By Seyifunmi Odunuga
IBADAN – The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso on Saturday, November 28, 2020, declared that journalists across the country also deserved medals and awards like other frontline workers for the good role they played during the fight against the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Omotoso who spoke in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital said that journalists should be praised like other frontline workers like nurses and doctors for critical role they played during the lockdown occasioned by Coronavirus pandemic.
The award-winning media professional, however berated journalists for abdicating their responsibilities in the aftermath of the #Endsars protests, saying journalists in the country have not done well in the coverage of the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests, “leaving the likes of the CNN to do hatchet job that tends to set the entire country on fire.”
Omotoso, a former Editor of The Nation Newspapers, made these assertions while delivering a paper titled: “JOURNALISTS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT’, at the first Anniversary Lecture series of the 2020 Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Oyo State Council Press Week.
The Lagos state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, who was represented by the Director ( Social Media) in the Ministry, Mr Olajide Atansuyi, while speaking at the epoch event, said that Journalists like other professionals holistically joined the battle against COVID-19, hence they needed to be praised for the job.
Omotoso added that despite the challenges they face in the course of performing their roles, journalists in Nigeria have always risen to occasion when it matters.
His words, “If nobody would praise the media, that would not be fine. Journalists deserve medals, just like the other frontline workers who joined the battle against COVID-19. Perhaps for the first time you found many professionals – doctors, lab attendants, nurses, cleaners, drivers and others – working together as a team.
“The Nigerian journalist have always risen to the occasion whenever it matters. Consider the recent calamity that befell humanity; the deadly COVID-19. Before it arrived at our shores, experts had been predicting a kind of apocalypse. We were all gripped by great fear. So thick was the anxiety that you could cut it with a knife. They said we would be picking bodies on the street. The rich invested heavily in ventilators, which they bought and kept in their inner rooms for themselves and members of their privileged families.
“To God be the glory, the gloomy predictions did not come to past. We lost some of our compatriots – May the Almighty bless their souls – but we haven’t been picking bodies on the street. Now the world is wondering how Nigeria did it, despite our weak healthcare system.”
He continued, “Compared with figures we see everyday from the developed world, we can say boldly that God has been kind to us to be able to managed this pandemic. And one fact remains strong in this narrative of success – the media.
“The media played a remarkable role in informing Nigerians on what to do and what not to do of the disease. This was done constantly. In other words, communication played a major role in fighting the disease.
“Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu realized early in the fight that communication was essential. He dished out regularly facts and figures to ensure that Lagosians got information that helped them to stay safe. Journalists were always there to relay his messages. Here, no doubt, is a clear case of journalists leading the way to development.
“Has there been a reversal of the gains? Not quite. But it is important to state that we as journalists have not done well in the coverage of the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests. We seem to have abandoned the story for the likes of CNN to do inciting series that have done so much damage to the memory of those who died in the riots that followed the unseen massacre at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos.
“The notable news channel had a montage of social media videos that had been largely discredited and an eyewitness whose recollection of the events of 0ctober 20, 2020 was more of drama than reality to claim that a massacre had occurred in Lagos.”
Omotoso stated further, “It kept on playing with facts and figures, which are sacred tools in this trade, to ram it down our ears and eyes that indeed a massacre had occurred. At the end of the day, CNN said one person was confirmed dead and, in fact, retracted a tweet in which it quoted Amnesty International that 38 people had died. Till date, discerning viewers are querying why CNN would run those videos instead of investigating the incident, visiting the scene of the protest, talking to doctors who treated the injured and interviewing families and friends of those who it said had died – or their enemies.
“While this was going on, many were asking: where are our journalists? In fact, in some circles, CNN was accused of planning to set Nigeria on fire. It had no interest in the six soldiers and 37 policemen who died in the protests. Their families are mourning.
“The truth, as I had earlier hinted, is that things are changing rapidly in the society. Almost every part of our national life is experiencing a decline in hitherto revered values. Being an integral part of the society, it seems journalists are not insulated from this breakdown in societal norms and ethos. Is this enough to see them as agents of the underdevelopment we are experiencing? No”.
Present at the occasion were a member of Federal Character Commission, Abuja, Professor Joseph Olowofela, Deputy Executive Secretary (Services) UBEC Abuja, Dr. Isiaka Kolawole and Engineer (Mogaji) Joseph Tegbe.