Tuesday, December 23, 2008

ACCE Conference: Ghana 2009

The African Council for Communication Education (ACCE) is the only continent-wide academic body for African researchers in media and communication--that is if you consider Trans-African Council for Communication Education (TRACCE) as the diaporic version of ACCE. ACCE, publishers of the famed African Media Review, has been in coma for several years but is poised to come round with a Conference. Under the theme Communication education and practice in Africa: a social contract for the 21st Century, the Conference will hold in the School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, from 4-8 August 2009.

Conference subthemes (quite a list) include:
Communication, Language and Culture
Communication and Gender
Communication and Democracy
Communication and Globalization
Communication and Cross-cutting Development Challenges, including health communication; communication and the environment etc.
(This list of subthemes is not exhaustive)

Abstracts are to be submitted as mail attachments to:
Mrs. Alexina Arthur, aarthur@ug.edu.gh; alexinaarthur@yahoo.com
Dr Audrey Gadzekpo, agadzekpo@ug.edu.gh; audreygadzekpo@gmail.com

Deadline for receipt of abstracts : 31 January 2009
Notice of acceptance of abstracts : 28 February 2009
Deadline for receipt of full papers : 31 May 2009

Monday, December 22, 2008

Indigenous communication: Pamela Wilson versus Des Wilson

Des Wilson took a PhD in African indigenous communication from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 1988. Des’s thesis was on the indigenous communication media and channels of the Ibibio people in South-South Nigeria. Des defined indigenous media as those media of communication that had been in use before the modern mass media and are still in use today. Adopting some of his terms from music, he categorised these media into several groups including membranophones, ideophones, aerophones, symbolographic displays, extramundane communication and music. Examples of such media included talking drums, wooden drums, rattles, folk tales, tattoos, symbolic writing and codes. A little unwieldy, you might think. Yet, to many of us, Wilson’s work was not only an important improvement on the complicated work of Doob (1960) but also a take-off point and launch-pad for enquiry into African indigenous communication media and systems. And this has led to a number of graduate theses. Years after, Mundy and Compton (1991); Mundy and Lloyd-Laney (1992); Millar and Aniah (2005) and several others continue to map the territory of indigenous media a la Des, that is, as that which was there pre-colonially and is still being used today. With the probable exception of the chapter by Louise Bourgault, this line of thought runs through the book edited by Ghana’s Ansu-Kyeremeh, Indigenous communication in Africa (2005). Newspapers, radio and television are described as exogenous or foreign media; the exact opposite of indigenous media. Points of intersection and interaction between these exogenous and indigenous media are explored but as points of distinctly intersecting entities.

But the recent very brilliant book edited by Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart, Global indigenous media, defines indigenous media completely differently. Acknowledging the internal tension in the phrase “global indigenous”, the editors and contributors consider indigenous media as any media used by the indigenous peoples, defined by Manuel and Posluns as “people who have special nontechnical, nonmodern, exploitative relations to the land in which they still inhabit and who are disenfranchised by the nations they live”. Among such media are radio, television, cinema, and even the internet. "The stone rejected by the builders..." you might think. (“Interestingly”, Pamela Wilson’s book, which has fifteen chapters focusing on different peoples, has nothing to say about any of the peoples of Africa. Never mind that the title reads “Global...”. Contributors were drawn from across the globe: that is, from America and Europe!).

Whereas Des Wilson and others focus on the origin of a medium in classifying it as indigenous, Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart and others focus on the users of the media (the indigenous people). Does that say something about the difference between a media scholar and an anthropologist? This difference can take fundamental dimensions especially when mapping out research focus is the issue. And the difference will certainly persist especially since there is little or no interaction among the two groups of scholars symbolised by these two Wilsons. Maybe there should be a journal of indigenous communication studies to engender such interaction.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Students who don't do assignments get A's

