His unpopularity isn’t because of lack of achievements in the fields of Sports but for certain public show of crass incompetence and inefficiency embedded in his public speeches and mannerisms.
His self styled redberet military hat apart, this Plateau state born lawyer courts controversy like a hobby.
Dalung is the minister who attempted to justify the criminal negligence of the Nigeria Football Federation for not paying the players of the national female team -Super Falcons their rightful entitlements for winning the African Women Football championship recently in Equatorial Guinea for a record eight times.
This broad day show of shame happened even when Cameroon that our players defeated were honoured in a grand style by the life time dictator of this South Eastern impoverished neighbour of Nigeria even when Nigeria ranked as the eight largest crude oil producing nation in the World has stolen what rightly belongs to our national ambassadors of football.
Whilst the nation is yet to come to terms with the remotest possibility that our national team players could be compelled to go to the streets in protest before their entitlements were settled via Presidential fiat, this man came up with a puerile excuse for this malfeasance of his officials.
The World over, reward system for national team players work seamlessly and there are institutional and policy frameworks for handling such but not so in Nigeria.
So in his futile attempt to explain away the incompetence and criminality of the conduct of the football federation’s officials who may have siphoned the winning bonuses meant for the female players, the minister of Sports sounded farcical by saying that the players couldn’t be paid because the officials didn’t expect the players to win the tournament.
Under this dispensation the Super Eagles proceeded to the Olympics games in Brazil without their kits because the Nigerian Olympic Committee somehow failed to arrange timeously for these important kits not just for the football players but for the whole team to such a ridiculous extent that the participants who made sacrifices to represent Nigeria were forced to enter the Brazilian open markets to pick up their jerseys which they wore to represent the largest black African nation globally.
The official kits arrived only few hours to the end of the Olympics.
The minister had no cogent and verifiable excuses for this crass incompetence. Infact it was Mikel Obi the Nigerian football and Olympics captain who funded the hotel expenses for his team mates. The sorry state of the Olympics team attracted a Japanese businessman who motivated the Nigerian players by making mouth watering pledges to reward them if they take the gold medal in football or reach the medal rank. He honoured his pledge after these boys struggled to net in Nigeria’s only medal at the Olympics which costs the public almost N6billion.
But President Muhammadu Buhari who is the appointing authority is cool with this poor performance of his minister of Sports.
This minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung is not done with manufacturing controversies but this time around he has played himself into the good books of lovers of media freedoms by expressly urging governments at all levels to set up a commensurate reward system for journalists in view of their roles in entrenching democracy in the country.
Dalung, who reportedly bemoaned the working conditions of practicing journalists in the country, said there was the need to review their pay and terms of service in appreciation of their contributions to the development of the country.
Addressing State House Correspondents after he signed the condolence register in honour of the late Channels Television Reporter, Chukwuma Onuekwusi, the minister was reported as having described the reward system for journalists in Nigeria as fundamentally faulty.
He stressed the need for legislations that would entrench what he called “a very solid reward system that will guarantee greater contributions of journalists.”
He said, “Nigeria as a country does not take care of its journalists. Looking at the role they play even in entrenching this democracy, I don’t think that they have actually been accommodated in the structures they have struggled hard to build.
“Anybody who participated in the struggle for democracy in this country should know the role journalists played and still play. Many lost their lives in the struggle but unfortunately, when democracy finally came, what has actually become of journalism is the Wheelbarrow Theory.
“The wheelbarrow is a very important tool that has no garage. It is kept in the sun and in the rain but when there is the need to convey any bag of garri or rice, it is dusted, used and dumped where it was kept and that is unfortunate”, Dalung asserted.
Dalung advised that the country must look at its laws and entrench a solid reward system to guarantee contributions of key actors like journalists.
These assertions of this highly unpopular minister is faultless and indeed reminds us of the imperative of defending media freedoms by every lawful means. Sadly, the minister as a politician should speak more to the consciences of his partners in his political platform because the issue of haunting of those who exercise their rights to media or freedom of expression has become more of a huge challenge.
Right before our faces, in this twenty first century, Nigeria has retrogressed to look like the 1970’s field Marshal Idi Amin -led dictatorship in Uganda whereby free speech and media Freedoms generally were muzzled and attacked using the force of arms.
Idi Amin of Uganda was credited with the saying that under his watch, the citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech but what he never guaranteed was Freedom after the Speech.
Although the current Uganda civilian dictator Yoweri Museveini hasn’t faired better than the late Idi Amin Dada, the Nigerian case is precarious much more than what did obtained in those years of the locusts in Uganda because whereas in those days, the Media of Mass Communication and Tele- communication wasn’t advanced and easily accessible, but now the media space is further enriched with the arrival of the new, social and online media. Information technology has also taken center stage.
