and Economy

iii.        Mainstreaming Peace and Nation-Building/Conflict Resolution; Pluralism, Diversity & Inclusiveness

  1. Encouraging Participation in governance
  2. Monitoring Provision of critical social infrastructure
  3. Engendering Partnership and collaboration for development

vii.       Advocating Protection of the Environment through responsible use of resources

viii.      Promoting  Positive Values, Ethical Practices and Integrity in Public Management and Leadership

  1. Serving as Performance Measurement Mechanism
  2. Assisting in Prioritization of Public Needs
  3. Using all media Platforms for Provision of policy alternatives and determination of choices

xii.       Through Publicity of Achievements and Progress Reports, sensitizing public interest in issues of sustainable development.

Telling truly impactful Sustainable Development Stories indeed demands that we are authentic, creative, committed, enthusiastic, patriotic, yet professional, taking our mission for development as a TRUST. We must reinvent the pattern of SWOC/T stories told about us to that of stories that show our strengths and celebrates our successes, stories that reveal our worth in our wealth and wins, stories that will advance our ownership of our opportunities and explore potentials.

We must certainly tell stories that will increase our chances in achieving the 17 sustainable development goals in the choices we frame in the media, the talents unveiled, the courage and commitment to invest in the critical infrastructure needed to fast-track development: We must tell stories celebrating how we deploy our creativity and talents in addressing our development peculiarities.

By Abdul-Warees Solanke, Assistant Director, Strategic Planning & Corporate Development, Voice of Nigeria,

Ikoyi Lagos

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