I want to thank Steve Nwosu for inviting me to participate in today’s very special event: the public presentation of THE XPRESS newspaper. It takes tremendous courage and deep faith, to plunge into the murky waters of newspaper publication at this time in the industry, and within the economic situation today. And when a professional of Steve’s caliber decided to brave the odds, we must accept that a lot of thought has gone into the endeavor, and stand by him, to ensure the success of the project, as well as the actualization of the vision. I was the Pioneer Editor of DAILY TRUST, in 2002; and I had moved directly there from the Kwara State Television Authority (KWTV), where I was also the Pioneer General Manager. So I have a fair idea of the challenges that Steve Nwosu and his team would be tackling in the next few months and years.
But this city, Lagos, has been, from the middle of the 19th Century, at the heart of, arguably, the most vibrant newspaper tradition, in tropical Africa. From Robert Campbell’s THE ANGLO-AFRICAN, through to the fiery LAGOS WEEKLY RECORD of the very radical Jackson family (father and son), and the various titles, that came up and left a mark on the newspapering tradition here, Lagos has profited from the intrepid visions of generations of individuals. Steve Nwosu has also chosen to burn his imprimatur on this rich tapestry, for the glory of our profession and the enrichment of the robust culture of journalism in Nigeria. We can only wish him and his team well!
Steve Nwosu grew up in Kwara State. The era of Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), saw the development of vast estates of various hues around Nigeria. In the small town of Bacita, in the Edu Local Government Area of Kwara State, the Nigeria Sugar Company drew thousands of working people to work, from various parts of Nigeria. That was the attraction that took his folks from Eastern Nigeria and it was within that cosmopolitan, pan-Nigerian environment, that he grew and began to forge his consciousness. It was the same period in our national history, that grew Kaduna into the heart of the largest textile industry in West Africa, so Kakuri grew into a multi-ethnic hub; just as Aba in the East; Ikeja and Ojota here in Lagos; Sharada and Bompai in Kano; and several such expressions of national development, in other cities all over Nigeria. We began to create a national industrial proletariat, that the trade union movement could organize. When they went on strike, for one economic reason or the other, the newspapers reported copiously. I wrote my Master’s Degree in Political Science, on the coverage of labour issues by the NIGERIAN HERALD newspaper between 1979-1983, during Nigeria’s Second Republic.
But the choices that the Nigerian ruling class began to make from the middle of the 1980s, first with the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP); the accession to WTO agreements and the almost-religious devotion to neo-liberal policies from 1999, have systematically led to the De-industrialization of our country. The old industrial estates all died, including Steve Nwosu’s Bacita! And as the relentless march of identity has caught up with us, emboldening ethno-religious entrepreneurs, even the industrial estates, have systematically been bought up by the new-fangled Pentecostal religious movements. I have seen that at Ojota and Ilorin, for example. And I have also seen the literal death of the Sharada industrial estate in Kano, where I lived when I reported for the BBC World Service in the 1990s, as well as the complete decay of Kakuri in my city of Kaduna, today. Kaduna has been bifurcated into two; areas where a Muslim or a Christian could or could not live! Just a generation ago, these people were living together, and were being organized as industrial workers by the Nigerian trades union movement! Just a few years ago, the Reverend Father George Ehusani, of the Catholic Church, did a study of the ethno-religious conflicts in Northern Nigeria, between 1999 and 2007. His finding was that most of the crises took place between 12 noon and 6pm. Those were the hours that people would have been at work, in the old industrial estates!
But what has all that I have spoken about got to do with the launch of THE XPRESS newspaper, and the theme of the day’s event, which is: “2019: THE MEDIA AND THE CHALLENGE OF FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS”? In truth, I think that a slightly different interpretation of reality, accords better, with the issues of elections and the role of our media. I watched the Vice Presidential debate organized by the Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), the other day. With due respect to my colleagues, I felt disappointed with what was a very pedantic effort. The entire event operated within the narrow confines of the dominant paradigms of ruling class issues, without a rigorous interrogation of the serious challenges that face us as a country. The different candidates stayed within the orthodoxies of a so-called “private-sector” led development that has yielded nothing but massive corruption; the transfer of national resources into the hands of a few people; the unending bail outs for the rich by AMCON and the mass poverty of millions, etc. If the media stays within the same ideological paradigms, how can they be trusted to seriously assist the enlightenment of the citizens to aid the rational choice that is assumed to be the basis of democratic electoral challenge?