USA Today published an article which summarizes a nationwide survey of college students in the US. The study involved nearly 380,000 students from 722 four-year colleges. The study showed that about 20% of seniors and 25% of freshmen reported frequently going to class without completing the required readings or assignments. Yet, of these students who did not do their assignments, 29% of freshmen and 36% of seniors got mostly A's. Of what use, then, is going through the professor's readings? Read the article here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Einstein, the Nigerian press & the 'witch' kids of Akwa Ibom

Last week, Reuben Abati did an indicting opinion in his column in the Nigerian Guardian on the gruesome treatment meted out on 'witch' children in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria. These kids were declared 'witches' by their parents' "pastors". They were driven out of their homes by the parents; some were bathed with hot soda; others had nails driven into their skulls; yet others were quickly murdered by their parents and the community. All these went on for years and no one seemed to notice until Channel 4, UK, did a report on them in November this year. The report brought the Nigerian government into ridicule.
Many people have commented on this and have roundly condemned the government, the parents, the cultural milleu that permitted such evil and the religious liars that brainwash(ed) the parents. But none has said a thing about the press. When all these were going on for years, where was the Nigerian press? Akwa Ibom hosts a number of newspapers, television and radio stations. What did these do about these indescribably evil practice? Albert Einstein says:
the world is a dangerous place to live;
not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
As soon as Channel 4 released its documentary in November and local press picked up the matter, the government of Akwa Ibom began the review of the Child Rights Act. Today, the Act has been sharpened well enough to be used to prosecute these heartless groups, parents and pastors. Imagine if the Nigerian press did their job of surveillance of the environment well enough, and raised this issue to public consciousness two to three years ago. Quite a number of kids would have escaped this crude inquisition and trial by ordeal. One of the perptrators, a self-styled bishop confessed to having killed 110 witch children. But then he said he 'killed' the witches in them, not (just?) the kids. He is explaining this to the police. Einstein's words haunt me:
The world is a dangerous place to live;
not because of the people who are evil,
but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A black Black Friday

Thursday, November 27, being the fourth Thursday of November, was Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It is a federal public holiday set aside to commemorate the safe arrival of migrating Europeans in what is now the United States. The first recorded Thanksgiving was held by 600 safe arrivals in Florida in 1565. The purpose was to give thanks to God for protecting the migrants from the perils of the sea and the poisoned darts of Native Indians. Today, Thanksgiving is a big holiday—probably bigger than Christmas or New Year. It’s one time of the year that the family reunites. But not many people remember that it is supposed to be a day for thanking God. I am afraid the day is associated more with eating traditional Thanksgiving food—roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and veggies, than with God and His providence. Worse still, like Christmas, Thanksgiving has received a bad dent from the gush of commercialization.
The day following Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. It is so called because that day, all retail outlets whose accounts may have been in the red lower prices and get more buyers thus moving the account from red to black. In ‘Black Friday’ is one rare use of the word ‘black’ that actually means something good! This commercial appendage to Thanksgiving is gradually overshadowing the main event. In the days leading to Thanksgiving, I heard more talk about Black Friday than about a people giving thanks or a God receiving thanks.
I witnessed this year’s Black Friday in State College, Pennsylvania. My friend and I went to a store to shop for computers. We were warned to arrive early as the period of grace (sales) would be short and the people would be many. We got to the first store about 4.15 am. What we saw was incredible: there were over 120 people lined up in the frozen weather—it was 0oC or 32oF. We learnt that some people had been there since 10.00 pm of Thursday: they had spent over six hours in that chill! No wonder a lot of smoking had to go on! We moved to another less known store and within minutes even the queue there began to challenge a medium-size train. In some stores, there was real pandemonium. In fact, a news outlet reported that shoppers broke down the doors of a store when it was time to get in. Americans are an interesting people: they’d go through anything to save a few dollars when it comes to buying; but they’d blow all of that on what, to the Nigerian in me, is trivial—such as paying $100 to watch a game of football.
But the Black Friday did actually turn black. In search of my daily dose of Nigerian news, I turned to the Nigerian Tribune online. Of the four news items on its front page, three were records of the needless deaths of scores of people in Nigeria: armed robbers killed several in Ibadan; three more children died from lethal teething drugs; a truck lost control and ran into a full market in Kogi State killing tens of people in the market. In frustration, I turned to the Nigerian Guardian, and Rueben Abati was there describing and lamenting the heartless torture and murder of scores of Akwa Ibom kids who were declared witches (winches) by some rabid pastors and senseless parents. My frustration welled to the brim so I turned to MSNBC online. ‘Enough of Nigeria!’ I screamed. But what did MSNBC offer me: “Wal-Mart worker dies after crowd rushes store” What? American shoppers trampled a sales clerk to death just to save a few bucks? I am done with the news. "Well. Let's see BBC online", I mustered some hope. But I got another stab: Poll riots erupt in Nigerian city BBC declared. Riots in Jos over elections claimed the lives of at least 20 people gruesomely matcheted or burnt to death. "No more!" I resolved. It was indeed a black Black Friday.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Nigerian Higher Education Foundation symposium at New York

