THE BABANGIDA REGIME AND THE MASS MEDIA: PROBLEMS OF RESEARCH
Ogu Sunny Enemaku
Introduction and Basic Definitions
A number of “studies” have been carried out on the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida and its relationship with the mass media. While some of the “studies” are outrightly unscientific, some that are apparently scientific are riddled with various problems that make their findings either suspect or outrightly unreliable.
In this paper, an attempt is to examine some of the problems that a researcher who sets out to study the General Ibrahim Babangida regime and its relationship with the mass media could face, and how such problems can be tackled to ensure a reasonable degree of objectivity and reliability.
While some of the research-related problems identified in this paper are universal, in the sense that they can occur in any social scientific research, some are IBB specific in the sense that they are catalysed or exercabated by the very nature and character of the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida or by attitudes of people to the regime. But the baseline is that these problems are likely to occur in attempts to study the regime.
Basically, research in this paper means “to search again; to take another, more careful look; to find out more” ‘ and in this context it refers to studies carried out by scholars, journalists and other researchers. Research works of students in institutions of higher learning are also included in this definition.
The regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (herein after referred to as the IBB regime) came into power on August 27, 1985, after a military coup that ousted the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari and Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon. General Babangida had served in the ousted regime as the Chief of Army staff. The relationship between the Babangida administration and the mass media can be said to have come into existence as soon as the government came into power. In justifying the coup that toppled the previous regime, General Babangida had explained among other things that: As we do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves, the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984 is hereby repealed. And finally, those who have been in detention under this decree are hereby unconditionally released. The responsibility of the media to disseminate information ‘shall be exercised without undue hindrance. In that process, those responsible are expected to be forthright and to have the nation’s interest as their primary consideration.
On August 28, 1985, barely twenty four hours after the regime came into power, it released two journalists, namely Mr. Folu Olamiti of The Tribune, and Alhaji Bukar Zarma of the New Nigerian who had been detained under the decree. The new regime also conducted media-men round detention camps where the defunct Nigerian Security Organisation (N.S.O.) had detained and tortured many Nigerians. The purpose of the guided tour of the detention camps was to show the level of human rights violation that had characterised the previous regime. Again, the mass media extensively reported, analysed and criticised the “bestiality” of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, thereby helping to legitimise the coup. The relationship between the Babangida regime and the mass media can therefore be said to have started on a very cordial note as both parties co-operated very well in those early days of the new regime.
However, as time went on, the relationship changed, and many phases of it can be deciphered. Even within the various phases of the relationship, divergent colourations can be identified. While some sections of the mass media continued to enjoy government patronage, some became victims of what has been described by some writers as “carrot and stick diplomacy”.
While some sections of the media praised the regime for its “human face” others vilified it for its “settlement syndrome”-a euphemism for bribery, undue influence and Machiavellian manipulation. The regime was at some point given kudos for repealing “obnoxious” and “unfriendly” laws which had gagged the press; while at some point it was given knocks for re-enacting those same obnoxious laws and bringing them back into effect through the back door. The regime was at a point accused of being behind the killing of a prominent journalist, the late Mr. Dele Giwa, via a parcel bomb. It was consequently accused of being anti-press, but at another time it was praised for deregulating the broadcast industry by enacting decree No. 38 of 1992 which set the stage for allowing private ownership of the broadcast media.
The relationship between the Babangida regime and the Nigerian press can therefore be described as a kaleidoscopic blend of opposites or, better still, a study in phenomenal diversity. A scholar who is interested in doing an objective investigation into the relationship between the Babangida regime and the Nigerian mass media may encounter some problems. A systematic examination of such problems is the main concern of this paper. The effort is not meant to simply open up wounds. Rather it is meant to assist researchers to overcome pitfalls that could jeopardize their data generation; to help them observe and recognise attitudes, behaviours or dispositions that could negate their objectivity, and to enable them avoid hasty inferencessions. In the process, it becomes necessary to open up some of such wounds so that balm could be gently applied.
For effective handling, the problems will be discussed under the following broad headings:
- Theoretical problems
- Methodological problems
- Attitudinal problems
- Definitional problems
All these problems can occur at any point in the research process-planning, data gathering, analysis, interpretation. etc, but their impact can be minimised if deliberate efforts are made to understand and control them.
In generating data for this paper, the first methodology utilised by this author was indepth interviews with purposively selected journalists, media analysts and students of mass communication as well as lecturers in selected departments of mass communication in Nigerian universities and polytechnics. Questions raised during the interviews were designed to:
- Ascertain if the respondents had at any time embarked on a systematic study of the relationship between the Babangida regime and the Nigerian mass media.
- Find out the problems a researcher could face in an attempt to conduct an investigation into the relationship that existed between the Nigerian mass media and the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.
