By SANI ADAMU
By most accounts, the radio is believed to be the most effective means of communication in Africa.
Available statistics reveal that more than 70 per cent of Africans rely primarily on the radio for their information and entertainment.
Historically, radio broadcasting in Nigeria dates back to 1932 when the industry served the interests of the then colonial administration.
However, with the establishment of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1957, the industry became an independent institution designed to be a non-partisan means of communication.
Regrettably, however, such aspiration has turned out to be a hallucination, some observers say.
However, in the late 1970s when the industry was somewhat liberalised, the federal and state governments as well as any other body or person authorised by the President are authorised to own, operate or establish a wireless broadcast station in the country by the virtue of Section 36, Sub-section 2 of the 1979 Constitution.
In 1992, the administration of former military President Ibrahim Babangida further liberalised the industry to give room for the advent of private broadcasting.
The onset of private broadcasting, perhaps, explains the decision of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), in partnership with the Institute for Media and Society (IMS-Nigeria), to initiate the community radio project in Nigeria.
The project tagged: ”Building Community Radio in Nigeria” was launched in 2003.
Industry experts describe community radio as a locally operated radio station that provides various services and information to its audience.
Some of the community radio’s programmes are local news, weather reports, sports news and public forums, as well as religious, educational and community programmes, which are not usually handled by commercial radio stations owned by regional or national media outfits.
The community radio is also a non-profit venture that relies primarily on grants and donations for funding and its workforce usually comprise volunteers and other non-professionals.
Technically, a community radio station is operated on the lower end of the FM dial — between 87.5 and 91.9 — and it has lower signal strength than the larger commercial stations.
One of the fundamental goals of AMARC is to use radio as a means of promoting the people’s right, at the grassroots level, to communicate and contribute to development via the principles of solidarity and international cooperation.
Across Africa, AMARC has more than 200 affiliates and about 160 members of the association in Africa are radio stations and community radio federations.
A school of thought, however, posits that the community radio project is a two-way process: the exchange of views from various sources and the adaptation of media for use by communities.
Others believe that the community radio project presents a platform for communities to participate in the communication process as planners, producers and performers.
They also argue that the community radio is a means of expression of the community, rather than for the community.
Interestingly, many African countries have employed the services of the community radio to promote peace-building efforts and conflict resolution.
For instance, a study carried out on four community radio stations in Sierra Leone and Liberia revealed that the radio stations had greatly assisted in fostering peace-building and conflict resolution in the post-war era of the two countries.
The study, which had its focus on areas that were still struggling to achieve meaningful development in a post-conflict setting, was designed to assess the relationships existing between drivers of development and community radio stations.
It found that the community radios appreciably promoted development in their respective communities via partnerships with local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The study partly entailed an analysis of the radio stations’ programmes and their impact on local development processes, while an impact-assessment survey of the audience and focus groups was used to evaluate audience perceptions and uses of local radio.
The stations were also assessed to estimate their intrinsic worth as independent development agents in ongoing peace-building activities.
The report categorised community radio into two major groups. The first is the radio’s support for development programmes’ implementation, leading to improved efficacy, broader reach, accountability and community feedback.
The second group entails the regular broadcast of education and public awareness issues, which could propel positive changes in the people’s attitudes and behaviours.
The study found that community radio stations had positive and purposeful relationships with local governments and civil society organisations.
On the whole, the study found that community radio stations played a central role in disseminating information which could promote development and improve development outcomes via a lot of partnerships.
The report said that community radio stations had positively contributed to the peace-building efforts in the rural communities of Sierra Leone and Liberia in the post-war era.
It noted that the community radio stations in the two countries were active participants in efforts to curb potential violent crises.
The study noted that the community radio stations gave communication access to people, who hitherto had no access to other means of communication, adding that they also facilitated peaceful election processes in the two countries.
Such advantages, perhaps, informed the decision of some state and local governments as well as some individuals in Nigeria to key into the community radio project and acquire radio licences.
One of the state governments that adopted the community radio programme is the Bauchi State Government, which has established 10 community radio stations.
Gov. Isa Yuguda, who recently inaugurated one of the community radio stations at Kafin-Madaki, Ganjuwa Local Government Area, pledged that the remaining nine stations would be completed and inaugurated before the end of the year.
He said that the radio stations were established to improve the relationship between the government and the rural dwellers, adding that the stations would also promote effective communication with the people.
Saying that community radio broadcasting had been existing in many parts of the world, Yuguda said that the radio stations were designed to disseminate information on weather, agriculture, politics and other socio-economic issues, particularly to those living in the rural areas.
He said with the growing recognition of the efficacy of the community radio as a tool of mobilising the rural dwellers for nation-building efforts would further promote the fulfilment of the country’s democracy.
The governor urged rural dwellers to avail themselves of the opportunities provided by community radio stations to improve agricultural techniques, embrace good health habits and Western education.
Also speaking, Alhaji Mohammed Damina, the Commissioner for Information, commended Yuguda for the community radio initiative, saying that the project was one of the best government’s programmes for the rural communities.
Damina particularly urged the people of the area to promote their cultural values through the radio station, which was also designed to promote the people’s unity.
Many observers have been commending Yuguda for his foresight in embarking on the community radio project.
Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi, the National President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), lauded the governor for the community radio project which, he noted, would also promote good governance.
Abdullahi, who is also the Managing Director of Bauchi Radio Corporation (BRC), noted that the 10 community radio stations established in the state would help in bridging the communication gap existing between the government and the rural dwellers.
The NIPR president, nonetheless, advised the new radio stations to be non-partisan in their programming.
“The radio stations are not established to propagate political conflicts, ethnic rivalry and religious bigotry.
“The stations must strive to be non-partisan. All the segments of the community, irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliations, as well as their social, political and other leanings, should have unrestricted access to them.
“The linguistic plurality of the state should be respected and accommodated in the programme content of the radios, which should be used to enhance cultural values.
“However, since these community radio stations are to serve the various communities where the stations are located; there is a compelling need to promote their sustainability.
“The communities, governments, the NGOs, cooperative societies and individuals must be genuine stakeholders in the project,” Abdullahi said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Alhaji Sanusi Mohammed, a social commentator, proposed that the communities in which the radio stations were located should be encouraged to fund the stations’ operations and activities through voluntary contributions.
Mohammed said that the community radio project would enable communities to tell their stories in their own ways and share experiences, while they should become active creators and contributors.
Observers, nonetheless, stress the need for the government and the communities in which the radio stations are located to make effective use of the stations as a platform for educating the people on issues relating to health, sanitation, environment, education and security, among others.
After all, knowledge is the key to human survival and advancement as well as the panacea to virtually all the people’s problems, they add.
Adamu is a staff of NAN