On Thursday, 13 November 2008, my colleague and I attended a symposium organised by the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) at Columbia University, New York. In attendance were several distinguished US-based Nigerians in academia holding down important positions in their fields and publishing cutting-edge research. Participants also included people from business and representatives of some higher institutions in Nigeria, including the University of Ibadan. In attendance was the Obi of Onitsha, an alumnus of Columbia University for forty years. (I stand with the Obi in the photo above)

The symposium was on the role of partnerships in African sustainable development. Participating organisations included the Earth Institute, Columbia University. Among the speakers at the symposium--and there were very many of them--were the distinguished Professor of Development Economics, Jeffrey Sachs; the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Achebe; Anthony Olorunnisola (Penn State University); Ibrahim Gambari (United Nations); Wole Soboyejo (Princeton University); Bola Omoniyi (the Earth Institute); Funmi Olopade (University of Chicago); G.O.S Ekhaguere (University of Ibadan, Nigeria), and Sam Ofodile (UNIPORT, Nigeria). Some presenters shared their research breakthroughs (Prof Ofodile and his team had perfected a method of injecting a substantial quantity of protein into garri!) while others presented the activities of their organisations (Bola Omoniyi talked about the Millennium Villages Project in countries including Nigeria). Everyone stressed how their research or organisations could help, or had been helping, Nigeria especially with regard to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Presenters however shared their frustrations with the situation in Nigeria: the difficulty in collaborating with Nigerian universities caused by lack of follow up; the daunting problem of bureaucracy in Nigerian universities; and cold reception or even outright opposition from colleagues back home! The problem of infrastructure and
corruption in the nation as a whole also received substantial coverage. (To your left is a discussion panel at the symposium. I stand with Dr Olorunnisola in the photograph below)

This symposium was my first real encounter with brain drain at work. The presenters were first-rate academics, distinguished in every sense of the word, who had left Nigeria years ago out of sheer frustration--unemployment, militarism, poverty, insecurity, corruption--or in search of education. Nigeria's loss is America's gain. It also exposed me to the reality of media bias and stereotypes: in the media we hardly hear of this category of Nigerians in the US; but all the time we hear of a different kind of Nigerians in America: those who defraud others. The symposium also exposed me to a different kind of patriotism. These people left Nigeria years ago but their hearts never left Nigeria. Everyone was driven by one question: "how can we help Nigeria?" In fact, that was the question that led to the birth of NHEF in 2004.

It appears to me that Nigeria has immense resources and an inexhaustible reservoir of goodwill from Nigerians in diaspora--resources which our leaders and administrators have ignored. Will Nigerian academic adminstrators and political leaders respond to the NHEF and diasporic beckon? I am frightened by the obvious answer to this question.

PS: Jeffrey Sachs's wisecrack at the symposium: Each time people complain about corruption in developing countries, I ask, 'Really? You mean there are corrupt people outside of Washington?'

