By OLUSEGUN ADENIYI
Hardly had I introduced myself when the man seated by my side, a Lebanese, remarked: “It’s like Christians and Muslims are still killing one another in your country…” I could not contain myself as I reacted sharply, “from where did you get that?” He said he had just finished watching on CNN the story of the bomb blast in Nigeria by “the Islamic terrorist group killing Christians…”. Unsure of where to begin to lecture a person with such ignorance about my country, I mumbled a few words before finding a convenient excuse to change my seat in the bus. Incidentally, I had kept a night vigil as I followed on the internet and CNN the Kaduna bomb explosion that terminated the lives of several innocent people. But I could not allow a foreigner to compound the tragedy for me.
As I took my seat beside a Ghanaian, he said: “I am sorry for what happened yesterday in Nigeria. I don’t know what those Boko Haram people want but what I saw on CNN last night was an act of cowardice.” This was a reassuring assessment of the situation back home and I thanked my Ghanaian brother for his sympathy. The Boko Haram menace has indeed reached such a critical situation in which all men of goodwill, especially those who can intervene positively, should stand up and be counted in the bid to find a lasting solution to the problem.
I arrived here in Beijing, China, last Sunday as one of the 36 participants (drawn from Africa, Middle East, South East Asia and Eastern Europe), attending a three-week “Seminar on Press and Publications in Developing Countries” organised by the Chinese government. It is a programme designed for the Chinese authorities in charge of media and publications to share their experiences not only for us to know more about China but also as a way to project their growing power in the global arena.
When I was sounded out about the programme by the Chinese embassy in Abuja, I did not even hesitate before accepting because I had always wanted to find out how the media works under a regulated system. I was also curious to know whether there is a nexus between media operations in China and the country’s development model. On our visit to Xinhua, the leading publication in the country on Monday, the strategically placed inscription somehow resolved that riddle for me: “In October 1955, Chairman Mao Zedong instructed Xinhua to ‘span the globe and let the whole world hear our voice’”, it proclaimed, with the media house focusing its reportage “on the recording and adjustment of the national economy and reflected changes and achievements in various areas” while encouraging “the Chinese people to strive for the country’s prosperity in time of difficulty by giving publicity to a large number of progressive individuals…”
While this is my fourth time in China (including when I escorted my late principal on State Visit), this is the first time I would have the opportunity for serious interactions with their officials and this programme is particularly instructive in that we have been able to ask tough questions, including ones for which there are no coherent answers but for which we can make our own deductions. But the officials have also been frank enough to tell us where China is coming from and how things have evolved within a short period. Some of the issues under discourse in the programme include: Chinese news release system; development of China’s media and its exchange with foreign media; China’s economic reforms and opening-up; Development and governance of the Internet in China; Human rights in China; and the role of media in promoting China’s socio-economic development.
The interactions in the last couple of days have been interesting as we get to know more about media development in China. According to the statistics made available to us, China consumes 20 percent of the world total media coverage with 1,939 newspapers (816 of which are daily newspapers) and 9,884 magazines. China also has a television audience of 900 million with 257 radio and 277 TV stations. The mobile users hit the one billion mark in February while internet connectivity is 513 million people. Notwithstanding this Internet penetration, China is still very suspicious of new media which one of the officials say, “could be a force for good or evil”.
The role of the press in China (apparently as defined by the ruling Communist Peoples Party) include education and mobilization; information and entertainment; helping people to think critically; limiting corruption and exposing corporate scandal. The main concern, however, remains the “biased reporting by the Western press and the ignorance of Americans towards China”. An official who just returned to Beijing after a four-year stint in Washington, told us yesterday in the course of a lecture on China’s news dissemination methods that there is a misrepresentation of China viewed from what she called three Ts (Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan).
One thing that is fascinating about China is that the country sees itself differently from the way others see her and that should teach us something. For instance, Nigeria is by all accounts a poor nation (always has been, though with enormous potentials) yet we have for decades deceived ourselves into believing we are rich on account of mismanaged oil rent.
China sees itself as both big and small, old and new and rich and poor–all in equal measure. It has a population of 1.3 billion people and an urban population of 600 million and ranks third in territory after Russia and Canada. Even with its 189 billionaires as at last year, the Chinese authorities always remind us that while their country may be the second in economic size after United States (because of its Gross Domestic Product of $5.87 trillion), the Per Capita GDP of $4371 also ranks her as 95thin the world.
