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For Dele Agekameh

Published by The Nation on Fri, 18 Oct 2019

Olukorede YishauDele Agekameh, for some of us Bob Dee, died exactly a week ago. My path and his crossed in 2004, the year I moved from The Source to Tell. By the time I joined Tell, the late Agekameh just left the magazine but somehow I met him and was a regular face in his Gemade Estate home. He touched my life professionally and personally. I will never forget him.Years after leaving the newsroom, his interest in those of us still there never waned. I last spoke with him in August when he called me over some issues central to my career growth. His last word that day was Just continue to do your work. It is an advice I have taken to heart and will never depart from.Agekamehs death is a loss to journalism, a profession, which has come a long way from Henry Townsends Iwe Iroyin. But we should be doing far better than we are doing. We need to emulate the best practices in the advanced world and treat journalists like kings and not dregs.Journalism is the only profession I have known in the last twenty years of my life. It looks like I am not escaping from it for some years to come. But even if I leave for one reason or the other, I think it is now in my blood and will not leave me till the end of time.My love for this profession gets me worried almost all of the time. It is a beautiful profession, but it has image issues. From time to time, one encounters corporate affairs executives who paint an average Nigerian journalist in the garb of a bed bug. You are likely to hear them whine that the journalist is always troubling them for one financial aid or the other. They are also likely to weep that the journalist expects gratification for every story or picture they send for publication. Chances are that they will write off the journalist as one sold to brown envelope the euphemism for gratification or outright bribe.Another major challenge that journalism faces is the overlapping of the profession and politics. This is often to the detriment of objectivity. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and saving objectivity from occasional accidents become a challenge that even geniuses find extremely difficult to resolve.Many Nigerian journalists work with media organisations owned by individuals who care less about the welfare of their workers. Very few media houses pay good salaries and emoluments. I can count them on my fingertip. They are that small. The majority do not pay well and sadly, they struggle to pay these peanuts. There are times journalists go for months without being paid.The effect of this no-pay is that many journalists are unmotivated and do their job without the required zeal. Journalism, like other forms of writing, is jealous and deserves some type of fanatical attention, but when a man is hungry, it is hard to get him to give his best. That has also turned some journalists into blackmailers. When they get a story, they contact the subject and demand bribe to kill the report.The way out of this quagmire, for me, is that non-payment of salaries by publishers should be criminalised.Aside from the non-payment of salaries, there is also the challenge of poor payment. Elsewhere in the developed world, journalists are some of the highest-paid. Our colleagues in South Africa and some countries in East Africa are treated like bankers.Another problem, which has given a bad name to journalism and has made it lose face, is the credibility of the news being pushed out. As a result of the poor pay in the industry, many newsrooms are peopled with reporters who should have no business with journalism because of their crippled knowledge of the profession.These days it is not uncommon for the mediaboth online and the traditional media to publish outright hate speech and fake news, thus helping spread anger in the land. What this has done to the profession is to give it a bad name and turn the media into a child who deserves a serious spanking.The trouble with the Nigerian media is not limited to print and online media. Television and radio stations also have similar challenges. Journalists are not well-paid and are owed for months by many television and radio stations, yet their owners live large and are seen as untouchable.I often shudder when the media reports bad government policies and poor or non-payment of salaries. These are problems publishers and broadcast stations owners are also guilty of. News hawks report the problems of others but there is no one to report ours.The media, in the last 20 years of democracy, has pointed out that many things have largely remained the same or even become worse. For example, the media daily point out that the police are still the way they used to be: innocent people are paraded for crimes they know nothing about; many murder cases are unresolved; senior police officers dance to politicians and the richs tunes; and justice remains a victim.We also regularly observe that politicians are still the same: the people are the least important; no permanent friends but interests; patronage still has edge over service, and if the devil can guarantee electoral success, politicians are ready to have a deal.We have continuously reported that the country is yet to start crawling, not to talk of walking, and far away from running. Our politicians, the media has observed, are just a little better than the military. In a lot of sense, many of the players on the political scene are yet to be cured of the military hang-over. A sizeable number of the key players even have a garrison mentality. Ours is a democracy without democrats. Selfish interests are masqueraded as national interests. The good of one is sold as the good of all. Politicians abandon one party to join another and defend it as if it were based on sound principles. The defections and the reasons behind them are interesting, but if you scratch beyond the surface, you will see deceit and the love of self. The media has not shied away from pointing all these out.But the question remains: Who looks out for the interest of the media, especially the welfare of reporters' We are busy highlighting the challenges in other sectors when we are going through difficult times. Aside from the individual woes of reporters, publishers are also not having it good. Importing newsprint, ink and other printing materials is money-guzzling and with the economy doing better, it is like attempting to fly without wings.My final take: The Nigerian media needs help and where it will come from is a decision the industry has to collectively take. We must revive the dead newsprint factories, among other things.Sleep well, Bob Dee, till we meet to part no more.
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