Monday, November 10, 2008

'Yes we can'…it is real

No election ever sapped my physical and emotional energy as much as the recent US presidential elections. After witnessing electoral malpractices of indescribable dimensions and scale in Nigeria, I had come to the conclusion that elections in general are not worth the sweat. And as the US election approached and the dirty, dangerous and desperate fighting by the Republicans got worse, my cynicism turned to fear. That fear gripped me tightly. A few weeks to the election, it was clear that Barack Obama would win; but with the US Republicans, it is not over until they are under. The Republicans brought out all the lethal weapons in their arsenal: Obama’s birth certificate issue; Obama’s pastor, Pastor Wright’s racial venom; Obama’s neighbor, Bill Ayers’s ‘terrorist’ records; Obama Aunt’s illegal residence in the US; Obama’s promise to redistribute wealth which they called socialism; Joe the Plumber; Obama’s anti-Israel friend, Khalid …the list of smear dots was endless. For me, every new day brought fresh fears.

The elections came. I went monitoring and observing the process with two sets of news writing students of my host college, College of Communications. I visited three voting stations: two outside and one on campus. I was stunned by the fact that there was not a single policeman in any voting station; I was stunned that people went to vote carrying their children with them—who could do that in my country where people go to voting stations not sure they would return alive or in one piece. I was stunned by the sheer number of nonpartisan organizations out there to help voters find their way and precinct. I was stunned that elections were handled by the states, and not by the federal government. Therefore each state (even county) designed its ballot papers and voting method. I was stunned that, accompanied by Jennifer Zeigler, a colleague and an instructor in news writing, I was allowed right up to the ballot cubicle though it was obvious that I was not a citizen. I was stunned by the sheer list of things people voted on: it was not just the presidential and congressional candidates. Folks were asked, in Fergusson Township, to vote on tenure elongation for County Council members. That too was on the ballot papers. I was stunned by the spirit which kept people on the queue for five hours plus without them complaining. I was too stunned to write—that is why this piece is coming this late.

I met an old white lady at the voting centre in the HUB at Penn State University. She told me she was 76. She carried candies and water which she generously offered people who queued to vote. She wore Obama signs but her water and candies were for whoever wanted to vote—no matter who was their candidate. She had been there four hours when I got there; and was there standing while I left two hours after.

What was behind this spirit? Another colleague of mine, Dr Jo Dumas, who on that day wore the sign “Poll Monitor”, put it this way: “the message has sunk down into people’s hearts. If you want people, reach for their hearts”. I interpreted “the message” to be Obama’s message of change.

Polls closed in Pennsylvania at 8 pm. CNN began including Pennsylvania results in their announcements from 8:15 pm. Talk about the power of speed and technology. (In Nigeria, it took about a week for the 2007 election result to be released—which is what Professor Maurice Iwu, Nigeria electoral boss, wants the US to learn from us!)

My friends and I did not sleep even after CNN's Wolf Blitzer pronounced Obama winner about 11 pm, Eastern Time. “Was it real? Please pinch me! It’s a dream”, one of my friends said as the announcement was made. It is real.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Halloween & Egungun: norm-suspension or ancestral worship?

Friday, October 31, was Halloween (or Hallowed Evening). Originally, Halloween was a pagan festival in Europe meant to welcome and placate spirits and ghosts who, it was believed, paid homecoming visits to the earth on November 1 each year. But Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV tried to Christianize Halloween and made November 1 the All Saints’ Day, and Halloween became All Saints’ eve. That was about the 9th century. But today, Halloween has little, if any, connection with the church. Rather, it is celebrated in queer ways characterized by the suspension of significant aspects of social norms and control. In fact, a church organised what it named a Christ-Centred Alternative to Halloween to keep members from participating in the pagan fun.

In State College, US, where I witnessed this year’s Halloween, Halloween symbols such as pumpkin and effigies of ghosts and spirits had been on display in schools, shops and private driveways two months before Halloween. I took the picture above from a charter primary/kindergarten school along Science Park Road. Yellow-and-black Halloween candies had been on sale for over two months. A neighbor displayed seven human skulls (not real) in front of his house. There was a general air of an approaching big festival everywhere. The day before Halloween, folks in strange costumes were in many places—they couldn’t wait for Halloween to come. I met a young lady in a supermarket clad in black attires with a two-foot hat. When asked, she proudly announced she was a witch dressed for a Halloween party.