China is one of the oldest civilisations with a written history of 4,000 years, it has strong cultural tradition and many historical sites like Great Wall and Forbidden City where we visited on Monday. Originally called Palace Museum, the Forbidden City is located right in the middle of Beijing and the six expansive halls, their outer courts as well as inner palaces testify to a great past. Constructed over a period of 14 years from 1406 to 1420, it was the abode from which 24 emperors of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties ruled China for some 500 years and was constructed by a million workmen and 10,000 artisans. It took us almost two hours to complete the tour after which one of the participants, a lady from Zambia, whispered to me: “From this, it is obvious the ancient Chinese was a prosperous society, then they became so poor they were far more wretched than us in Africa, and now they are prosperous again. How did China do it?”
Now as I ruminate over that question, a mail just came in from THISDAY Deputy Managing Director, Mr Kayode Komolafe, with whom I have serious ideological differences. It reads: “Segun, special greetings to my comrades in the Chinese Communist Party. I hope you will pay attention to how the affairs of over a billion people can be managed without irresponsibly leaving matters in the hands of some phantom market forces.”
…To continue next week
A Meritorious Service
The tenure of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) Chairperson, Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, ended last week. And because of the diligent manner in which she discharged her responsibility, there have been suggestions in the media that she ought to enjoy what would have amounted to a third term. I wonder why that should be when even former President Olusegun Obasanjo, according to some moonlight tales, “never sought” such extra-constitutional mandate! But I am aware there has been some confusion as to when the tenure of the former FIRS Chairperson actually began and when it should end.
The fact of the matter is that she was first appointed on May 3, 2004 by President Obasanjo for a three-year term period at a time there was no limitation of tenure. In the intervening period, FIRS Establishment Act 2007 (which introduced a renewable term of four years each) was signed into law on April 16, 2007. Upon assuming office a month later, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua reaffirmed Omoigui-Okauru’s appointment by sending her name to Senate for confirmation. For some curious (but not altruistic) reasons, It took ten months and Yar’Adua’s persistence for the appointment to be confirmed on April 10, 2008.
Now, there is a school of thought which argues that since the FIRS Act 2007 provides for two terms of four years each, Omoigui-Okauru had only done one term under the Act and as such eligible for another term. But what some people fail to understand is that the transition provisions of the Act have already transferred her services to the new FIRS as Executive Chairman. While the second term should ordinarily start at the expiration of the first three years, which then implies that it should end on May 2, 2011, what has prevailed in this instance is her letter of appointment which specifically states that her second and final term ends on April 9, 2012 based on the date she was confirmed by the Senate.
But as I stated a few weeks back, Omoigui-Okauru is one of the critical change agents in our country. Under her stewardship, the nation’s tax revenue grew exponentially, especially in the non-oil sector. For instance, when she took over in 2004, non oil taxes fetched N316.2 billion, but a year later in 2005, it had increased to N389.2 billion. By 2006, it had jumped to N513.7 Billion; in 2007, it was N716.3 billion and in 2008, N911.3 billion. By 2009, she was raking in N1.147 trillion; a year later, it was N1.359 trillion and by 2011, it was N1.558 trillion. What the figures reveal is that she was growing the non oil tax revenue by an average of N200 billion every year. As she therefore bows out of FIRS, Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru has handed down a legacy of hard work, professionalism, integrity and purpose that is not only commendable but indeed worthy of emulation.
Member Feese, the young lady who last year survived the United Nations building bombing in Abuja, arrived Nigeria at the weekend for a thanksgiving service tomorrow where her friends are also launching an advocacy group. Aside being a symbol of defiance to the negative forces intent on holding our nation back from peace and prosperity, Member has also become a source of inspiration for people around her. When she was recently reported to have fallen down, her worried mother, Nguyan, sought to know what happened to which Member replied: “I fell down and I got up. When people fall, they get up, don’t they?” â€¨Despite all that the young lady has gone through in the last couple of months, it is such courage and philosophical calmness that are driving her friends to initiate ‘Team Member’ whose objective and strategy are captured below: “Team Member was born hours after the news of the bomb explosion at the UN building on the 26th of August, 2011. Initially the group provided information and mobilised the needed support for care and treatment in order to save Member’s life. The group has transformed into an advocacy group. Main objective: To hold public and private providers accountable for effective and efficient service delivery in Nigeria. Strategy: To use the power of numbers to provide voice and accountability on a single issue at a time using social networking and other media. Issue: The restoration of the National Hospital to its original purpose. Join us and spread the word. Sign up for change.”