Watching ‘Africa’s largest TV network’ sucks. That is why Nigerians, supposed proud owners of this unwieldy beast called the NTA, do not bother. They, like most humans of appreciable self esteem, do not fancy mirrors that project their hideous warts and hairy moles in 3D.
Seriously, understanding Nigeria’s problem is not rocket science. And you don’t have to read Chinua Achebe’s seminal piece, The Trouble with Nigeria to figure it out. If you still have the heart to examine what the trouble is with the ‘Giant of Africa’ all you need to do is subject yourself to the torture of watching the NTA. Not in lethal dose, just enough to shed light on things. Consider it, if you like, a sort of purgatory for sins done against your country, say handing out that N20 note to the policeman at the road block, or receiving it, or making away with drugs meant for people who really need it, or asking that fine girl to meet you at that hotel or else she would most definitely fail her exam, or asking for kola for things that kola aren’t meant to buy, and other such things. Consider it a purgatory for those.
You see, the NTA will tell you everything is well with the country even if students of Nassarawa State University are being massacred by brutal soldiers because the students, in the puckish spirit of youthful exuberance, have taken to the streets to protest water shortages on campus. The NTA will not tell you that soldiers washed the dirty students with a rain of bullets, and blood. The NTA will show you pictures of students barricading the road and tell you something like, ‘It took the prompt action of security agents to disperse the unruly students.’ or other such inanities.
Don’t be surprised, they are just tapping into the Nigerian ‘It-is-well’ mindset. Nothing can happen that is worse than what has happened before. And seriously, we have about 150 million Nigerians competing for space, so if a mere four, who could, by some freak fate, be the next Einstein or Soyinka are wasted, there is absolutely no need bugging anyone about it. The parents of the deceased will go home and bury their children. Nigeria will move on. No one will ask for justice. The NTA knows this so it will not bother you with such trifling details to ruin your dinner. If it’s not your son who was gunned down, you really don’t need to bother.
The NTA, you will notice, during your hours of purgatory, will inundate you with looping news of the good things happening in the country. They know very well that Nigerians are the world’s happiest people so they won’t broadcast anything to sully that reputation. NTA capitalizes on Nigeria’s delusion of grandeur and overwhelm you with the good things happening in your backyard that, for some bizarre reason, are invisible to your naked eyes; Multi-billion naira road projects that terminate just a few meters beyond the camera frame, big-budget water projects that manage to trickle out some drops for the ceremonial drink of the President, governor or commissioning government official and then quickly fall into disuse because the pumps were never good to start with, and are soon sold off by the government employees charged with putting it to public use.
News of bomb blasts or people in relaxation spots being gunned down, or the little trouble of civil unrest in Jos or Kafanchan or other such places where Nigerians are being killed daily are not good for public consumption; but thanks-giving services by thieving politicians like Bode George or the resurrecting first lady will surely be aired live. Miserable Nigerians, famished or depressed because their sick relatives can’t experience this death-defying miracle that seems to happen only in German hospitals, will see other happy Nigerians dancing in flowing gowns, and the world will think we are all happy.
When Nigerians were enraged by fuel subsidy removal, bad governance and blatant corruption and took to the streets to protest for days, bringing the nation to a standstill, the NTA played mute and occasionally, aired pictures of some rented rascals carrying placards pledging eternal support for the subsidy removal. That is the NTA for you.
The NTA, like Nigerians, abhors changes and all attempts to be dragged into the first world, or any semblance of it, is a change sure to bring some discomfort. NTA prefers to remain antiquated, as it has always been. Consider, for instance, Ben Bruce’s spirited attempt to modernise the NTA. He made the logo trendier, used some cool colours, something more in sync with the new millennium, he made the NTA watchable, put it on air for 24 hours with some innovative programming. But then he was kicked out and Tony Iredia cleaned out everything he did, brought back that old, rusty logo and that iconic but annoying sig tune that kicks off the news at nine.
The NTA is reliable. It supports every government in power. Have you forgotten how they were busy singing General Abacha’s praises, saying he was the only man, out of a hundred million others, capable of running Nigeria? They were busy singing ‘Who the cap fits’ – a great disservice to the legendary Bob Marley, when Abacha keeled over and died. And the tune changed immediately the following morning and Abacha suddenly became a criminal, and his aides wanted men.
Ironically, even under democracy, this humiliating arse-licking has not ceased. It seemed ingrained, primal even. Ahead of the 2011 elections, I had reasons to do a content analysis of NTA’s coverage of the run up to the presidential elections. A pattern emerged. The ruling party and every reprobate who will speak in its favour were given precedence. The ruling party always got the first 18 minutes of the news; that is a minimum. The opposition parties shared some eight minutes, some getting four at most. And when I asked NTA’s Executive Director News, Malam Garba Mamu about this in a published interview, (Sunday Trust, March 6, 2011), he said they were under no compulsion to favour one party over the other and that no one had ever come from the government to sanction what they broadcast or didn’t.
Well, during the subsidy protest, we knew there was a directive from the ministry of Information barring NTA from reporting on the protests, but when they were under no compulsion, as Mr. Mamu claimed, during the campaigns, the NTA chose to censor itself in favour of the clichéd powers that be.
So how does the NTA mirror the trouble with Nigeria? And why do Nigerians loath, or at best disregard, Africa’s biggest network?
Because it reflects, rather too vividly, our shortcomings as individuals, and as a people. For one, we are always talking, like the NTA, but are we saying the right things, are we talking about the things that matter?
We disregard the bigger picture for irritating frivolities and when we have a chance to seize our destiny and do with it as we please; we are given over to this incurable affliction of arse-licking, whether for petty regional, tribal or religious sentiments. We praise our thieving leaders only to rain curses on their balding heads once their backs are turned. We are fixated on an idea of imagined glory, for which we have the potential, but for some inexplicable reasons seem unable to realise.
We hate the NTA because we are just as annoying. And the trouble with Nigeria, frankly, is us—the Nigerians. We may shout revolution all we want, but if we don’t start the change within ourselves, we might as well be casting pebbles in the belly of the great, big sea. And what good would that do anyone, really?