BY MARYAM MUSA
The Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Chris Cooter has commended Fuza Communication Services Limited, publishers of DESERT HERALD newspaper and Magazine for its commitment to investigative and people-oriented style of journalism.
Mr Cooter who was speaking during a surprise visit to the newspaper last Tuesday, praised the management of the paper for its achievement and innovation in its practice of journalism in Nigeria. On the entourage of Mr. Cooter from Abuja to DESERT HERALD were the Canadian Director of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in charge of West and Central Africa, Ms. Renata E. Wielgosz, Ph.D and other top embassy officials.
Mr. Cooter told the DESERT HERALD publisher, Malam Tukur Mamu that he chose to visit DH in recognition of the paper’s positive contribution to the society and to share views, opinions and ideas on how his country could expand its contribution to economic and political development of the country and to share the views of another independent newspaper outside Abuja. Cooter said his country was keen to see to the success of the just concluded local government elections in Kaduna and to encourage an independent reporting of the election. He said issues of terrorism in Nigeria and the growing insecurity in the north is of great concern to his government and asked for DESERT HERALD’s view regarding reports of religious intolerance in the country and whether the relationship between Muslims and Christians has improved in view of the security challenges.
The Canadian High Commissioner believes that the Nigerian Government is doing its best to curtail the crisis of insecurity associated with suicide bombings and killings in the north, adding that his country will continue to support the federal government in its war against all forms of terrorism. He said terrorism is an evil the whole world is fighting and that is not peculiar to Nigeria alone.
Cooter said his country will invest in vocational training for the many unemployed youths as part of her contributions to address issues of poverty, unemployment and crime as well as support Nigeria to overcome challenges related to lack of adequate power supply. He said his country had entered into bilateral agreement with the Nigerian government on investment and other areas that will boom its enviable economy. As far as his country is concerned Nigeria is among the second most important country in Africa to do business with and to invest. Cooter said democracy in Nigeria has brought a lot of developments and that the leadership of the nation has achieved a lot.
He said under the democratic rule and particularly under President Goodluck Jonathan the Press in Nigeria is independent and free to report issues that are not only critical to the government but the president himself. He has been following Nigerian newspaper reports, opinions and features on national issues and that in most cases such reports are bold, very critical and healthy for the survival of the country’s democracy. Cooter said unlike other countries that are authoritarian in issues that has to do with the media and freedom of speech, the Nigerian government is fairly accommodating dissenting views and opinions and has provided a platform for journalists to freely said there mind even though there is still room for improvement.
Responding, DESERT HERALD’s publisher Malam Tukur Mamu said the paper is honoured by the historic visit of the representatives of the Canadian government. He said the recognition is a clear testimony that not only Nigerians but the whole world is following the DESERT HERALD revolution in the practice of modern journalism in Nigeria. He said: “We chose not to relocate to Abuja as many of us are doing in search of ‘greener postures’ because we believe we can achieve and be what we want to be even if we are operating from the remotest village in Nigeria. Our approach to journalism is different that, is why many naïve minds that are not conversant with the practice of western-oriented form of journalism are criticizing us. We started as a monthly paper in 2005 and became weekly within two years.
“We introduced another monthly magazine in 2009 and became the first medium that provides free SMS alert of breaking news to nearly 2 million GSM users across the country. You know, in Nigeria the media largely depends on patronage from government to survive because of the capital intensive nature of the business but in DH we said no not because we don’t desire such patronage but we will not accept giving us commercials or other forms of patronage with the condition of compromising our reports, our ideology and reason of existence.
“So because of this approach and determination to succeed without the usual ‘gesture’ from government we are succeeding up to this moment virtually without such patronages. And to our credit even though we wish to be patronized without any precondition, we are so far the only Northern paper of this genre that has survived for nearly eight years and is very consistent on the newsstand. We are purely an investigative paper that is known for investigative reports that have make impact over the years. The EFCC for example used many of our investigative reports in prosecuting corruption cases in Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe etc even though most of such prosecution ended up in failure due to the corruption in the system and even within the operatives of the EFCC itself. In recognition of our efforts just as the Canadian High Commission has done today, I was a recipient of the United States Congressional award in 2009”.
Mamu further stated that it is indeed true that issues of violating the human rights of journalists in Nigeria has significantly reduced under this democratic rule but lamented some cases where those in political authority connive with security agencies to grossly violate the rights of journalists to freedom of expression like his orchestrated arrest by the former SGF Mahmud Yayale Ahmed by the SSS, ex-Governor Ibrahim Shekarau by the Force CID in Garki, Abuja, Yobe State Government in 2010 by the Zonal Police Headquarters’ in Bauchi etc., where he stayed in prison and detention cells of the police and SSS on trumped up charges.