On the Halloween day, schools ran half-day, and held parties. I met a "real" witch in another shopping mall. (See the picture to your left and the next picture). When asked if I could take her picture, she quickly reached for her witch broomstick and posed witchfully for the shot. Staff of a Department at the Penn State University agreed to celebrate this year’s Halloween by dressing, not as spirits, but as workmen—with helmets, boots, workman jeans and calloused gloves to match.

Halloween is a suspension of whatever made you your social you. In the evening, children dressed in Halloween costumes (ghosts, skeletons and the indescribable) went from house to house demanding candies—and people quickly gave them. They threatened a trick—if you refused to give the candies, and a treat—if you gave. These kids are called trick-or-treaters. And children from neighbors who don’t as much as exchange a glance on normal days knock on neighbor’s doors to demand for candies on Halloween. Talk of suspension of the social norms that inhibit us. (I saw a six-footer among the trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood though!)

For a minute I imagined Halloween in Nigeria. And why not? I used to carry, that is bear or wear, our family Egungun masquerade during Egungun festivals. And, though I was in high school, each time I wore the Egungun, even my father prostrated to salute me. I was no longer me; I was his great ancestor who had counted little him worthy of an ancestral visit. (To your right is the picture of a Yoruba Egungun). And my father, my uncles and aunts and our extended family never took that for granted. Flanked by smaller Egunguns, I demanded anything: chicken, pounded yam and gin, and my dad and the entire extended family quickly offered it--to the ancestors of course. Again, it was a momentary suspension of whatever made you your social you. If I knew candies, the youthful 'ancestor' most certainly would have demanded it.

Well, of course, Egungun is denigrated as a fetish ancestral worship. But there is a question. Last year December on a trip from New Malden to London, my friend and I had just passed by a burial ground and lots of folks were there laying wreaths on grave sites of their beloved long-departed. “Isn’t that ancestral worship?” I asked my British friend. “Oh, no. They’re just honoring their dead relatives”. If it were in Africa, it was ancestral worship; in Europe and America, it is fun or “just honoring” the departed and placating them with candies and flowers. Sometimes, it is too obvious that the only way to justifiably hang a dog is to call it a bad name. I think both Halloween and Egungun are, among other things, moments that we, almost justifiably, suspend the norms and our social ego—ironically still within the accepted boundaries of culture—and be who we wish to be but cannot always be.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The Nigerian blogger, Jonathan Elendu was, about two weeks ago, picked up by the State Security Services in Nigeria. He was detained for several days and was released on October 29, but his international passport was not returned to him. Jonathan Elendu is based in the US; without his passport, he cannot return to his family in the US. This is against the Nigerian constitution; it is against democracy and freedom of speech; it is against all sense of fairness. Free Elendu now! Return his passport to him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elendu's arrest and the safety of online journalism

Nigeria has added another to its string of firsts with the arrest of the popular writer of elendureports.com, Mr Jonathan Elendu, by the State Security Service (SSS). As reported by the PM News, Mr Elendu was picked up on Saturday, October 19, at the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport, Abuja, on his arrival from the United States. He is being held by the SSS for his alleged connection with saharareporters.com. Saharareporters.com is known for publishing top-secret stories and photographs of the gross misdeeds of Nigerian government officials including those of the president’s family members. Elendureports.com is far less aggressive and biting than sharareporters.com. There are rumours that the SSS is desperately inventing a web of accusations, including money laundering and sedition, to squeeze round Mr Elendu's neck. (Above is Mr Elendu's picture which I copied from bbc.co.uk)

Online journalism has been considered the safest form of journalism, the least susceptible to state clampdown. It has negotiated for itself a clear space in the public sphere for citizens’ engagement of government, its actions and policies. This form of journalism is understandably attractive to Nigerians given the experiences of orthodox journalists in the hands of the Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha—Nigerian military dictators who hounded and pounded journalists for nearly fourteen years. (See, for instance, Sunday Dare's Guerrila Journalism)

