Almost everything you see on the pages of the average Nigerian newspaper is paid for.
That front page photograph has been paid for, and it is not prominently placed because of its news value. That item disguised as a news story is actually a modified press release. What is worse, the journalists who write them are such nitwits that they are even unable to disguise this fact! Journalism is a poorly paid profession, especially in an African country. It is as ‘unfortunate’ as that of a teacher, a profession many arrive at by ‘mistake’: “I’m here only for a while”, they all seem to say. As such there is no true love for the profession, that is useful only as far as being a source of livelihood. Some media employers contribute to this “brown-envelope” syndrome (a term used in Nigeria because bribe money is delivered inside brown envelopes, whose color masks the content), by refusing to pay their workers well.
There are many wealthy media houses, with wealthy owners, but whose wealth is not reflected in good conditions of service for the journalists working under them. Many even treat their workers like slaves, withholding their salaries unjustly, thus forcing them to rely on pay-outs for survival, even at the risk of “selling” their newspaper spaces.
I have a friend in one of Nigeria’s biggest daily newspapers and his experiences tally perfectly with what I’ve described in the paragraph above. In the days of the shameful 2007 Nigerian elections, a major Nigerian newspaper, THISDAY was publishing what seemed to be the result of nationwide polls on the likely outcome of the presidential elections. The conclusion it came to everyday (I wondered why they repeated the same ‘results’ on the front page everyday) was the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the candidate of the ruling party was far ahead, and set to be a sure winner.
It insisted and insisted, to the point that some of us began to wonder if there wasn’t a sinister motive behind these ‘polls’. There were more than 20 presidential candidates. With one being touted a sure winner by a major newspaper, basing itself on unproven ‘polls’ must have caused some jitters among the opposition. When the results of the ‘selection’ process was announced, Yar’Adua won. Now, take a second to read this breaking story on saharareports, titled: “Nigerian newspaper Publisher In N3 Billion Scandal”
The story begins thus: “A top Nigerian publisher is currently enmeshed in a scandal involving about N3 Billion he is said to have collected from the Nigeria’s Government to help tilt news reports in the local media in favor of Musa Yar’Adua who was declared winner of the April 21 Presidential Elections.” An addendum to the story concludes in this way: “Saharareporters can reveal that the publisher referred to in this article is Mr. Nduka Obiagbena, the publisher of Thisday newspaper titles in Lagos. The same allegation dogs Daily Independent newspaper owned and published by Delta State governor and Umar Yar’adua financier, James Onafefe Ibori. Some of the publishers are known to have directly gone to graphic designers to change newspaper headlines after their editorial teams have closed for the day.” Why am I not surprised?