My challenge to Steve Nwosu is a simple one. Please think back to the Nigeria that you were born into, and the Bacita community where you grew up. Do you think it was right that the Nigerian ruling class made choices that killed your old home and the industry built there? And were those choices not responsible for the systematic de-industrialization that killed so many other locations like Bacita? If so, can THE XPRESS newspaper be a space that systematically help to challenge the dominant orthodoxies that reign in economic thought and political action in Nigeria today and which has become the “religion” of public policy since 1985? I hope your newspaper would do so. And you have a reason more than a lot of us, to be angry, that your country, our country, uprooted a vital part of the making of your own consciousness and your being, through policy choices that we can clearly say today, were and remain failed policies! The consequences are with us: the insurgency in northern Nigeria; the industrial scale emergence of kidnapping and banditry in the ungoverned spaces in vast areas of the North; the platoon-strength boldness of armed robbery gangs in various parts of the South; the unending restiveness in the oil-producing communities; the withdrawal into ethno-religious laager by the ruling class as they have completely run out of ideas about the nation-building process and the unfortunate inability of left-wing political activist to create the mass political movement to galvanize the people around Nigeria to serious political action and contest for power as well as the deterioration of the trade union movement.
I think the issues that face us as media practitioners are more serious than the periodic choices that come with the nation’s electoral cycle. Our country is dealing with an incredible demographic challenge. When I checked the UN population tracking system, WORLDOMETER this morning, Nigeria’s population is 198, 145, 655. The median age is 17.9years; and life expectancy is 47.6 years; while 51% of the population now lives in the urban centers (99, 967, 871 people). We all know how dysfunctional these urban centers have become today. A very frightening scenario is that Northern Nigeria, along with Niger Republic, has the highest fertility rate in the world today of 7.3! So more and more children are being born who would not have opportunity to go to school; would probably live on the streets, and become radicalized.
These are far more serious issues, but I am not sure that they actually feed into the campaigns of the politicians and parties, nor the coverage of the media. We must of course be very concerned about the challenges of free and fair elections. The issues around them of course impinge upon the work that I do as the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). That is reflected very much in the second part of the presentation. I do wish Steve Nwosu and his colleagues at THE XPRESS newspaper success. Please endeavor to challenge us to build a better country. And remember what Jean Jacques Rousseau used to say; that the duty of the journalist is to test the limits of freedoms in society, in order to help expand the frontiers of freedom!
THE CHALLENGE OF THE MEDIA IN THE ELECTORAL COVERAGE OF 2019 GENERAL ELECTION
“The media are essential to democracy, and a democratic election is impossible without the media” (ace, 2012).
The media, comprising the print, the electronic and the social media play several roles in the electioneering processes of any country. These roles are critical to the advancement and sustainability of democracy since citizens must be well informed to play their part in strengthening democracy
The obligation of the media as enshrined in section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to discharge its normal watchdog role in all aspects of governance and to advance the frontiers of the people’s liberties and freedom.
The fact that the Constitution imposes a duty on the media to monitor governance implies that it should undertake vigilance over the relationship between the people and the government (Bamidele 2015). This indicates that the Media has the Constitutional mandate to project the political and democratic process in a society.
The media is a very important pillar in the Nigeria democratic system. Specifically, the media plays critical roles in the electoral process by acting as major sources of information, providing essentially costless and reliable details leading to a more balanced education and opinion formation among the electorates (Pate 2015 p3). The Nigerian media have been one of the critical stakeholders in the nation’s current democratic dispensation since 1999 when democratic rule returned in the country. They have been actively involved in setting agenda for political discourse, providing perspectives and direction on political debates and framing the agenda for political decisions and mobilization for mass participation in political activities (Auwalu 2016).
The challenge of the media in an electoral process in Nigeria can be broken into a three tier operational period (Pre-election; Election period and post-election). The Nigerian Media Code of General Election Coverage stipulates that whenever election is around the corner, media has the social responsibility of enabling voters to make informed choices by providing information that increases their knowledge to freely and knowledgeably choose their of representatives in the electoral processes. Hence, the need for the media to dissuade the electorates from the criminal practice of vote buying that is engulfing our electoral system. Furthermore, Sections 5.2.1 – 5.2.24 and 7.6.1 – 7.6.14 of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (2012) contain provisions that guide broadcasters prior, during and after elections in Nigeria. These provisions are sometimes jettisoned by broadcast operator all to satisfy the interest of their proprietors/owner or the government/party in power, an action detrimental to the unity and cohesion of our beloved nation.
From available records, on Nigeria electoral experience, the Media has refused to score a gold medal because they have fallen short in the area of responsible performance. John and Enigbe (2001), while highlighting the unsavory performance of the media stated amongst others that
“….there is recklessness and partisanship on the part of the press during election…… instead of restraint and responsible reporting of events; the principle of objectivity is always abandoned by the press in championing the causes of their masters’ political struggles”.