Media scholars and political scientists who support the idea of a free press find in online journalism an avenue for unfettered freedom of expression. Not only this, online journalism has led them to announce and in fact celebrate the death of gate-keeping and censorship. [See, for instance, Williams and Carpini’s (2000) “Unchained reaction: the collapse of media gate-keeping…”, Journalism (1) 1:61-85]. Jonathan Elendu’s arrest by the government of Nigeria should lead theorists to cut short this celebration and rethink the universality of their conclusions. This is the same way the recent invasion of Channels TV by the SSS calls for a rethink of press freedom in the Nigerian democracy. And those who call President Yar'Adua "Go Slow" should have a rethink: he can be very swift if the issue matters to him--his men did not allow Mr Elendu to even spend a second in Nigeria before arresting him. Nigeria!

There is some worry about the silence of most Nigerian papers on the arrest of Mr Jonathan Elendu. We do not know for sure why most papers, unlike bloggers, have been quiet on this. Even the BBC has done a report on the arrest. Do orthodox Nigerian journalists consider their online colleagues comrades or rivals? Maybe this is a good question for empirical investigation. However this goes, in my view, Nigeria is the first sub-Saharan African country and the second country in the world (after China) to attempt a clampdown on online journalism.

NB: I have edited this post slightly since after receiving Loomnie's comment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

That RAN Conference

On September 16, 2008, I announced on this blog that the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) was planning a national conference to be held in University of Uyo, Nigeria. The Conference took place from October 6 to 9. The first day was devoted to an up-skilling workshop for primary and high school teachers to acquaint them with current trends in teaching reading. The workshop was free for teachers of government schools; those from private schools had to pay. This was commendable social service by RAN.

There was a keynote address which focused on literacy structures for educational advancement and manpower development. The speaker stressed the strong challenges before RAN in its efforts to promote reading in Nigeria. One of the most interesting papers presented at the Conference was the one with the title: "Literacy skills in the language of medicine: the layman’s survival strategy".

Edidiong Umana presented the paper she and I prepared. (That is her picture to your left). Our paper carried the title: “Nigerian newspapers as sources of sickle cell education: what is there to read?” Our content analysis of Nigerian newspapers showed that despite the high prevalence of sickle cell disorder in Nigeria, the print media give it only minute attention—unlike HIV/AIDS. AIDS campaigns get international sponsorship and so attract media attention. We argued that the current greatest criterion for news selection is not found on the pages of journalism textbooks. That criterion is profit. Click here for the abstract. For the full version of the paper, send an email to Edidiong (ediumana@gmail.com).

Contrary to what I predicted in my September 16 announcement of the Conference, not many presenters made recommendations to government. (But the joint communique issued at the end of the Conference did). Does this suggest that individual Nigerian scholars are losing faith in government? Are they asking: of what use have been the recommendations made to government over the ages? Is this doubt, disaffection or cynicism? Whatever the answer might be, it is important to know that I am not a reliable prophet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to Fashola, Ekpu & the nature of news

"Bad news sells". "Bad news is good news". We have all heard this many times. But really what does a preponderance of bad news do to a people? Or to the press itself? I engage this question in the Nigerian context as I respond to criticisms mounted against Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos who recently pleaded with media people to be more positive in their news writing. My thoughts were published in the Guardian newspaper of October 16, 2008. Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"This ethnic group...we are not important to the media..."

In a small-scale study sponsored by the Centre for Research in Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) University of Oxford, I engaged members of some very small Nigerian ethnic groups in focus group discussions. I intended to learn what they thought about the width and nature of coverage they received in the Nigerian media. This followed my discovery, through content analysis, that the 390-something ethnic groups outside the three mega groups in Nigeria occupy just about 23% of the media space devoted to ethnic issues in Nigeria. Minority ethnic group members felt that their identity was marginalized by the media. In their words: “We do not matter. We are not important. If we are, the media will talk about us, about our festivals, about our problems”. There is a covert link between group size, media attention and political-economic influence in Nigeria.

