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1.1     Introduction

The mass media are vehicles and instruments for socio-economic transformation and re-engineering of any modern society especially developing nations like ours. The most prominent and widely known media of mass communication in contemporary Nigeria are newspapers, magazines, radio, television, cinema until recently when digital communication came on board in communication flight.

These channels of mass communication have contributed and still contributing to national development in order to make the country a virile and egalitarian society like other developed nations like United States of America, Great Britain, France, etc. Without mincing words, the self-rule Nigerians enjoy today is widely believed to have been championed by nationalist press, a component of Nigerian mass media.

Among these vehicles of mass communication, newspaper was the first to be involved in the business of national development and transformation in Nigeria. The first among litany of newspapers then was the “Iwe Irohin” established in 1859 by Rev Henry Townsend at Egba Community in Yoruba land. This newspaper opened the floodgates of newspapers operations in this part of African continent with a special bias and flair for missionary activity (Daramola,2006 p.11)

Put differently, nationalist newspaper like West African Pilot established in 1937 by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, The Nigerian Tribune founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1949 and Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo vernacular newspaper, first published on January 1, 1939 and established by the colonial administration in the north and later managed by the Northern Literature Agency with Mallam Abubakar Imam, one of the few educated northern elite as the Editor of the newspaper in 1938 to oversee the operations of the newspaper house which featured prominently in the nationalist struggle among others (Daramola,2006 p.72, Okonu, 2006 p.51).

These newspapers despite their political inclination and colouration had a common goal of resisting indirect rule in Nigeria, and as well educating, orientating and conscientising Nigerians on the evils of colonial rule in Nigeria on one hand, on the other hand, sensitizing Nigerians on the importance of self rule in the country. In the struggle against the misnomer of colonialism in Nigeria, West African Pilot and Nigerian Tribune played frontal role as unofficial opposition parties to the colonial government in spite of differences in their political ideologies.

These newspapers devoted their news contents, editorials, features and even cartoons to fight imperialism in Nigeria and other West African countries irrespective of their political jingoism built upon the surveillance of the country (Oyesanya, 1985).

According to Oyesanya, these newspapers were virtually political parties in disguise. In effect, they were organs of Nigerian Youth Movement, Northern People’s Congress, National Council for Nigerian and Cameroun, Action Group, etc with the ultimate desire of achieving self-governance in Nigerian polity.

Ultimately, their yearnings and aspirations came to fruition on October 1, 1960 when Nigerians were granted independence by the colonial masters, British government. This development with no iota of doubts, based on studies carried out was speedily facilitated through the nationalistic press and their operators like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Ernest S. Ikoli, Elder Statesman, Anthony Enahoro, etc.

But how far has post independence media and their practitioners sustain the clamour and quest for national development and cohesion? How far have the present journalists in Nigeria journeyed in the course of defending our hard earned self rule and democracy in this nation? To what degree would Nigerians subscribe to the fact that the media practitioners have achieved milestones in national development devoid of rancour, acrimony, tribalism, nepotism, corruption, apathy, selfishness? These are the core thrust of this paper which aims at examining the role of mass media in national development critically.



In a decent and healthy democracy, mass media are regarded as the purveyors of public messages to the heterogeneous and scattered audiences through the channels of radio, television, newspapers, magazines, internet among others.

Mass media are also known as catalyst for national development. Development communication experts refer mass media as agent of development in society. Whereas, political communication scholars regard mass media as collective instrument for governance. Political communication scholars also address the media as the watchdog of the society and the advocate for good governance in a democratic dispensation. The media in every democratic state have the critical role of moulding the society and striving for a virile and egalitarian society.

In the view of Ekwelie (2006), mass media are strong pillars of democracy and human development. They hold the key to political and socio-economic development of a modern society. There is no substitute to the mass media in the effective dissemination of information meant for the transformation of the nation (Ekwelie, 2006).

Mass media are tools for mass education of the people for social transformation of the society because they have the power for promoting social cohesion and integration of the component units of a nation. Therefore, they are critical to national cohesion and development especially where language differences hold sway.

According to Oseni (1999,p.224) whether under totalitarian contraption, military aberration, civilian rule or participatory democracy, the role of the media as the conscience of the nation has never been controverted. What has rather been the issue is whether the media should abdicate their responsibilities in the face of mounting dangers, fear of the bullets and tyranny.