- Obtain suggestions on how such problems can be properly handled. In analysing data generated from the in-depth interviews, simple frequency counts were used alongside measures of central tendency (mean, media and mode). Tabulation as well as cross-tabulation were also utilised. To ensure a reasonable degree of thoroughness in the study a questionnaire on the subject was designed and administered on one hundred postgraduate students of mass communication in two Nigerian universities, namely the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan. Eighty nine of these were filled, returned and analysed for the study.
Finally, participant observation was extensively used in generating data for the study. This author has been a freelance writer for some Nigerian newspapers since 1985. A lot of knowledge and experience was gathered within the period. He has also conducted supervised as well as unsupervised studies on the political environment of the Nigerian mass media, including a postgraduate research project on “The Deficits of Social Responsibility in the Practice of Junk Journalism,” at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Akoka. The information and experience gathered in the course of these were part of the resources utilised in this study.
The Problems and Challenges of Analysis
- Theoretical Problems
Traditionally, there were four popular theories of the press, namely the Libertarian theory, the Soviet-Communist theory, the Authoritarian theory and the Social Responsibility theory. In reality, these four describe socio-political environments that influenced the disposition of the mass media in various settings’. Over the years, these have increased, with the introduction of new theories of the press, including development media theory, among others. However, this study reveals that most of the respondents are either oblivious of the new theories of the press or are unwilling to recognise them. Many of the respondents still talk about “the four theories of the press” (without qualification) as if the newer theories are nonexistent. This could be a fundamental flaw or an omission, and it can affect an objective study/analysis of the relationship between the Babangida regime and the mass media, particularly if all the socio-political environments of the mass media in the world are still pigeonholed into the four traditional stereotypes, with an attempt to make the socio-political context of the Nigerian press under Babangida fit into one of the pigeonholes.
Another observed theoretical problem is the apparent dearth of theoretical inputs in what Uyo (1987:37) calls the “adjuncts” of the mass media, namely advertising, public relations, etc. These “adjuncts” have been variously referred to as auxiliaries (De Fleur & Dennis, 1981:293), indirect media (Whitney, 1975:287), media service units (Hiebert, Ungurait & Bohn, 1974: 123), and paramedia agencies (Murphy, 1977:73)4. It is often difficult to analyse the print and electronic media since there are a lot of theoretical grounds yet to be covered in these areas of mass communication, there appears to be an ontological lacuna which can consume an unwary researcher who fails to recognise the limits and limitations of extant literature in mass communication. For example, a researcher analysing the Nigerian mass media and the Babangida regime must recognise that public relations, advertising, news agencies, syndicates, programme and film production companies, government information ministries, etc are also integral parts of the mass media. Such a researcher should recognise and acknowledge the paucity/dearth of theories in these fields to avoid conveying the impression that existing media theories describe or conceptualise all that happens in all fields of mass communication, including the “adjuncts”.
Even in crucial areas such as literature review, there are a number of problems discovered in some of the works sampled in the course of this investigation. According to Wimmer et al (1989) “A researcher who conducts an investigation without regard to data already available or work that has already been done in the field is said to have fallen into the syndrome of ivory tower research.” ‘ However, many researchers investigate and analyse the mass media and how they fared under Babangida regime without sufficient reference or due regard for other works already done on the subject. This, going by Wimmer et al’s position, reduces such works to mere “ivory tower research”, a euphemism for a research that is divorced (or distant) from the reality on the ground.
- Methodological Problems
Adewoye (1999) observes that many of the variables used in social science research are qualitative in nature, and that such variables, including sex, attitudes, knowledge level, religion and so on, do not naturally possess a numerical value but for the purpose of analysis are assigned a numerical value, sometimes arbitrarily. In the words of Adewoye (1999:3)
In the process of statistical analysis the values of these nominal or ordinal level variables are sometimes treated as being on a higher level of measurement scale than they actually are. For example some form of analysis require that an interval or ratio measurement scale should be used, yet the variables have been measured on an ordinal or even nominal scale. Nevertheless, the researcher then subjects the data to such statistical analysis resulting in dubious results which nonetheless look very impressive.
The above problem is evident in many of the attempts to analyse the Nigerian mass media in relation to the Babangida regime or vice versa. The source of this problem, I think, is that, most researchers believe that quantitative data is objective while they consider qualitative data to be subjective. In the attempt therefore, to appear “objective” many researchers adopt quantitative techniques, even in investigating complex opinions that are not easily amenable to quantitative values. The result is usually faulty analysis as well as a faulty conclusions.
Another methodological problem borders on competence or lack of it in the use of a selected research methodology. Available evidence indicates that in analysing the Babangida regime and its relationship with the Nigerian mass media some researchers adopt research methodologies that they cannot competently handle. While it is not wrong to experiment with different methods of data gathering and analysis, it is more appropriate for researchers to utilise methods that they can more competently handle. This will help to enhance the reliability of the data generated, the analysis done, the conclusions reached and indeed, the entire work.
One more methodological problem is the failure of some researchers to examine the Babangida regime on the basis of its various phases. As explained at the beginning of this presentation, the Babangida regime can be divided into various phases, using different criteria. For instance, using the period in the life of the regime as a criterion, the following categories of phases may be deciphered:
- Early days, middle days and last days.