You can download a summary of the work here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

At last, Masaba gets a name…a lesson in news writing

Mallam Bello Abubakar Masaba Bida has been in the news since the first half of August 2008. Yet, until the end of September, he was never referred to in the headlines by his name. Rather, he was known by all the papers as “man with 86 wives”. Common headlines: “Man with 86 wives dares JNI” “Etsu gives man with 86 wives 48 hours to divorce 82” “’Your safety is not guaranteed’ Man with 86 wives warned” etc. In casting headlines, editors and sub desks are warned to opt for the shorter and the catchier. Why did Nigerian editors opt for the long-winding description? Louise Bourgault in her book Mass media in sub-Sahara Africa criticizes African radio and TV interviewers for preferring long and winding questions to short and punchy ones. She even mocks them for causing interviewers to fall asleep during interviews. I disagree with Bourgault, not only on this point, but also because the whole book smacks of Western triumphalism. But that is slightly out of my concern here.

News writing students are taught to append a description or an appellation to the name of an actor when they write the lead of a story if the actor is not prominent. The appended description brings the actor within the readers’ frame of reference and makes a piece more comprehensible. For instance, it is better to say, “Henry Bida, a sergeant in the Nigerian Army has been honored for his bravery…” than to say “Henry Bida has been honored for his bravery”. The latter lead keeps the reader wondering who the Henry is because Henry is not prominent. If it is a known person, for instance, Umar Musa Yar’adua, no description needs be appended.
Not many people knew Masaba. It was therefore understandable that editors chose to describe him by his unusual feat. But why did this last so long? Why did it take Nigerian editors almost two months of consistent reporting to give Masaba a face and a name? My guess: ascending Masaba’s act above his name would sell the story. Even if it makes the headline clumsy, the story would sell, and for many editors, only that matters. But the sad consequence of this is that, to many readers, Masaba has come to be not a human being, but a bizarre creature without a name. He is not one of us so he cannot be sympathized with or understood. And are the courts not treating him like that? Maybe that is why rejoinders and letters to the editors that are sympathetic to Masaba are very few. And maybe that is why his case is being championed only by “a coalition of northern human rights group”, and this coming about six weeks after his ordeal began.

However Masaba’s case ends, whether in his death with which some have threatened him, in jail or in freedom, Nigerian editors should know that, remotely or not, they robbed the man of his human face.
This article was published in Thisday (Monday, October 13, 2008)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Channels TV Closure: if it were FCC...

In the news in the last few weeks was the brush between National Broadcasting Commission and the state security services on one hand, and Channels TV and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the other. The matter has ended and Nigerians are forgetting it. I imagined what the US version of NBC would have done if Channels' sin was committed in America. I also recommended a major restructuring which could be a lasting solution to the continuous abuse of power by the NBC. My thoughts were published in the Thisday edition of Friday September 26. Click here to read more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Today’s Tears for Timi—by Doris Favor Esemuze

Timipreye Agbadaebi Zinzinghan was my graduate student. Timi was unusual in kindness, outstanding in grace, firm but friendly. She ignited everywhere with her charm and smiles. Timi fell ill and died in July 2008. I rallied her old classmates together and between us went about 100 emails of lamentations and admonition. Among the best is the one posted here, written by Doris Favor Esemuze, one of Timi’s two closest friends and an elegant word-smith. Doris is my guest on this page. Click here to read the piece.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Iorver: the heart of an art

Iorver Ikeseh is a final-year student of the Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. Iorver has exhibited his works at many national exhibitions in Nigeria. Though young, Iorver seems to have developed a theme and a motif for his works. It seems to me that his bent is to use arts to depict social problems. Above is one of his works. He calls it Rescue. He has satirised the negative influence of global media on youths, he did a painting of the late Fela Anikulapo, a social crusader, an amazing portrait of Bob Marley and many more. Sometime soon, I will interview this young and budding talent very briefly. He will tell us why he does what he does.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Literacy and human development…Will they listen to RAN?

