IN THE SQUALOR OF THE RULE OF SILENCE

Last week, I confirmed an appointment to meet with a United States of America based journalist and researcher. He told me on phone that he was in Nigeria to research and evaluate the country’s financial sector with a view to submitting a report that will form the basis of Nigeria’s financial sector country report to his principal, a respected magazine in the US.

My talking date was scheduled with the foreign journalist on account of the content of FORTUNE&CLASS Weekly. He had excitedly talked about the magazine serving most of his information needs on the subject of his research and investigation in Nigeria, contents he could not get to see in other media class. Of course, I was humbled and though, I was in quandary on what exactly I was going to tell a foreign journalist on a mission to unearth hidden facts in the remote crevices of the nation’s banking halls and regulatory agencies.

I was caught between my intense patriotism for everything that can be possibly good about this country and knowing that an interview session with a journalist also means that I may fall into those emotive moments that a subject of an interview unconsciously fall into with the consequence of, perhaps, revealing some of those facts that won’t do the sector at issue good in international circles. Of course, I am a journalist, so I know how these things work, before you corrected yourself you would have crossed the boundary with some blabbing, remarkable to the journalist but embarrassing for me.

I may have to apologise on behalf of the media in Nigeria, it is a culture, you know; media practitioners, even around the world censor information, often, because of the practical standard of minimizing the extent of perception damage to an institution or sector.

The talking date didn’t happen after all, though we shifted the appointment twice, we could not get to meet. It suddenly turned out that the journalist’s temporary residence on Victoria Island, Lagos, was a travelling distance to my office in Ikeja, Lagos. The poor journalist made frantic efforts to get to Ikeja two times but he was not quite knowledgeable about the hours of convenient movement in the state. He always ended up in a traffic gridlock, and the two times he was compelled to ask his cab driver to turn back at the next access road; incidentally, such an access road won’t be available until he gets to the Gbagada end of the 3rd Mainland Bridge where he’s also confronted with a non-moving lines of vehicles.

Well, as it were, I guess the Lagos traffic logjam helped out of a dilemma for the first time. Courtesies won’t allow me to reject an interview appointment with a colleague practitioner but, I was quite apprehensive that some information may not be right for this kind of discussion. So naturally, I was not going to encourage the journalist to get to Ikeja, and I refused to offer the option of locating him on the Island.

The kernel of my revelation here is that most of us have become co-conspirators in the some what cultic ways of information dispensation. The Mafian rule of absolute silence dominates information processing and dissemination; I ascertained the journalist must have been convinced he was not getting the quality of information he needed from official quarters, the reason he resorted to self help.

In self respecting countries, information is key, either in political governance or corporate relationship. To get required information that are in the public domain, all one needed do was to go on dedicated website or get a journal of the government agency or company you wanted to know its details. It’s that simple.

This tells much on the integrity of information, where information is treated as a prized jewel to be hidden in the bunkers of atomic bomb as it is the culture in Nigeria, concerned communities of the agency or company treat such information with a strong dose of suspicion. This has become so endemic that routine statistical information from the office of statistics is addressed with nonchalance in the public place. Bank statements of account, a document that is supposed to be sacrosanct in facts and details, are for Nigerians, another fanciful fictional paper work conveyed to the public in consummation of lip service to the satisfaction of a legal requirement that has lost all its potency of sanction many years ago.

Disclosure in governance and corporate relationship is essential to confidence building and until the breach of this is punishable not by the letters of laws but by political will, the nation would continue to flourish in the appalling cesspit of wheeler-dealing, creating a continuous circle of privileged insiders and ignorant outsiders.

Can the parliament take another look at the Freedom of Information Bill, please.  

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