Oseni further states that: “the duties of the mass media are legion. But their primary aim is to inform the people and urge the government to be accountable to the governed. As the fourth estate of the realm, the Nigerian media have been playing their watchdog role even under military dictatorship (Oseni, 1999).

Joseph Pulitzer cited in Oseni (1999, p.225) argues that the major role of the mass media are “to watch over the safety and welfare of the people who trust them”.

In the wisdom of Abati (1999, p.69) whether the media is patriotic or cynical is a question of responsibility. This presupposes the idea: “that the media, in any society at all, ought to exercise responsibility one way or the other”. According to Abati, responsibility in itself is about power. He further opines that the media have the capacity, the breath and the mind to impact on society positively.

In contemporary society, mass media are not just dispensers of mass information and programmes but the mirror of the society. Through the vehicles of mass media, societal events are reflected like images in mirror for the public to see and make informed decision in real life event. Similarly, the mass media serve as the voice of the voiceless in society. This they do by speaking and lamenting against social injustice on the lives of people in society. Therefore, function as the mouth-piece of the less privileged and the oppressed in society particularly where the nation is ruled on the prescription of rule of law.

Against this background, every nation, no matter its political structure and governance recognizes mass media as indispensable and critical to overall national development. In the same light, theories and aspirations apart, the mass media have valid credentials for contributions toward improvement in every facet of societal life. The media are known channels for news, information, education, entertainment, leadership, status conferral, agenda setting among other things (Ekwelie, 2005). But are Nigerians satisfied with the roles the media have played so far on the journey to national development?



          The mass media generally are recognized as the “Fourth Estate of the Realm” even though they are unelected or unofficially pronounced by the government. There roles have been constitutionally empowered since independence of Nigerian nation (Daramola, 2006, p.82).

Taking a cue from 1960 constitution, section 24 empowered the media to monitor governance and the welfare of the citizenry. Whereas, 1963 constitution empowered the media through section 25, 36 and 39 to complement the executive, legislature and judiciary in the cause of nation building (Daramola, 2006). By these constitutions, the mass media are to oversee the conduct of affairs by the three arms of government. This role is a sine quo non for national development.

Similarly, section 36 and 39 of 1979 constitution equally institutionalized and codified the surveillance role of the mass media in order to stimulate national development. In like manner, section 22 of 1999 constitution empowers the media to function as the watchdog of the society aimed at compelling the government to be responsible and accountable to the people. The section states thus:

The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.


This section (22 of 1999) of the constitution is further amplified by section 39 of the same constitution. Section 39 holds that: “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.

In pursuance of these roles for national development, mass media play array of roles in Nigeria society. Some of these roles are manifest while others are latent. In the interest of this paper, some of these roles will be x-rayed to underscore the importance of the media in nation building. Among which are:

  • Ombudsman Role: The mass media in this context serve as an unofficial compliant commission where the oppressed and those whose rights and privileges are infringed upon run to, to lodge their complaints for media reportage and court of public opinion.
  • Muckraking Role: This is one of the crucial roles of the mass media play in battling for the soul of the society in order to save the nation from total collapse in the hands of those in the corridors of power. It is an effort to use para-police methods in pursuit of truth, transparency, accountability, good governance of a nation, institutions and corporate organizations.

Muckrakers in media practice are akin to police investigators without “warrant of arrest”. It entails an in-dept investigation of issues of public interest such as misappropriation of fund, outright corruption, embezzlement of public fund, epidemic etc. This type of journalism is often called investigative journalism with the ultimate aim of sanitizing the society from the cankerworms of corruption and bad governance in the hands of greed and selfish leaders.

  • Political Communication Role: Mass media provide viable platform for political engineering of a democratic nation. They provide the platform for political campaigns, presentation of political manifestoes, and candidates for election on radio, television, internet, face book, billboards, newspaper, magazines, telephone, etc. This role enables the electorate to make informed political decision so as to vote the candidate of their choice.

Mass media also educate the electorate on election guidelines and their civic responsibility which helps in breaking their political apathy. The media today stand as vibrant people’s parliament in order to enlighten the electorate on how to vote and protect their votes. A case in point is the ongoing media campaign of one-man, one vote championing by the Presidency and Independent National Electoral Commission in Nigeria.

