From inception, the adjective “rural” in Nigeria, connotes underdevelopment, poverty, malnutrition, hunger and illiteracy. It describes an address of wretched-looking people who have to till their lands from dawn to dusk or trek tens of kilometres to market, to eke their subsistence.
The neglect of these areas by the Nigerian government and mainstream media, which is urban-based, has created two-track societies: the have and have- not’s, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, those who have access to the media and those who have not.
The rural dwellers even these days have few development projects coming in from the government and people whom they have elected to serve and represent them at all three tiers of government. Studies have shown that beneficiaries of government expenditure on education, health, water supply, electricity, industries and road construction in Nigeria are mainly urban dwellers.
Unfortunately, less than 30 per cent of total government development expenditure is designed for the benefit of rural communities. This is in spite of the belief that a larger number of Nigerians live in rural communities.
According to the national statistical offices in 2019, 49.66 per cent of the total population and the development in such communities are low and thus the need for community journalism.
The benefits of community journalism have been an issue under debate for a long period of time now. While some scholars and commenters believe that community journalism is a good form of journalism that eradicates the top down monopolistic communication, others believe that due to its lack of credibility, it is endangering the societal information cycle.
Commenting on the benefits of community journalism, Alemoh(2013, pg. 236-253) in his article “an emerging conundrum” remarked that the advent of community journalism has been a blessing to all of us, most of the events the mainstream media leave out, community journalist easily captures. Examples of such are issues that occur in remote places which are published instantly by community journalists; making the public to be aware of certain issues that occur around us. A good example is the plane crash that occurred on 25 October 2012 of the former Governor of Taraba State of Nigeria Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai. The incident was reported instantly by community journalists/eyewitnesses.
Most rural areas in Nigeria have a lot to offer in terms of agricultural produce like maize, millet, onion, tomatoes and so on. community journalism serves as a medium in bringing the community and government to work together to attract investors to invest in these communities. Our communities in Nigeria need good roads to allow farmers to transport their produce to the urban areas. The good road can facilitate easy access to the local government by businessmen and women. Through community journalism, developments are for sure on their way to rural communities.
In the light of the present realities, community journalism tends to hold the key to bridging the wide gap between Nigeria’s urban and rural sectors with news, information, education and development. This is because no meaningful development can take place without the input and participation of the affected people.
This was the position of Francis Kasoma(2014) when he argued that sustainable rural development could only be achieved when communication is dialogic and transactional, and development communicators play a critical role in offering new philosophies, concepts, and models which facilitate participation at all stages of the development process.
For example, in 2014 then-Governor Isah Yuguda while commissioning one out of the 10 VVF centres in one of the community radio stations in Ningi local government area said, the centre was the first established in Northern Nigeria with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
He said the centre was aimed at providing improved health services for the residents and to serve as an avenue for the people at the grassroots to improve information dissemination.
Abubakar Al-sadiquein(2015), an article entitled. “Community-based radio as tools for rural development in Nigeria”, found that community radio is a veritable tool for rural development. Thus rural development is attributed to the effectiveness of rural radio programmes. Community radio stations can stimulate grassroots development. They should be different from substations that do not completely fit into the descriptions of community radio.
The mainstream media remain is urban-based and elite-driven and therefore gives scant coverage to the many problems in rural areas. Nigeria’s successive governments at the federal, state and even local government levels often unilaterally decide on what “development” projects to embark upon in rural areas, without consulting the would-be beneficiaries on those projects. These often result in such efforts proving a waste of resources in the long run.
Thus, apart from helping journalists in their investigation, or even breaking the news, citizens in rural areas can act as opinion leaders, social activists and development crusaders for their own communities for worthy causes, through information, education and political participation.
For example, In Nigeria, those in political authority always want to be perceived positively by the people, even when their actions and inactions do not justify such trust. The elite believe that the media would present a true but embarrassing reality of them which in turn will make the rural dwellers see them in a different light
It is obvious that the government neither has the will nor the desire to establish radio stations in rural areas in order to promote education, social awareness, and cultural heritage to their communities.
Could it be that the so-called leaders are afraid to enlighten the rural dwellers in order to maintain their votes? This could be so as they fear the level of awareness to be achieved in the rural area and how that awareness and level of exposure the community dwellers have can affect their political stand, trust and confidence they have in them.
There are several challenges of community journalism which includes the exorbitant fees and charges for licensing. The National Broadcasting Commission, NBC has no official publication on the license fee schedule for community radio even in the new code. Pate and Abubakar(2013), narrates that the first campus radio license (which is categorized under community broadcasting in the code) granted to the University of Lagos, Unilag FM station in 2002 was granted at the cost of one million Naira.
NBC has granted 27 campus radio broadcast licenses to tertiary institutions in the country. Due to the high amount of charges, most stations and communities cannot afford to be licensed.
The Commission is the regulatory agency set up by the federal government to receive, process, and issue application and license for any individual, community, agencies and non-governmental organizations that want to operate community radio.
Since community radio is a non-profit broadcast medium whose sole aim is to serve as a medium for discussions that will bring about community development it is difficult to remain in operation without government and philanthropic support.
So, requesting high license fees is inimical to the development of the medium. For example, NBC, which is the licensing body makes a demand of N10 million (US$32, 787.00 at the official exchange rate of N305 to $1) for community radio broadcast recognized by the same body as a non-profit.
Apart from the license which must be renewed every five years at the same cost, the station must pay 2.5% of its annual turnover to the commission. Failure to comply with this regulation will result in the license withdrawal. This is contrary to what obtains in Mali, a neighbouring West African country.
According to Kawu (2008), in Mali, you apply for a community radio license from the broadcasting regulatory body Conseil Superieur de la Communication (CSC) which confirms the availability of frequency, by the CSC informing the committee de regulation de telecommunication.
If the frequency is available then the radio station is allowed to use it, otherwise a new frequency is allocated. No money is paid to start a station, but each year, a frequency allowance of CFA 10,000 is paid by the station. The democratic way of establishing a radio station in Mali gives the country the “reputation of being the centre of the most diversified experience of radio on the African continent” (Kawu 2008). This makes me wonder how much it must have cost for the previous Bauchi state government for the licences of the ten community radios
Other challenges of community radio station include commercialization of the broadcast industry which heavily influences the emergence of a successful community broadcasting structure and regime.
The private interests in the broadcasting industry consider community broadcasting as unwanted goals, and hence intensify their lobby at the appropriate quarters in government to discourage its implementation or create overlapping conceptualization to create legislative confusion. This is probably why there have been conflicting signals and confusing messages from some of the agencies.
Other challenges relate to the issue of cost, appropriate technology, human resources, electricity supply and sustainability. These are issues that can be conveniently addressed through development initiative, now that the legal and governance regime have been initiated. According to Kuttab, Duer and Coyer(2017:16), these should be conducted with transparency and independence of procedures regulating community broadcasting as well as transparency and clarity of licensing regime and eligibility criteria.
In conclusion, through community journalism, rural dwellers will learn a lot about the need to embrace unity and brotherhood, thereby mitigating the gap that creates ethnic conflicts among rural dwellers, the government will as well see the importance of relating with communities while making a development plan in rural areas. Thus, all hands must be on deck to ensure effective community journalism at the grassroots level, as this is the only way to ensure public safety, security, development and foster unity in our communities.