Catching up with the news as it breaks over today’s multiplying news media has become an arduous task for many, whose daily tasks include the gauging of and the analysis of everyday events as they relate to our lived experiences. There is a sense in which the news lends itself out as a “commodity of exchange”. In fact, the British historian, Andrew Pettegree describes the news in his book, ‘The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself’, as “an important commodity” which fits into the competing news economy, shaped largely and driven by news reporters who put out news, sometimes in a sensational fashion. There is also a sense in which the news serves as a factual narrative of the present, for which an analysis of the past and the future can be made. The historical essence of news isn’t the raison d’être of this piece, I shall however find time in the future to interrogate its historical essence.
We, the news consumers, are at the mercy of these news reporters. Here, the essential narratives news reporters employ are those that allow them to report the news according to their tastes, biases and in sensational ways to draw the attention of news consumers. Here, too, and in almost all cases, the worthiness of news is determined by the reporter and not by the essential value of the news or by the lessons to be drawn from news reports. The values of news reporters are invariably the values of news consumers in today’s news economy. In effect, the news we consume is a product of the sieving reporters apply to news gathering. The point I make here is simply that in today’s news economy, where competition between news reporting media is fierce, the propensity for sensationalism and value-reporting is as profound as the slant news reporters place on their news reports. As I earlier pointed out, it is what news reporters consider newsworthy or what gives them greater visibility in the marketplace of news that they put out as ‘news exclusives’ or “as the news of the world”- that incredulous and bizarre news which draws attention not only to the maker and the news itself, but also to the news media. Take this news report for instance: “Man lives in tree for nine months – and won’t come down until wife says sorry for cheating on him.” If you think that is bizarre, consider this one: “Articulated lorry crashes into a biker… surprisingly, the lorry driver died.” The image of a forty tonne articulated lorry careering out of control before crashing into a fragile metal work, joined in parts like a skeleton, flashes across the mind’s eye and the incredulity of the poor biker surviving it all recedes into memory. The adverb, surprisingly, affects the news reader with wonder and astonishment. Then, the questions: goodness gracious, how did that happen? How is it possible that the biker survived or a love-scorned man shimmied up a tree as a protest over marital infidelity?
We live in a world of endless possibilities; a world where the unexpected leaves us in a state of wonderment. Yet, while many sensational news have the power to astonish, they also expose the stupidity of news makers, like this one: the news that ex-Governor Fashola spent N78m on his personal website. The news, incredulous as it is chilling in its awfulness, if not a stupid waste of scarce resources, affirms what we know of government in our part of the world: everybody’s property and nobody’s property the promethean among us can appropriate without batting an eyelid over the comeuppance that karma reserves for any wrongdoing or the punishment the law prescribes for infractions. John Rawls argues that public goods, those goods or services commonly shared by citizens, valuable to the health of the state, should be financed by the state. Rawls is right. I struggle hard to accept personal website as a component of public goods and even harder to accept that someone approved such humongous sum on a website. Is there justice in privileging an individual who was handsomely remunerated and who is now pensioned as a former governor? Is Lagos State fair to poor citizens consigned to the back and beyond of communities forgotten by the modern Nigerian state? Will Fashola accept to be duped by a plumber who charges him his pension worth just to fix his broken kitchen sink?
Talking about communities forgotten by the modern Nigerian state, I exaggerated the ‘modern’ of the Nigerian state in the foregoing. A modern state is rational, only to the extent that those who govern it are rational, or display a high degree of understanding of how the state commands obedience to itself. The modern Nigerian state is an illusion, the kind that wanders among many illusions that makes one want to think that it truly exists in fact and in reality. Think: the Nigerian state is the mirage of our suntanned road. Imagine how it entices and dashes the hope and dreams of its citizens. In truth the Nigerian state is a shorthand for a state that flatters to deceive, the irrational, the flight into mysticism, and all that is wrong with a state that negates freedom, equality, justice, security, organization and innovation. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) proclaims that “the social order is founded on the ideals of freedom, equality and justice”; but in the face of threats posed by Boko Haram this is how the Government of Adamawa State says it intends to defend those ideals: “We have earmarked N200m for prayers to seek Allah’s intervention in tackling the Boko Haram menace and other challenges threatening the stability of the state.” This is certainly the wackiest and most bizarre news around the nation – need I say more?
That life mirrors the good, bad and the ugly of the everyday is self-evident. When happy things happen on us, we magnify and make them visible as the goodness of life. The news around the nation isn’t bad after all. Dear reader, I have good news for you. This is it: “The Presidency orders the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Otuoke, Professor Bolaji Aluko, to refund overpayment of salaries running into millions of naira.” President Buhari is working!