The implication of these advancements in technology is that means of media communication is now much more available and accessible to a wider range of participants.
However, there are a number of drawbacks and setbacks even amidst this good news of technology boom.
The most disturbing set back is that free speech in Nigeria has become dangerously unsafe for the practitioners and those in the position of authority have devised means to either make these telecommunications and information technology very expensive.
On both sides of the divide, the contemporary Nigerian citizen is buffeted by expensive means of social and/or online communication in addition to the greater danger of being physically attacked by government’s funded thugs or armed security forces.
Additionally, certain quacks are now paid to constantly harass persons who express independent opinion from those of the federal and state governments. The Presidency and offices of governors now spend a lot of public fund to nose around for persons with independent views so they are attacked viciously in addition to the use of armed security forces to harass and intimidate such persons.
In the last two years, certain states in Nigeria have become notorious for harassment of citizens who are exercising their Fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and media freedoms.
Kaduna, Kogi, Bauchi, Benue, Ogun and now Ebonyi states are some of the flashpoints whereby media practitioners and ordinary citizens making use of the social/online media have faced horrendous psychological and physical violence.
The Kaduna state governor Malam Nasir El-Rffai has carved a dangerous niche for himself as someone who detests criticism of his style of administration in the media.
He hates media so passionately that he abolished the office of information commissioner with a laughable claim that his personal social media channels can have more potency than a structured information mechanism.
Although he has many media people as his staff, he nevertheless doesn’t believe in media liberalism or freedom of expression.
In Kaduna state alone, over half a dozen journalists have faced arbitrary arrests by the Kaduna state police command on the directive of the governor following observations and news reports done by the Journalists on the genocide in Southern Kaduna by the armed Fulani herdsmen- the governor’s kinsmen.
In Ebonyi state a journalist was physically assaulted by armed thugs for allegedly posting an article on Facebook that is critical of the state governor.
In Kogi, Ogun, Benue and Bauchi many young persons have been clamped into detentions for expressing their own opinions about the goings on in their states.
In Nigeria of today, joirnalists and lovers of media freedoms are endangered species.
But these harsh attitudes of government officials against the media is a violation of several provisions of the Constitution including section 22 and the chapter four of the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended). Section 22 makes it incumbent on the media to act as vanguard and conscience of the nation.
In the book; ‘ Media and Society’ fourth edition, edited by Michael O’shaughnessy and Jane Stadler, it was made clear that democracy can’t be sustained without a free press.
The writers stated that clearly, the media play an important role in the process of representing and communicating political policies, issues, and so forth.
The writers also are of the opinion that the media remains the mouthpiece of the people in countries with limited political spaces.
Hear them: “But in practice there are limits to democracy: in most democracies there are only two or three significantly powerful parties, so your voting power is limited to the policies and values they are willing to promote. Because of the need to appeal to the majority of voters, the views of the main parties will invariably be relatively conservative, mainstream positions that are often rendered even more general by the media’s attempts to cater to the largest possible audience.”
The authors argued that the West from where we borrowed democracy, those nations are built on an ideology of individualism that stresses personal rights, freedoms, equality.
Such beliefs are often legally enshrined in statutory rights and freedoms, they stated but such codification of rights are replicated too in much of the Constitutions of nation that claims to be democratic like Nigeria.
For the authors, it is the media that amplifies the distinction between democracy and authoritarianism.
Their words: “This is in contrast to the restrictions of communist countries, such as China, and other societies, such as Burma, which limit individual human rights in the face of collective social good. As individuals, you appreciate the freedoms that western democracy offers you, and you are encouraged to believe they make the system just”.
They submitted too that because western societies are well developed economically, they are able to offer a relatively high standard of living manifested in the fact that most people have access to, or possession of, a phone, a fridge, a television set, A DVD player and a computer .
“These societies also have welfare systems: many people receive benefits (in Australia and the United Kingdom it is possible not to work and still receive some money to live on, although this is getting more difficult) and health support. All these factors keep people relatively content and contribute to a belief that Western democracy is the best system available at present. Even if you do not believe in it, it is relatively easy to survive, and it is easier to go with system than against it.”
These authors say the media stabilises such democracies.
Hear them: “Such ideas and beliefs are also maintained through a number of social institutions, one of which is the media. The media are central arena in which consent is won and maintained by representation, agenda setting, and other mechanism natural, or normal. It is based around theories of ideology, hegemony”.
In conclusion, let me appeal to the organised civil society community to bridge the divides amongst the practitioners and begin to pursue a national agenda that will restore these necessary and fundamental press freedoms as they are written in our law books and possibly introduce other legal safeguards against the harassment of media practitioners and lovers of media freedoms if we say we are democratic.
<em><strong>* Emmanuel Onwubiko Is Head of Human rights writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; email@example.com. </strong></em>