From October 6 to 11, 2008, the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) will hold its 11th biennial conference in Uyo, Capital of Akwa Ibom State, South South Nigeria. Conferees will discuss the intersection between literacy and human development. Keynote speakers are Professor Steve Layne from Chicago, Professor Thelma Oboh from Minnesota and Prof Ralph Omojuwa from Nigeria. Conferees will discuss how literacy can contribute to alleviating human development problems in Nigeria. They are expected to make suggestions to government and NGOS on what to do to increase literacy rate from the abysmal 67% (adult literacy) (See IRA, 2007).
Ms Edidiong Umana, a graduate student of mine, and I will co-present a paper on “The Nigerian newspapers as sources of education on SCD: what is there to read?” We believe the media have done a lot of informing and educating on HIV/AIDS, cancer etc . We are not certain if they have done enough about sickle cell disease (SCD) education. Yet 100 million people worldwide and about 40 million Nigerians carry the sickle cell trait (Ohaeri & Sokunbi, 2001). If the SCD problem is that severe, the Nigerian media should prime it based on the demands of social responsibility and the news selection criteria of magnitude and prominence. We plan to do a content analysis of the health pages of two leading Nigerian papers to see what about SCD is on them. Many SCD carriers are young; they need education in order to make marital choices and so break the chain of pain, woes and misery. Poor or scant media content as well as illiteracy will deny them this much-needed education. These are therefore anti-human development. Ms Umana will make the presentation on our behalf.
It is commendable that RAN has chosen to focus on human development and how literacy can influence it. The literacy rate in Nigeria is low and human development is poor. From this conference will come suggestions on how to tackle the problems. By these, maybe RAN will save some from ignorance, poverty and disease that illiteracy promotes.
But will concerned government agencies take RAN seriously? Does the Nigerian government think the academia have anything to offer? Recently a government official said Nigerian academics had failed Nigerian. I thought the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would take him up. But it did not. Maybe ASUU felt the right response was silence. Ms Umana and I envisaged that as usual, government and its agencies would not listen to the RAN conferees. Therefore, we might back up our presentation with media advocacy and SCD activism after the conference.
Ohaeri, J. U. and Shokunbi, W. A. (2001) “Attitudes and Beliefs of Relatives of patients with
Sickle cell disease” The East African Medical Journal. Vol. 78, No 4 pp180- 186
IRA: International Reading Association (2007) Nigeria: 67% adult literacy not acceptable. http://blog.reading.org/archives/002474.html

Monday, September 15, 2008

List of some of my publications--2006 and older

Ojebode, A (2006) “Nigerian Mass Media Representation of Women in Agriculture and Agribusiness: A Case of Status Misconferral” Journal of Communication Studies Vol. 5, No 1-2, pp 1-14. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. (2005) “Tested, Trusted, Yet Frustrating: An Investigation into the Effectiveness of Environmental Radio Jingles in Oyo State Nigeria” Applied Environmental Communication and Education Volume 4; pp. 173-180. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. & Sola Sonibare (2004) “A Little More than a strong Urge: An Investigation into the Influence of Radio Reading Programmes on Listeners’ Practice of reading” West African Journal of Education Vol. xxiv, Number 1; pp. 79-89. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. (2004) “Media Globalisation and the responses of the Nigerian Broadcast Media: Implications for Democracy and Development” International Review of Politics and Development Vol. 2, No 2; pp. 40-53. Click here for abstract.

Ojebode, A. (2004) “Empathising in Cyberspace: A Study of Empathy among Members of an Internet Group” Multidisciplinary Journal of Research Development Vol. 3, No 1; pp. 87-95. Click here for abstract.

Akinleye, L. & Ojebode, A. (2004) “World Information Imbalance: the Domestic Dimension” Topical Issues in Communication Arts & Sciences Vol. 2 pp. 15-24. Click here for abstract.

Ever heard of a nude radio advert

Nigerians--are we ever tired of creating new things? A religious leader recently asked the federal government to ban all nude adverts on the Nigerian newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. I have been wondering how a radio advert can be nude. I assume my ears aren't working as well my eyes. That's why I see nudity but don't hear it.