The peace and security Northern Nigeria is known for and experienced for ages have eluded the region in recent times. Since the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, thousands of lives have been lost and millions of people have been displaced. Hot on the heels of the almost-decimated insurgency is banditry, which has plagued the North-Western region, overwhelming states such as Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi, and the rest. The North-central is unfortunately not left behind, as these terrorists have infiltrated the region, wreaking havoc in states such as Niger and Benue. It is an all-around ugly situation; billions of Naira have been lost in paying ransom to kidnappers that abduct innocent citizens, furthering the grasp of poverty in the region. Crucial infrastructure such as major highways, trains, and military bases have been targeted and attacked by insurgents. The spread of insecurity in the entire Northern region, coupled with the lackadaisical attitude of the government to decisively deal with the insurgents induces more panic.
The media has always played a vital role in the lives of people. It is a powerful tool for the communication and dissemination of information. It guides, shapes, and controls the perspectives and worldviews of people. The people of Northern Nigeria – Arewa – are consumers of news. That is why a typical Northerner is enlightened on local, national, and international news with a radio, which transmits all that is happening in the world to his small radio set in the comfort of his room. International broadcasting houses, such as BBC, DW, France, etc are broadcasting in Hausa, the most widely spoken language in Northern Nigeria, due to the huge population that is tuned in. Even with the advent of the internet and by extension, social media, traditional media – TV, radio, and newspapers – is still consumed by both the rural and urban populations.
Once upon a time, Arewa had a solid media presence and invested in the sector’s development. We had the New Nigerian Newspapers (NNN) in Kaduna, Gaskiya Corporation in Zaria, Radio Nigeria, and a host of other news outlets in different states. We produced some of the finest media personalities in Nigeria and had a voice that reverberated throughout the country. Unfortunately, Arewa has not managed its media development very well. Nearly all the media houses have collapsed and the few existing ones from the First Republic are in a comatose situation. We now rely on foreign and private media houses for information.
This has caused Arewa a lot, for we are always countering fake and forced narratives about our people, culture, religion, and history. It has also affected and downplayed the actual, real-time data and information on the insecurity ravaging the region. There have been several incidents of inaccurate reportage and under reportage of some events being carried out in the North. The media has succeeded in vilifying and stereotyping the north and some ethnic groups from northern Nigeria, such as Fulani and Kanuri, as terrorists. This was through consistently ethinicizing crime and criminals found in every corner of the country.
With the astronomical rise of social media and the internet, came also the geometrical increase in hate speech, fake news, and misinformation, which has aided the spread of hatred of one another and fear into the hearts of citizens. However, social media isn’t entirely bad; it has been a tool for informing, educating, and enlightening Nigerians on the insecurity at hand. It has also been used to alert and inform security agencies of incidents at a much faster rate than physical complaints. Also, the internet has helped provide sophisticated tools for tracking and communicating with criminals, which sometimes lead to the capture of these terrorists.
The media has a huge role to play in defeating the raging insecurity in the country. Firstly, it is the duty of media agencies to embark on consistent campaigns on countering violent extremism, deradicalization, anti-crime, anti-drug abuse, and other anti-social vices campaigns that would be translated and broadcasted via all networks and channels to inform and educate young people on the dangers of joining or aiding criminal groups and perpetuating criminal activities. The media has to be patriotic and show the world the enemy of the state as they truly are.
The media also plays an important role during times of insecurity in such a way that through in-depth reporting, the activities and actions of criminals are known, documented, and recorded. The security agencies can work hand in hand with media houses to warn the public of these criminals and their activities.
Arewa has to wake up and invest in her media. Even with the teeming of freelance journalists and social media reportage, it is not enough to mop up the damage that had been painted about Northern Nigeria. To an average foreigner, the first thing that comes to their mind when Kaduna or Borno is mentioned is Boko Haram or bandits. We have a lot of work to do. We need the Arewa elite to invest and bring investors into the media sector; to train young journalists in factual reportage, investigative journalism, and mass communication. Arewa needs media to counter extremism and to tell its stories. The issue of insecurity will come to pass but perception and image can last an eternity.
It is high time the people of Northern Nigeria understand that the media plays a vital role in the fight against insecurity. In a region with the highest number of out-of-school children, the various media houses can be used to educate, enlighten and empower people that heavily consume the news. It is also a tool for combatting extremism, a means of radicalization, and of promoting peace and unity. The importance of investing in our media cannot be overemphasized. The best time for us to grow, invest and promote our own media houses was decades ago. The second best time is now.