By Comr Harris Chuma
Knowing there is a problem is a good first step, but it should not be the last step.
These are not ordinary times. You can get the pulse by listening to the news. Most news contents have nothing else but COVID-19, as a way of driving home the critical nature of the times. Most responsive and responsible governments around the world are regularly updating their people on what is going on; but what do we see in Anambra State with a Ministry of Information and Public Enlightenment? A direct opposite! Public Enlightenment as the term and office suggest, should provide the platform to adequately satisfy the information needs of a people; in order words, the system is expected to be discerning enough to know what the people are yearning to know and provide answers even before they are asked. Some companies document this as FAQs on their web portals. The information Commissioner’s Covid-19 wishy-washy reports, aggressively blowing the whistle alleging a large-scale law breaking by the Anambra media practitioners on the issue of Covid-19 index case is unfortunate. Blindly pointing accusing fingers, and staging a press war against the independent media in the state is regrettable, and nonsensical. Without mincing words, the poor handling of the index case by the information commissioner has opened a vista of misinformation on the ever effervescent digital media space in Anambra.
At a time like this, when COVID-19 has precipitated a lot of misinformation and half-truths, the Information and Public Enlightenment arm of the government should have its mechanism in place to let the people of the state know every bit of what is going on. In other words, public enlightenment SHOULD NOT be reactionary, and this incidentally, is what we have been getting since the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past couple of weeks, so many gaffes from the Public Enlightenment machinery are noticeable. When a filmmaker in the state undertook a self-sponsored tour of the state’s isolation centres to ascertain the state of preparedness in handling any exigencies, it only took his damning posts on the social media for the Public Enlightenment arm of the government to show pictures, highlighting the state of the health facilities with more emphasis on the branded bed sheets than the core medical essentials like ventilators, electricity supply, water, drugs etc. Of course, that got a resounding jeer across social media circles, which they overtly ignored. Too bad!
As if that was not enough, Anambra State got an inglorious spot on the COVID-19 map of the world. As expected, the citizens needed to know what the government is doing in terms of tracing and isolating some contacts the index case must have had, as this was necessary in reassuring the citizens of their safety. But the public enlightenment unit, jumped into the fray to draw attention on why the identity of the index case should be protected, at a time the index case was granting an interview to an online newspaper based in Lagos, that his diagnosis was fraught with fraud and misinformation.
Currently, the public enlightenment arm may not have heard that the citizens believe the index case was concocted to service some pecuniary interests in the state, and has largely remained docile. It will remain so until it gets out of hand, only for it to come up with a lame reactionary piece, blaming it on propaganda, opposition and Independent media Of course, this is not to undermine the capacity of the team to do this job, but a call to as we say it locally ‘ginger them’, so they can wear their thinking cap.
The public enlightenment arm should ensure:
- That while a great majority of Ndi Anambra know that good spirited citizens, and Governor Willie Obiano has been trying by handing out protective essentials like sanitizers, gloves and face masks, more need to be done in terms of assuring the people that the state was prepared and wholesomely capable of handling any anticipated exigencies that may arise as a result of this.
- That the various agencies of government concerned with passing information to the people about this should try to update Ndi Anambra, as a matter of necessity on a regular basis on what is going on, with words of assurance to get the people to keep faith with the government.
- That the information channeling structure in this regards, be de-politicised in order to reach more people, after all, we are fighting a disease and not a political battle.
- They should reassure our people that together we shall overcome this plague and get back our lives.
The information Commissioner should be on the ball, and ring the bells about the state of affairs in his domain especially when it’s lower.