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The Nigerian press 1984 – 1999: ‘magnificent and heroic’?

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posted on 2023-06-08, 20:18 authored by Cornelius Segun Ojo
Against the background of ‘the global resurgence of democracy’ (Diamond and Plattner 1996), and focusing particularly on the democratic waves that swept through Africa in the 90s, scholars have acknowledged the central role of the press in the restoration of democratic governance in Africa. The Nigerian press in particular has been touted as Africa’s symbol of a liberal press (Seng and Hunt 1986, Ogbondah 1994). It is said to have played a significant role in the battle against military dictatorship, leading to Wole Soyinka’s trophy: the press as ‘magnificent and heroic’ (Soyinka 1998). Yet in spite of the ‘adversarial and lively outspokenness’ of the press (Olukotun 2002, 2010), the military had a sixteen-year reign. How can this paradox be explained? The thesis explores four military regimes during the sixteen-year period focusing on specific events of national significance in each regime, with a view to establishing what role/s the press played in restoring democracy; and whether it deserved the award of ‘magnificent and heroic’. Methodologically it adopts a critical discourse analysis approach (Fairclough 2013, Van Dijk 1991), particularly analysing headlines, news reports, editorials, photographs, political cartoons and articles; across seven national newspapers and two weekly magazines. Additionally it draws on interviews with state officials and editors with knowledge of the periods to provide a further interpretation of the press at particular historical moments. It opens up the issue of a liberal press to suggest that there are serious questions about the press’s relation to the various military regimes and thus the degree to which the press really was ‘magnificent and heroic’. Indeed an argument can be made that much of the press was complicit with these regimes and contributed to delaying the realisation of a democratic rule.


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