I am a judge in DAME. I have been for over a decade. DAME is a pseudonym for Diamond Award for Media Excellence. It was started some 26 years ago by a colleague and friend who felt strongly that the media needed some form of a self-regulatory mechanism. Lanre Idowu has devoted the bulk of his professional and productive life to ensuring a higher standard for the media through awards, publications, workshops and seminars. A year before DAME, he had established Media Review.
It was a publication which was wholly devoted to the professional practice of the media and one in which, no matter how proficient you were, you learnt something. Unfortunately, Media Review couldn’t survive the vicissitudes of magazine publishing in Nigeria coupled with the reluctance of the media to support its own. But DAME has survived; albeit through thick and thin. It is largely a labour of love to which some of us have subscribed. Journalism has been good to me in many respects and if sacrificing a couple of weeks a year helps in upholding its standards. So be it.
Much of the weekend and the early part of this week were devoted to assessing some of this year’s entries. This process serves two purposes for me. It updates my knowledge of the major happenings during the year while helping me to gauge the quality of journalism out there. The two categories I had to assess this year were Investigative Reporting and Judicial Reporting.
Many of the entries left me sad and depressed. It was not because of their quality. On the contrary, they exposed the quality of leadership, the level of greed, the extent of incompetence, the depth of rot in the country. You think you have seen it all. Then….
Let’s start with the Judiciary; the hope of the common man and the bastion of democracy. The only hope really is for that common man not to be on the wrong side of the law because the poor have very little hope when it comes to justice in Nigeria. They are sometimes routinely picked up on crowded streets and charged with whatever catches the fancy of the policemen if they are unable to bail themselves. There was the case of a young man who was charged with murder because he could not afford to bail himself when his area was raided. And because he could not afford the services of a lawyer, found himself on a death row.
There was also the case of a 14-year old, and a 16- year old are there no minors in our statutes? who found themselves on the death row for offences they claimed not to know anything about. They were only released last year after their entire adult lives had been spent anticipating death. According to one of them ‘you die everyday when you are on the death row.’ Then there is the justice system which allows convictions based solely on confessions and these confessions are obtained by the police largely through torture. Meanwhile, the rich literally get away with murder
They get a slap on the wrist after looting the treasury. An entry detailed public servants who were asked by the courts to pay just a couple of millions after they were proven to have amassed stolen wealth to the tune of billions. Cases especially for the rich, are decided more on antiquated procedures and technicalities than on substance. And if you are rich and powerful enough, you can keep rejecting judges until you get a favourable one.
‘Straight as a judge’ is a phrase some of us grew up with which depicts the uprightness of judges. They now seem to be in the minority. An entry detailed the malfeasance of some bent judges who have sat on the hallowed bench. One female judge was alleged to have threatened a ‘difficult’ accused person by saying he would come to his senses ‘when he eats watery beans for a couple of weeks.’ Yet, without an honest judiciary there cannot be justice and without justice, there cannot be equity and we cannot forge a society without the two.
Some of the entries under Investigative Reporting were either on greed, impunity, administrative incompetence or in some cases, all of the above. We complain on the quality of our graduates for example. Yet it is an open secret that the grades of our graduates are not necessary a reflection of their aptitude but of inducements and gratifications. An entry stood out because it focused on a particular Federal Polytechnic. The report was graphic. It mentioned the department where lecturers demanded sex for grades with impunity and even described some of the lecturers. These lecturers boasted that they didn’t need money because they were richer than the students.
What they wanted was sex. So the male students had to get their girlfriends, sisters, sympathisers or even prostitutes if they wanted decent grades. Sex for two was when a female student offered her body for herself and a male student often for money in an attempt to kill two birds with a stone. These low-life lecturers who are ruining lives, the system and therefore the country have daughters, nieces and sisters. Fortunately, the report got a reaction from the authorities which got rid of some of them.
Still on education, the shortage of medical doctors in Nigeria is well documented. It is about 1 to 3500 and getting worse as doctors are leaving the country in droves. One would therefore expect a thinking government to try to accelerate the process of qualification. Yet the reverse is the case. Many students graduate but cannot find a place for their internship. So after six, seven years of hard study, they still find themselves a liability to their families and society.
The equally confounding logic is that they lose a chance for automatic placement if they cannot find a place in two years. One frustrated victim who has spent a year and a half searching for a hospital regretted the day she decided to take up medicine. The story doesn’t end here. Doctors who want to become specialists also have problems securing residency. Yet we spend billions on medical tourism. Makes you wonder what our priorities are as a country.
Another entry is about the colossal waste in our community projects. Over 200billion naira was said to have been lost in the South-West alone through dud projects. My heart bled as I mentally followed the writer through a bush path that was to lead to a project a community badly needed. What he found was an uncompleted building.
Even the cleared grass had grown. Yet the project was deemed completed and money paid. I could go on about different depressing stories. The story of NigComStat. The story of Primary Health Care. And you ask yourself; are we really better than Sodom and Gomorrah, that little country that God destroyed in the Bible?
In vain God searched for just ten righteous people. Can we yield the minimum number of righteous people that would stave off God’s wrath or are we slated for destruction?