In a country with high poverty, poor education and the threat of terrorism, journalism is integral to moves towards peace, security and the proliferation of democracy. An interview with Martin Dama demonstrates the importance of the press in Nigeria.
Martin Dama works as a principal trainer for the Voice of America in Kano, a multimedia broadcaster funded by the U.S. Government, which was originally established in 1942 as a radio news service for people living in closed and war-torn societies. Dama approached The Journalism Foundation for support of his project; a joint programme organised by the Keimo Centre, a broadcast training organisation, and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, which aims to provide journalists with new skills that will allow them to promote peace and democracy. The two-day workshops aim to equip the journalists with the adequate professional tools needed to report in Nigeria, including improved interviewing methods, editorial judgment, broadcast skills, NUJ ethics and journalistic code of practice, and social media sourcing.
He spoke about the diverse problems and challenges in Nigeria, including the high poverty rate in the North, a degrading infrastructure and a rising unemployment. Specifically, he expressed the dangers presented by terrorist group, Boko Haram, a problem magnified by the government’s inability to contain and control the threat.
Dama says “journalism can be a vehicle to promote democratic culture for the common good of all.” He emphasises the role of trained journalists in creating awareness of the virtues of a democratic environment. He adds: “Successfully training journalists will go a long way in firmly allowing democracy to prevail, and is key for the survival of democratic institutions in Nigeria.”
Democracy thrives on the flow of information and is a hallmark of open government; people need to be informed about the society in which they live in order to express their political choices and participation. Not only does the press allow for the dissemination of information, but it also enables the wider public to have greater access to ideas, be it through print, broadcast or the Internet, without the control of a public authority. Furthermore, a free press is synonymous with a transparent and accountable government. As Africa’s most populated country, with over 110 million people and 250 different ethnic groups, Nigeria is fraught with political instability and violence. Moreover, the country re-achieved democracy in 1999 after the end of almost 33 years of military rule and consequently, the media plays a fundamental role as a public voice. Thus, Dama highlights the importance of training young and ambitious journalists, equipping them with the essential skills, which would enable them to expose governmental corruption and wrongdoing, and enable further political participation.
However Dama argues that in Nigeria, the press is faced by a multitude of challenges; the inadequate training of journalists; their poor educational qualifications and their lack of understanding of the role in which they play in society. He also directly links the role of journalism with combatting the threat of terrorism. He says that a free and vibrant press will educate the people about the Boko Haram propaganda, which he argues is trying to install a Sharia Law theocracy. He propounds that “a free press is essential in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, in combatting terror and creating awareness by providing information about options available other than violence.”
Dama says that the proliferation of trained journalists is essential in raising awareness among the indigenous population. In educating the people about issues central to democratic progress in Nigeria, including acting as the government’s watchdog, he argues, the press acts as a forum for informed discussions about the social and political implications of terrorism and the advantages of their democratic freedoms.
Martin Dama is the Principal Trainer for the Voice of America in Kano, Nigeria. He has also trained journalists with BBC World Service Trust, Radio Deutche Welle and Radio Netherlands Training Centre Hilversum. He is currently working on the Nigeria Project, which aims to train up approximately 300 young journalists. For more information visit www.keimobroadcasttraining.com