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Responding to Mr. Cooter’s view on the importance of local government administration in Nigeria and his keen interest to see the success of the local government election in Kaduna, Mamu told the Canadian High Commissioner that “election in local governments in Nigeria is just a mere formality because no local government in Nigeria is truly independent of the manipulations and excesses of state governors. Local Government administration in Nigeria has collapsed due to undue interference and corruption from those illegally managing the resources of the local governments and dictating the tune for them at the state level. For about the so called election when they eventually do, governors decide who will be ‘elected’ as LGAs chairmen and councilors. The election is like a favour to them and the governor frequently exercises undue powers to sack any disloyal chairman. In most cases in order to promote corruption and impunity, LGAs are left with caretaker committee chairmen. In Kaduna for example the people were forced to live under unelected caretaker chairmen for more than two years and nobody, not even the state executive council or the House of Assembly, can compel the governor to do as the constitution required.
“In Nigeria, Mr. High Commissioner, we have probably good laws on paper than any other country in the world but the operators of the system are very corrupt, selfish and unpatriotic. So implementation is virtually zero. That is why some of us disagree with the views of some of you that we are progressing. We boast to be leaders in Africa today but today in many cities you hardly get electricity for up to three hours in a day. As you can see we are running on generator. So business is difficult for those of us that are struggling to survive”.
On the issue of religious intolerance Mamu responded that more than ever before Muslims and Christians in Nigeria are becoming aware that they are not enemies to themselves but the failed system and the leaders that breed violence due to increased poverty, unemployment and unprecedented corruption. He said most Christians are now very much convinced that frequent Church bombings is not the handiwork of true Muslims because Muslims have suffered more in such suicide bombings and selected killings across the north by terrorists. “I believe the aim of those that want to divide the nation for whatever reason in this regard has been defeated because Muslims and Christians now know that all of them are targets of the so called Boko Haram insurgency. If they are truly representing the interest of Islam we won’t see every day significant amount of Muslims as casualties of their terror. I believe some people are working to divide the country, to cause war but as you can see they are failing because we will never relent in praying to expose and destroy the forces behind what we are experiencing today.
“The leadership of the country, in my opinion, is not also sincere in ending the Boko Haran insurgency and other related criminality in the name of Boko Haram. To my understanding the security agencies are only misleading the president not to go into dialogue with the sect because of what they are benefitting from the huge security vote jamboree but are compromising the lives of mostly ordinary people because of selfish interest. In as much as we all don’t support terrorism and the activities of Boko Haram I think any responsible government must first adopt the option of dialogue not because it cannot contain the crisis but as a first step of preventing the killing of its people and then continue underground to suppress or vanquish them if the dialogue fails but in Nigeria we all know that the government cannot stop even the killing of the JTF people not to talk of protecting the lives of those ordinary people and elites that are being killed every day in Maiduguri and Yobe; yet they always claim they are succeeding against Boko Haram. The present government doesn’t value human lives because if they do they can sacrifice their pride, their failure and whatever they are getting from the security vote to even lobby the Boko Haram people to drop their arms like what the late President Yar’Adua did to the Niger Delta terrorists. Your country and other powerful nations of the world are in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency but the offensive couldn’t be won for over 10 years because of the difficult nature of confronting insurgency and those that are prepared to kill themselves for what they believe in. Now the Pakistani government and even the United States are proposing dialogue with the Taliban. President; Jonathan should learn and do same for the sake of preserving innocent lives not for Boko Haram”.
On the issue of what most northerners’ believe that there are other forces from outside Nigeria and even within that are responsible for the general insecurity especially in Northern Nigeria, the High Commissioner said that is not impossible especially bearing in mind that borders have not been made impermeable in the true sense of it.
He said, “We have seen what is happening in Somalia and Mali and some other African countries and there are such insinuations. But largely from what we hear and read, the forces responsible for most of the ungodly activities of these terrorists are from within. Now haven said that, whether the forces are from within or without, I believe the bottom line is the spate of killings and destruction of properties need to be stopped for the generality of the people”.
According to him, Canada is at the moment partnering with Nigeria in the area of power generation in an agreement that he wouldn’t want to refer to as privatization. This when concluded, he said, will help in bringing back to operation all the small and big businesses like the Textiles Industries in the country.
He then observes that when this is achieved, it means the present rate of unemployment will be reduced drastically.
Highpoints of the visit include Mr. Cooter’s positive impression of DESERT HERALD and assurance that his country will continue to work with Nigeria as an important partner in the region with long standing relationship. He said such the visit was designed to familiarize himself with the views of stakeholders and to be able to contribute positively to the growth and development of the Nigerian economy.