In the University of Ibadan (and the world at large), members of the fourth estate are tasked with the roles and duties of not only keeping individuals and groups including political office holders accountable, but also passing information on happenings in the university to the public. To dutifully perform this role of information dissemination, members of the press would first have to be in the know, as well as be privy to several pieces of information.
While this might seem easy on the surface, there are several hurdles that need to be crossed before even what can be considered the littlest of information is acquired. One of these challenges can easily be attributed to the reluctance of most executives to respond to questions and demands for information made by the press. For some, it might not be very clear how political officeholders in the university can be linked to this problem; however, a dive into this would make it clearer.
In the university lies a web of connections that moves from the university management to the students; however, in most cases, the student executives serve as the direct and major link between the management or authorities, and the student body.
This means while the student union executives connect the school authorities to students in the union, in the faculty level, the executives serve as the link between the faculty management and the students of the faculty; this can also be said for the halls of residence. By extension, it can be inferred that the student executives are privy to information passed from both the student body and the school management.
Apart from this breakdown, all student executives on being voted in, are tasked with the duty of working to the betterment of the union whether such effort is part of their constitutional duties or were stated in their manifestos. In the course of performing this role, even more information is acquired and held unto by the executives. In short, one can easily refer to the executives as storehouses of information. Members of the press might for the purpose of getting or clarifying information to reach out to executives.
However, this poses an issue when they are met with reluctance and silence. Such acts from the executives are not uncommon as there are several instances and tales of press persons reaching out to executives, only to be given delayed response, insufficient or no information at all.
For instance, approximately three weeks ago, Indy Hall Press contacted the House Secretary of the union, along with nine other executives from different halls and faculties. The purpose was to obtain a detailed explanation regarding the regulation of charges imposed on the cost of goods and services by vendors. Out of the executives contacted, only three provided information, and one of them offered minimal details. Notably, the House Secretary, within whose jurisdiction the inquiry fell, directed us to consult the president.
There are many underlying reasons why these executives might choose to be unresponsive towards press persons and the questions they ask. One of these reasons might simply lie in the fact that many student executives hold the erroneous belief that Press persons are their antagonists who are out to get them and paint them in the wrong light in the public eye.
This misunderstanding of the press held by many and not only the executives remains incorrect as the press and press persons do not antagonize, or have agendas against anyone. As earlier stated, the major role of the press as the fourth estate, is to hold people accountable, as well as disseminate information to keep students in the loop of steps taken and decisions made that directly affect them. It is important to recognise the press as the constructive entity in the realm whose activities are aimed towards ensuring transparency, accountability and an informed community.
Another reason could lie in the fact that not many executives regard LPOs. It becomes a matter of question whether this lackadaisical attitude towards request for information is limited solely to interactions between student executives and Local Press Organisations, and if there is a more effective response to the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ) which is the mother body of all LPOs. Enquiries with various LPOs and UCJ reporters revealed that while the response UCJ reports receive from executives can be delayed, it is still better than the response the LPOs receive. While this simply confirms that the problem is general, it also points out to the fact that many executives do not hold the LPOs that make up the UCJ to be as important as the mother body and so the reluctance to pay them any heed.
LPOs in the university are as important as the UCJ as they make it easier for information dissemination among students in different constituencies in the university. Rooted in different departments, faculties and halls, they serve as conduits for targeted communications. So while UCJ remains the umbrella body, the LPOsplay a vital part in the web of communication and information transmission in the university.
Also, the emerging trend of executives deflecting inquiries from press persons by redirecting them to the president or head of the executive council within their respective constituencies raises concerns about transparency and individual accountability.
This pattern, while seemingly driven by a desire for collective responsibility, inadvertently undermines the principles of open communication and individual transparency. Executives’ reluctance to respond without clearance from higher-ups fosters an atmosphere where decision-making authority appears concentrated at the top, potentially portraying the executive body as mere marionettes manipulated by the executive head.
This shift in communication dynamics erodes the foundation of accountability, leaving a void where individual executives should stand responsible for their actions. It raises questions about the autonomy of executive members and the ability of each representative to independently engage with the press. This trend, if left unchecked, has the potential to cultivate an environment where decision-making is centralized, hindering the public’s access to diverse perspectives within the executive body.
At times, it appears that executives prefer to share only their positive achievements with the press, avoiding topics that could cast them in a negative light among the student body. This selective communication strategy raises concerns about transparency and the completeness of information provided to the public. Executives may prioritize showcasing successes, potentially leaving the student body unaware of challenges or decisions that could impact them. In journalism, this behavior highlights the need for a balanced and comprehensive approach to communication, ensuring that the student community receives a full spectrum of information. A transparent relationship between the press and executives is crucial for fostering trust and allowing students to make informed assessments of their representatives.
Executives’ hesitation to share information with the press carries consequences, suggesting they might have hidden issues. This reluctance creates an impression that there could be undisclosed matters or concerns within the executive body. The act of withholding information implies a lack of transparency, leaving room for speculation and suspicion among the public. In a democratic institution like the university, where accountability and openness are crucial, such reluctance may erode trust. It fosters an atmosphere where the press and, by extension, the student body might question the integrity and candor of the executive members. A more open and communicative approach from executives is essential for maintaining transparency, dispelling any notions of secrecy, and building trust with the student community. This way, the executives can reinforce their commitment to accountability and demonstrate a genuine interest in keeping the student body well-informed.