The Role of the Writer in Political Reform

July 11, 2021 2:00 am – This Day

Chido Nwakanma

Find your voice!

Nigeria is in the throes of change. Change was the mantra of the ruling party as it swept into office in 2015. Since then, change has buffeted it and the country from various directions, mainly in the areas where it promised to deliver positives. These are the economy, security and the state of the nation.

Nigerians have experienced negative changes in all three areas. Nigerians now clamour for reform, beginning with the structural foundation of the country.

The writer is an intellectual or anyone who deals in and with ideas.”

An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking, research, and reflection about the reality of society, who may also propose solutions for the normative problems of society, and thus gains authority as a public intellectual” – Wikipedia

Writers fit into this schema. For political engagement, we adopt a broad definition of the writer as an intellectual.

Noam Chomsky asserts, “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.” Chomsky says that faced with apparent lies, outrages and oppression, “intellectuals should follow the path of integrity wherever it may lead” His umbrella for intellectuals takes in”journalists, academics, artists, even clergy.”

Good writers have well-defined vision and mission statements though primarily unstated. It often includes participation in the conversations about the past, present and future of their countries. It is a primary reason for writing.

Even the Christian Holy Book recognises the role of the writer in visioning. Seven instances will do.

1. Habakkuk 2:2. Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it”

2. Romans 15:4 “For everything that was written in the past was written for our instruction so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.”

3. Revelation 1:19. Therefore, write down the things you have seen, and the things that are, and the things that will happen after this.

4. Deuteronomy 27:8. And you shall write distinctly upon these stones all the words of this la”.

The story outlives us all, both writer and reader. Chinua Achebe famously stated that the writer’s role is to teach and provide guidance for the people. “…only the story…can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives the sound of war drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story…that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.

Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us and directs us. – Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah (1987)

The writer is a teacher, mentor and mobiliser. He plays a critical and significant role in the brave new world of communication on multiple platforms. UNESCO in 1980 listed several functions of communication. They align with the part of the writer.

These functions of communication are information., socialisation, motivation, debate and discussion. Others are education, cultural promotion, entertainment and integration.

Socialisation provides a common fund of knowledge that enables people to operate as influential members of the society they live in, fostering social cohesion and awareness, thereby permitting active involvement in public life. Through debate and discussion, the media enable the provision and exchange of facts to facilitate an agreement or clarify differing viewpoints on general issues; the supply of relevant evidence needed to foster greater widespread interest and involvement in all local, national and international matters of common concern. The Integration function refers to providing all persons, groups, and nations access to the various messages they need to know and understand each other and appreciate others’ living conditions, viewpoints, and aspirations.

The many communication tasks speak to its significance in the modern world, made more so by the diversity of platforms and players feeding the pool.

Communication is central and contributory to the effective functioning of communities and nation-states.

The quality and qualify of information people share directly affects their well-being. Communication counts in peace and war. Sean McBride, Canadian and president of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, envisioned the scope of communication. He stated, “As communication is so central to all social, economic and political activity at community, national and international levels, I would paraphrase H. G. Wells and say human history becomes more and more a race between communication and catastrophe. Full use of communication in all its varied strands is vital to ensure that humanity has more than a history, that our children are ensured a future.”

Experts and lay citizens alike point to the tone, content and quantity of information between and against the Hutus and Tutus as contributory to the Rwandan genocide. Nigeria is going through a period of passionate disagreements among citizens representing different persuasions. Writers are in the mix.

In the past, the call would be on editors to up their gatekeeping function. The barriers have lowered because of the diversity of platforms, and now almost everyone creates and distributes content.

Therefore, the call is to everyone who creates or shares content on all the media of this age: WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, GooglePlus, print, radio, television. Exercise circumspection as you write on the trending issues. Do not join the mob spreading fake news or propaganda. The scientist Isaac Newton reportedly stated, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy”.

The writers and editors of Nigeria must craft content that makes the point for each side without making enemies.

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