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Christian Aburime is the Chief Press Secretary to the governor of Anambra State, Prof Chukwuma Soludo. In this interview with our correspondent, Pamela Eboh, the Edo state born media Public Relations practitioner expressed his passion for Soludo, saying that it was the passion that drove him to become his media apostle. He spoke about the new media also known as the social media, press freedom and the challenges of his new job. Excerpts:
Can you tell us what you were doing before you were appointed the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Chukwuma Soludo?
Before my appointment, I was into journalism, PRO and also a media practitioner, all rolled into one. I had worked with some media houses before as a journalist before I came into public relation practice. I ran my own media organisation as a media company, where we write stories about companies and syndicate it in newspapers. From there I gathered a lot of clients that I worked for, both regular clients and people who were into politics. I have been doing that for sometime now before coming to Anambra State. I have been deeply involved in writing, more as a media consultant to support these category of people I have mentioned, before I formally assumed office as the Press Secretary to the governor of Anambra State.
Did you expect the appointment or did it come as a surprise and what is your attraction towards Soludo, being a non indigene of Anambra State?
Well, I will not say I expected the appointment or not, what I know is that the appointment eventually came. I joined Soludo media team because of the passion I have for the man Soludo himself and not for anything else. That was the motivating factor, because I know that he is the man this country needs, not just Anambra State. I knew that if we are able to work with this man and he becomes the governor, he can move to the national level and perhaps, one day become the president of this country. I know that as a governor, he will use Anambra as a model for other people to see what governance is all about. So, I have that believe in him and this is were some of the factors that was driving me to start working and writing for him before I eventually came into his media team properly. He is a man I believe in, a man that I know has integrity, the pedigree, the education. In fact, he has everything. He is just one man that is blessed. You need his kind of man to help the society. He is already blessed, so it’s just like him coming to say, what can I do to contribute in building a better Anambra State and make life better for the people and society at large. I’m happy that I’m with him and I know that we will continue this journey and things will get better.
Apart from your passion for Soludo, have you had anything to do with him before joining his media team?
When he was the governor of CBN, me and my late boss, Joe Anatune used to work for him on the media angle, that was where we started from. Even in 2004 when he was given the title of Odenigbo by his community, I was there in Isuofia with late Joe Anatune to witness the occasion. You know, we handled some of the aspect of the programme. To that extent, I have known him, it was even from there that I started noticing some of the qualities I am talking about. Not only me, some Nigerians noticed those qualities when he was the CBN governor. The things he did as CBN governor, the revolution he brought in the banking sector and other things that he did. Because of his revolution, today no bank has gone down again, you don’t hear of people losing their money anymore in the bank. The bank has become a very savvy institution and things are working there well because of his vision and what he was able to accomplish in that sector. So, you can see that if given the opportunity, his kind of person if given a higher responsibility he will be able to do better.
The social media appears to be taking over from the mainstream media so much so that most journalists have turned bloggers even while writing for a newspaper outfit. Do you think this trend will end
We are almost getting to that level, where some people will say, no, I won’t buy newspaper, I will read everything online. But the fact still remains that the mainstream media can not totally be disposed of. It will still be the mainstream media because it’s not everything you see online is authentic. Anybody can come online and write anything he or she likes and people could be easily deceived. The mainstream media because they have the capacity to first crosscheck information will give better version of information than the social media. You, know, as a journalist, you can’t just wake up and write anything because there are so many layers of gate keeping. What you see in the mainstream media to some extent is more authentic, that is what makes it a more reliable source of information than the blogs and online media.
As a matter of fact, this social media aspect of journalism have caused so much trouble in this country. You see most of the things they write are usually very libelous, malicious and all that, you just get and write something on anybody that is not true, fake stories and all that. That is the difference, the dividing line. Whatever you read in the blogs may not be totally true until you see it also published in the mainstream media, then you begin to attach some level of authenticity to it. So, there’s still a world of difference. The blogs are still froth with a lot of fake news and their style of practicing journalism is a far cry from the ethics of journalism as compared to the mainstream media where you have to follow the ethics of the profession and ensure your report is balanced.
Often times, you don’t get this balance in blogs and online reports and it becomes misleading, causing a lot of confusion within the society. That is not to say that there are no practitioners in the blog and online system that do not follow the rules of the practice. There are quite a number of them who for that and those ones, because they practice core journalism, they build name for themselves and people believe in them. You know some of them and you can single them out as veritable sources. I don’t think that blog will take over the mainstream media, though it has tried as much as it can to push the mainstream media almost to the wall.
What do you think should be done by the mainstream media to forestall any relegation to the back by this blogging and social media trend?
I think the mainstream media should create more innovations that will attract readership back to people who want to read mainstream news, instead of just coming to place advertorials. At the moment, people still prefer to place advert in the mainstream media rather than the blogs, because they will worry about how many people that will have data to open the link. It costs a lot of money to do that, but once you buy a newspaper, everybody will see it. These are some of the things that brings clarity to the importance of mainstream media.
Bloggers appear to be making good money from this business. Do you think there is something the mainstream media is not getting right?
Like I said earlier, the mainstream media need to be more innovative in journalism practice. You know, things keep changing and society follows suit. You now have competition from these bloggers, of course they are making money but again, money can be made in a lot of ways. You can make money from blackmailing people which is what some of these bloggers do, but will you say that is good money? No, it is not, you can also make money through genuine efforts by doing what is right and proper, that is good money. So, you have to look the both ways, it’s a matter of priority. A lot of the bloggers thrive in blackmail, malicious writing and that is why there are a lot of litigations against them. This does not happen in mainstream media. All the mainstream media need to do is to be very innovative and creative to remain in business,
Do you think that the media is fairly treated in Nigeria?
