LEAD POISONING AND REPORTAGE

Once in a while I check up on Nigerian dailies. I’ve become attuned to the new age of digitalisation so I find flipping through the spread sheets of a physical newspaper rather anachronistic. I’d rather just whip out my samsung note, go online and get the gists from across the federation. The only snag is that the culture of online media is yet to catch up with the routine of media house publishing. As a result headline news on the web-pages of Nigerian newspapers are not updated as regularly and judiciously as they should causing one to wonder whether they fully comprehend the meaning of the word ‘news’. This tardiness from local reporters always prompts me to check the web-pages of foreign news outfits like Reuters and BBC. I do this out of frustration rather than a craving for the exotic. Usually I’m enthralled to find news items about my country. The irony is that such features are sometimes not even reported by local media – online or on print.

One such story is that of lead poisoning in Zamfara, a state in Northern Nigeria. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reports that more than a thousand children are affected. In fact, in 2009 about 400 children died of lead poisoning in Zamfara. The scourge is linked to gold mining from ores which have substantial amounts of lead. Children are particularly at risk. It is also linked to the socio-economic status of the region. Since the price of gold increased in the international market more and more people are risking their lives for the business of mining. But it comes at a cost. Lead poisoning leads to serious nervous system defects. Also, death is not uncommon.

So it’s almost like being caught between a rock and a hard place. It is amidst this impasse that government should really step in and that’s what MSF is advocating. So far, government’s response has been half-hearted. They have begun a clean-up but this started only after immense pressure and the unsavoury publicity of the 2009 deaths. So if that is what goads them on why not have more of such publicity? Our media houses, however, seem not to notice and it’s hard to blame them with all the distraction and drama of Boko Haram in the north of the country. I reckon, however, that it’s environmental menaces as this that actually feed such radicalism amongst many northerners. Mounting poverty, disease, and neglect from government leads thousands into the hard life of mining. When they fall sick due to the hazards of mining and are unable to continue that trade organisations like Boko Haram seem like a worthy resort. Other connections could be made between poverty and terrorism but that’s not my immediate focus.

MSF has done a job of highlighting an incipient crisis. Who carries it on from there? Nigeria Medical Association? Maybe. The media, however, have to put emphasis on issues as this. Lead poisoning in Zamfara is like a time bomb – both literarily and figuratively. Our government places onus on only what is being talked about by pressmen while conveniently ignoring other issues which are no less pertinent. I see coverage of the entertainment industry, sometimes splurged across full pages of our dailies. This, in itself, is not bad in but at times when more pressing issues are on the horizon represents a misplaced sense of proportions that plagues the press today. What makes the front pages is usually determined by the mix of urgency, demand, and importance. News-worthiness however cannot be ring-fenced around those parameters at all times. Journalism serves a bigger duty other than a commercial enterprise. When we speak of transforming our nation the newsrooms have a role to play. Consequently, any transformation we speak of shall of necessity begin with our equivalent of Fleet Street. This is regardless of what form the news comes – in print or on an LCD screen.

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