This position was further buttressed by a European Union Election Observation mission in respect of the 2003 general elections in Nigeria as captured by Agba (2007), when it was reported that:
“Media performance during the Nigeria election was flawed as it failed to provide unbiased, fair and informative coverage of political parties and candidates contesting the elections. The Federal and State owned (even private owned) media were biased in favour of parties and the candidates in power”.
According to Auwalu (2016), “in examining the role of the mass media during the 2015 general elections, what comes out clearly is the utter neglect of not only the cardinal principle of journalistic practice, by all the stakeholders-the politicians and mass media institutions and their owners but also there was a palpable assault on the behavior about societal solidarity and harmony.”
In preparation for the 2015 general elections, the media and its personnel were guided and exposed to various professional codes of ethics to enhance professional and responsible election coverage and reportage that emphasize truth, balance, fairness and equity to all parties and candidates. They were also given advisory guidelines and codes that are in line with best practices on reporting elections and electioneering issues. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), in addition to different sensitization workshops and seminars that were organized for the broadcast media operatives, also provided an elaborate Guideline on Political Reportage. However, the availability of these guides did not significantly prevent professional breaches in the broadcast media as was clearly experienced in 2015 general election coverage.
The NBC, in furtherance of its functions of regulating and controlling the broadcasting industry embarks on studies to assess the performance of the media in election coverage. Thus, in the build-up to the 2019 general elections, the Commission has scheduled series of political broadcast workshops, some of which have held in Enugu and Sokoto with the theme, “Media Coverage of 2015 Elections: Challenges, Regulatory Framework and the Way Forward for a more Democratic Society”.
Participants at the workshop noted that broadcasting was induced to play a very negative role, by sections of Nigeria political elites for short time gains of electoral victory, than for national interest and consideration of Nigeria’s democracy”.
It is expedient for all reporters to note that their responsible reportage attracts both praises and punches depending on how such reports are being assessed. Politicians who are pleased with a particular news story will sometimes praise the reporter for fairness and objectivity. However, when the story is not positive, though factual, fair and balanced, claims of media bias will usually pour out from politicians. The media should be properly guided by the code of ethics, the NBC Act CAP N11, LFN 2004, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, the electoral Act and the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage and other professional guides. Adherence to these regulatory guidelines, is a challenge to the Media in the 2019 General Elections. And the whole world is watching.
One major issue and indeed challenge to the entire 2019 General Election and the media is the problem of insecurity in different parts of the country. The enabling Act of the Commission sets out some provisions that guide broadcasters. Prior to the issuance of broadcast licence in Nigeria, the NBC Act CAP N11 LFN 2004 in Section 9(1)d states that the Commission in considering an application for a licence, shall be satisfied that the applicant, amongst others, can give an undertaking, that the licensed station shall be used to promote national interest, unity, and cohesion and that it shall not be used to offend the religious sensibilities or promote ethnicity, sectionalism, hatred and disaffection among the peoples of Nigeria. If this is adhered to during the electoral process, messages churned out through the electronic media will rather build and strengthen our democratic set up.
Similarly, media in the country should adhere to the self regulations they developed in the code of election coverage so as to de-escalate conflicts should they occur during the 2019 general elections.
This shall include
• Adopting an anti-hate speech reporting policy i.e. prohibits hate speech or inciting messages on a platform.
• Refusing to carry materials by parties, aspirants and candidates that contain hateful or inciting words or messages or abusive editorial comments or opinions that denigrate a person or persons.
• Fact checking tools shall be employed to avoid fake news.
• Preventive steps should be taken by media by introducing No-hate-speech memorandum of understanding against the use of hate speech prior to recording or live political debate.
• Political parties, candidates and the underprivileged group should be give access to the media
• Media organizations should build capacity of their personnel in election coverage and against hate-speech and fake news.
• Media shall be conflict-sensitive and report early warning signals of possible outbreak of violent conflict during elections.
In conclusion, the media and politics and indeed election process in Nigeria are interwoven. More than ever before the coverage of the 2019 general election poses serious challenge to the media. This is in view of insecurity in different part of the country, the new trend vote buying trend. The media must adhere to the principle of fairness, objectivity, balance and de-escalation of conflict wherever they rear their ugly faces. Similarly, the statutory regulatory codes and self-regulatory codes developed by stakeholders.
1. Ace, 2012 Media and Elections, 3rd Edition
2. The Role of Media Elections and other Government Activities – Video and Lessons. http:11 study.com
3. NBC ACT CAP NII, LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004
4. NIGERIA BROADCASTING CODE 5TH EDITION