Yes, I think the media is fairly treated but there is still room for improvement. You can write anything you want to without anybody breathing down your neck but then, if you write anything that is against the national interest of the country, you will enter into trouble. So, that is where the issue of ethics of journalism comes in. Even the big stations abroad like CNN and co, they never write anything that is not in the interest of America. Nigeria journalists should not write things that are against the interest of the country, rather we should learn to promote this country. Like most times when I listen to radio, you will hear people saying negative things about the country. We must learn how to promote the positive things about this country and if we keep doing that, it will help the country. The question of media freedom won’t even arise. For me, there is freedom of expression for the media in Nigeria, unless when you go beyond the limit of freedom and begin to encroach on other people’s freedom too. Where your freedom ends are where another person’s own begins. So, we have to respect our individual rights and freedom.
What of a situation where negative things surpass the good things that a journalist is left to write about? Don’t you think that puts a journalist in a tight corner?
What negative things? Killing is everywhere. Do you derive pleasure in writing hundred killed here, seventy killed there and so on. You keep reporting about killing and when something good happens, you will ignore it because you feel people will not read it. By the time you begin to talk about the positive things, people will be inclined to understand that it is all bad after all. I am not saying that journalists should not write about negative things that people can read and make amends, but let there be more reports on the positive things in this country.
Don’t you think the editors have a greater role in this case because they have the last call?
Let me give you an instance. I read a story in one popular newspaper in the north and the front page headline was that northerners are being killed in Anambra State. This is not true, yet it was on front page. I asked myself, why would an editor write such a story or even allow it to be on the front page. That story which of course is false in all its entirety has implications because of the political and religious inclination in this country. So, you are endangering the lives of other people. What of if the people over there now begin to take up arms and fight our brothers over there. You are putting the country in a very bad situation with this kind of write up. That is where editors have a role to play. As a matter of fact, editors have a huge role to play by ensuring that the stories that come out are more of positive stories to project the unity of this country rather than those things that will divide us. You should think of the country before you begin to think of any other thing. If we do not have a country, everything will be in disarray, even you that is sitting with me here talking, you won’t be here. Look at those countries that are fighting because of issue of ethnicity, religion and all that, so we must learn to avoid stories that will divide us and promote stories that promote unity. This should be the core duty of every editor.
So far, how are finding your job as a government spokesman. Is it challenging?
Let me tell you, every job is challenging, depending on how you take the job. There are many things the government is confronting, the issue of insecurity, which is very challenging. You have to continuously be on your toe to ensure that the right information is being disseminated to the people through your channels. You also have to try as much as possible to guide what people are writing especially journalists. So ,from my own part as government, we want to tell the story as it is, that it is not what people are thinking, that is actually the truth. Some newspapers will embellish a situation and in so doing cause panic within the system and in the process drive away investors from coming to the state. It is challenging, so we keep on trying to educate and enlighten the people and also talk from the side of the government. This is what I virtually do everyday because most times I wake up as early as 6am in the morning to answer calls from journalists wanting get clarity on one thing or another. Today I woke up to a call from one journalist who was asking for authentic report regarding caretaker committee of markets that have been named. Things like that. Its challenging and also interesting because you are trying to build a society where there are peace and people are happy.
People are of the opinion that your principal, Governor Chukwuma Soludo is overwhelmed by his new position, having probably realised that governance of a state, especially one like Anambra is a far cry from holding the ace as CBN governor. To this end, he appears to be slow at work. How do you react to that?
The governor is barely few months and some weeks in government and people are already expecting what? It’s just like giving birth to a child and you are expecting the child to start walking immediately, it’s not done. There are processes. You need to sit down and study the situation generally. He has done so much between the period of less than three months. He promised to go to Okpoko and Onitsha area, he has cleaned up the area. Go to Onitsha now, everywhere is looking good.
Not all areas of Onitsha that are looking good.
Yes but they are working on it and they are going to sustain it. He has directed that more teachers should be employed, because he wants the children to have more teachers. He has also given the go ahead for more nurses and doctors to be employed and in the area of security, he is working round the clock to ensure that security, orderliness and peace returns to Anambra state. For this, he has gone to Lagos, Abuja trying to reach out to Anambra people to support him in this security issue. He is also reaching out to investors to come to the state and they are coming one by one. So, he is just starting. The government is yet to fully settle. And don’t forget, he is the first governor to have constituted a cabinet within a period of three weeks. That has never been done in this country. So you can see that his government is a pragmatic government. The government that is ready to deliver the dividends of democracy for the state and as we go along, you will see more things that his government is up with.
Your principal is perceived not to be a friend to the media. Whats your take on that?
Mmm…(smiles) I have heard that question many times. If he is not a friend to the media, why am I here?. He understands the core function of the media and he regards the media to the highest esteem.
From a distance i suppose?
No, not from a distance. Soludo believes in the media and I have been reaching out to the media on his behalf through messages he has been passing through me. He is always ready to receive the media. I was part of the team that went to represent him with the commissioner of information when the Nigerian Union of Journalist held a function in Awka recently.
It was expected that he would have showed up to event, being the first invitation after his inauguration?
He was indisposed at that time because of the exigencies of his office. He had to attend to other state functions and I stated it at the occasion. He would have loved to be there, but he couldn’t because of other pressing demands. I actually went to him and told him about the function and he authorised me to attend the function with the Commissioner of Information to represent him, two people. Sending two people from his government to go and represent him at an occasion shows how much he holds the media, so it will not be fair to say he is not a friend to the media. He is a very good friend to the media. He likes the media and will continue to work with them because he needs the support and cooperation of the media for him to succeed as a governor.
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