For effective political communication, the use of mass media is sacrosanct. Political ideologies and campaigns promises are built into radio and television programmes, newspapers features, advertorials and direct advertisement as well as several other media offerings (Visua, 2010, pp. 24-25). Mass media also bring election result to our houses, offices, religious centres, relaxation centres, etc.

  • Evangelism Role: In contemporary media world, radio and television have become major vehicles and instrument for evangelization of religious gospels, promotion of religious programmes and miracles to new converts and prospective worshippers in Christendom and Islamic congregation and other religious groups alike.

Indeed, religious groups are major source of wealth creation in media industry because of frequent religious commercials. Cynicism apart, religious programmes in media are used to reconcile humanity with his creator. In like manner, religious leaders are used by those in governance to advocate for good morals among their subordinates and future leaders via the media for the interest of the nation building.

Evangelism role of the media is also used for building morals and good governance in a democratic nation like Nigeria. This media role has the power to influence attitudinal change in the lives of the people.

  • Advertisement Role: Mass media provide the fundamental framework upon which goods, services, ideas, political parties and their candidates are presented and promoted to the target public or prospective consumers for acceptance, loyalty and patronage. This role no doubts, serves as a catalyst for industrial revolution of a capitalist economy like Nigeria.

Advertising helps in creating awareness of goods and services with the aim of attracting consumers’ attention and patronage of the product or service being advertised via the media (Ndimele & Kasarachi, 2006 p.154).

  • Conflict Management and Resolution Role: Conflict as an indispensable phenomenon in human society has been playing functional and dysfunction role in national development. To confront this phenomenon, mass media have been used in various times to manage and resolve societal conflicts both in developed and developing nations.

This media role has been faced with serious of criticism in Nigeria context based on its nature. A case in point was the sensational journalism employed by Nigerian journalists in the reportage of the Niger Delta crises.

One way the society can use the media in managing and resolving crisis is to down-play a crisis situation between the parties in crisis and promotes what unite them rather than what heightens the crisis. Also, media can achieve this role by avoiding inflammatory language in their reportage of crisis scenario (Alikor, 2009).

Mass media can also use radio jingles, documentaries, editorials, features, talk-show and discussion programmes on television, etc to manage and resolve crisis-oriented issues by emphasizing more on what promotes peace and harmony among the parties in conflict or crisis as the case may be rather than using hyperbolic words or language to blow the crisis out of proportion. This lofty role is also achievable by charting a roadmap to the confliction resolution or management. In the view of Nkwocha (2005, p.2005), the mass media scans the environment, spot out danger and relay warnings to member of the society in order to prevent conflict. According to Nkwocha, the mass media interviews experts and conflict masterminds to figure out potential and causes of conflict and disaster in society so as to nip the issue in the bud.

  • News/Information Role: It is the primarily role of the mass media to gather, process and disseminate news and information on happenings and what is about to happen in society within and outside the nation. They disseminate information concerning major issues, events and people across the world. The traditional role of the mass media in national development is to inform the masses about societal events (Nkwocha 2005, p.205).

Merrill, (1990, pp.59-60) cited in Nkwocha (2005) states that the mass media keep the people informed on political and government matters to enable  them make rational decisions. The mass media are also dispensers of corporate organizations and educational institutions information to the masses or target public.

8)     Education Role: The media of mass communication have significant assignment in educating the masses on issues of public interest. The education could be formal or informal. According to (Ekwelie, 2006, Ndimele & Kasarachi, 2006, p.141), the media are potent tools for imparting knowledge to people in society. They are also veritable instruments for skills acquisition in different fields of human endeavour aimed at attaining national development.

Ekwelie observes that Britain now has “University of the Air” on which some people depend on for their formal education. The same applies in China where similar system is used to spread education to distant places far from main city. Media education also holds sway in Nigeria. In Nigeria context, a lot of development programmes meant for the masses especially the ruralites use radio as a platform for educating the masses on the adoption of the new innovation of technology e.g. vaccine for immunization against polio and other child killer dise ases. Mass media have the vitality to educate the citizens and foreigners on the intension of all tiers of government progammes, policies, projects, ideology, action plans, etc. According to Eghku (2010), when the programme of Amnesty and re-branding campaign were introduced, nobody knew or even believed that anything good could come out of them. But constant education and sensitization via mass media gave the confidence and subsequently facilitated their near success.

9)       Entertainment Role: Mass media are sources of entertainment in society. This role reduces boredom in our lives especially

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