- Pre-SAP days, SAP days, post-SAP days, etc.
- Pre-June 12 days and post – June 12 days.
- Pure military days and civilianised military days.
So many other phases can be deciphered, and under each phase, the relationship between the Babangida regime and the mass media was slightly different. But many researchers treat the relationship as if it was one whole, uniform and unidimensional continuum that was devoid of phases, diverse colourations, etc. This is a significant methodological flaw.
iii. Attitudinal Problems
Attitudes to objects or subjects of investigation can constitute a problem in an attempt to conduct an objective study of them.
The researcher is not oblivious of the fact that in military regimes the commander in-chief has the final say in the making of government policies. Far from it. The only contention is that the input of other officials into the making of government media relationship must be recognised, and that there should be a fair distinction between the man and the attitude of his government. Such a clear definition will enhance better understanding, greater objectivity and proper conceptualisation. However, if a researcher decides to equate the man with his media policy, this should be made manifestly clear when discussing the scope and limitations of the study or when defining terms and expressions used. This will at least, help to overcome errors of over-generalisation and similar errors that are likely to arise in the course of the study.
The attitudes of researchers to the Babangida regime and the mass media constitute a major problem in their attempts to objectively study the two or their relationship, and such attitudes could be seen in the use of certain loaded, coloured, and ideologically pregnant expressions, even before conclusions are reached. For example, in referring to the Babangida regime, some researchers use expressions such as “Nigeria’s darkest days”, “the Babangida nightmare”, “the gestapo days”, “the Babangida peonage” etc. Similarly, some researchers refer to Nigerian journalists collectively as “fifth columnists” and “opportunists”. Those whose writings support government policies are too quickly labelled as “military apologists”, “errand boys”, etc. All these expressions reflect certain attitudes and using them too early in a research work can hinder objectivity. Objectivity, detachment, accuracy, etc are still part of the scientific method, and we must endeavour to uphold them in the continued search for solutions to societal problems.
iv Definitional Problems
Some researchers apparently find it difficult to clearly define and separate the man General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida from his regime. Unarguably, General Babangida has a very influential and even over-bearing personality. It is quite likely indeed, that his personality was a major influence on the relationship between his regime and the mass media. But be that as it may, it is important to recognise that the man Babangida is not synonymous with the regime called the Babangida regime, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the fact that the regime at different times had had different Ministers of Information and other very senior military and government officials who had inputs into the relationship between the government and the mass media. Some researchers argue that Babangida’s “chameleonic” disposition enabled him to dribble and manipulate the mass media at will, leaving the media to gasp for breath at crucial periods. Perhaps this is true, but didn’t people like Honourable Ministers of Information and Culture, Chief Press Secretaries, Directors of the Directorate of Army Public Relations, etc have any input into the way the regime related with the mass media? Was it the man Babangida alone that plotted all the strategies used in dealing or relating with the mass media.
- Miscellaneous Problems
There are other miscellaneous problems that may confront a researcher who is trying to better understand and explain the relationship between Babangida regime and the mass media. Some of these may not be peculiar to this kind of study alone, but must still be kept in view so that they can be controlled. For example, financial constraints, errors of judgment, personal biases, etc are common problems, and researchers wanting to conduct objective research should be aware of them so that they are not allowed to mar the study or the acceptability of its findings.
Recommendations and Conclusions
Researchers desirous of correctly understanding and interpreting the Babangida regime in its relationship with the mass media are encouraged to give serious thought to the problems identified in this paper.
Research is a serious enterprise and people involved in it must uphold the ethics, principles, challenges and discipline that go along with it. Problems, practices and attitudes that could mar the research enterprise must be identified and dealt with. Be it a probe into the constellation of celestial bodies, an investigation of some strange developments in the human anatomy, or an attempt to unearth and analyse socio-political and economic factors undergirding an observed phenomenon, research must be given its full complement of scientific paraphernalia, and for it to be stripped of such paraphernalia means to deprive it of its integrity; to emasculate the enterprise and reduce it to a caricature of itself.
Selltiz, Wrightsman and Cook, quoted in V. O. Ajala, Scholarly Writing Guide For Researchers (lbadan: Maybest Publishers, 1996) 1.
Extracted from Gabriel Umoden, The Babangida Years (Lagos: Gabumo Press, 1992) 305.
See Fred S. Siebert et al Four Theories of the Press (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963).
Cited in Adidi Uyo, Mass Communication Media: Classifications and Characteristics (New York; Civiletis International, 1987) 37.
- D. Wimmer et al Mass Media Research (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing CO. Inc., 1989) 28.
Janice Adewoye, “Qualitative Techniques and Methodological Issues in the Study of Inequality and Povery” a paper presented at the 1999 Graduate Studies Capacity Building (G.S.C.B.) Training Workshop organised by the Centre for Econometric and Allied Research, University of Ibadan: July 5 – 16, 1999, p3.