The General Election has come and gone, with mixed feelings as expected. Those who won are happy while those who lost are expectedly unhappy. I followed the event closely from the party primaries to the final declaration of winners by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC.
Sadly, INEC, the umpire that was copious in making promises but under delivered results, appears to be the reason for the uncertainties and the avoidable tension that has enveloped our country simply because it failed to strictly follow its own rules and guidance to the letter in the conduct of the presidential election, as well as the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly polls.
Had INEC followed through with the strict use of the BVAS and real time upload of results to the IReV election portal, I am certain the losers and their supporters would have easily embraced their defeat and there would be no need for these quarrels that continue to threaten the peaceful transfer of power.
Since it formally declared Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, winner and President-elect, the pre-election tension that we all expected to fizzle out has unfortunately stuck to the country. Instead, Nigeria appears to be at a standstill on every front because of unending and unwarranted rumours surrounding the successful transition of power, even though we have concluded the presidential poll. This has left everyone frustrated with businesses (big and small) taking the biggest hit.
Businesses are recording very poor sales as a result of tension and bickering, mostly between operatives of the APC and the Labour Party, LP, which claims it won the presidential vote but was cheated.
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which was declared runner up and the LP, which came third, have filed cases at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal seeking to strike down the victory of the APC. But this has not eased the tension because not a lot of people believe that the justices would swiftly and impartially adjudicate the lawsuits.
However, I think it is now time to calm fraying nerves and deflate the tension so that the country can return to normal for the benefit of all. This is where the media, which fortunately is my constituency, must drop the perceived toga of bias and partisanship and help.
Sadly, the role of the media in Nigeria has been complicated by various factors, with several organisations and platforms being used to promote hate speech, attacks on people, politicians and political parties, as well as counter attacks on journalists and media organisations.
Recently the Peoples Gazette, an online news website, suspended one of its reporters, Ayoola Babalola, for violating the newspaper’s social media policy. Babalola, who worked on the political desk of the website, was suspended after the company reviewed his responses to online trolls and concluded that he did not act with the decorum and professionalism expected of the organisation’s employees. This incident highlights the importance of professionalism and decorum in journalism, particularly in a political climate that is often polarised like ours.
In the period leading to the 2023 general poll, some media organisations took sides and did not hide their partisanship in their coverage of events. Technically, a section of the press became the unofficial media arm of the opposition and ruling parties, doing their propaganda briefs. This has often overflowed into social media, leading to very acrimonious and divisive back-and-forth flavoured with ethnic profiling, aspersions-casting and avoidable xenophobic attacks from supporters and representatives of the main political parties. It should not be allowed to fester.
In attempting to rein in the practice before it spirals out of control, the National Broadcasting Code (NBC) fined Channels Television N5 million for allegedly violating the NBC code in a recent programme featuring the Labour Party’s vice presidential candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed.
However, the fine has raised concerns about censorship and freedom of expression in the media, particularly in the post-election climate of accusations and counter-accusations that we have found ourselves.
There are some who accuse the NBC of playing to the tune of the ruling party. These critics claim that there have been some other provocative statements made by leaders and supporters of the APC on television programmes without the weight of sanctions levied against the network.
Coincidentally, some hours after it was reported that the President-elect’s campaign had filed a petition against Channels Tv for the programme, the fine from the NBC closely followed to raise questions about the sequence of events. While the fine is within the purview of the regulatory framework of the NBC, there is a considerable threat in what could be deemed the Commission’s high-handedness and it is worth exploring within the discussion of the media’s responsibility.
Ahead of the elections in February and March, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had reason to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and demand the immediate withdrawal of a recent threat by the NBC to revoke the licence of broadcast stations over their coverage of the upcoming elections. SERAP urged the President to call Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, and the NBC to order and ensure that the NBC’s actions do not limit freedom of expression and the ability of broadcast stations to cover important issues around the 2023 general elections.
Apart from the responsibility of the media to be part of the peace-building process in a struggling democracy, there is also the need to protect the press and journalists doing their work. In the 2019 general election alone, the Press Attack Tracker, a project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), documented at least 72 violations, including arrests, physical attacks, denial of access, threats, equipment damage, equipment seizure, harassment, and abductions.
The Nigerian media is barely surviving under severe financial stress and there are many pressures that make it difficult for the media to deliver on its mandate of enhancing the people’s rights to know and holding individuals, organisations and corporations accountable. These include ownership burdens, excessive pressure from advertisers and other patrons who try to dictate content, a sustainability challenge caused by dwindling advertising revenue, and attacks on journalists and media organisations.
The media need to face the many challenges that are internal to their existence, including media partisanship and media code violations, which we have seen plenty of in and around these elections. As responsible practitioners of the sacred journalism, it behoves us, who are responsible for “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable”, to come to the table with clean hands. We must rid ourselves of whatever can lead to questioning the sanctity of our practice whilst adhering to best practices and the highest standards.
Furthermore, attacks on journalists and media organisations must be addressed as well. There is a need for the government to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability during the electoral process and ensure that the media is allowed to carry out its watchdog role without fear of reprisal or censorship. These pressures make it difficult for the media to deliver on its mandate of enhancing the people’s rights to know and holding individuals, organisations, and corporations accountable.
The government should also protect journalists and the press doing their work and citizens should support and respect the media’s role in enhancing our nascent democratic practice. The media plays a crucial role in shaping the public’s perception of the electoral process and ensuring that it is conducted in a free, fair, and transparent manner. We must uphold that role, come what may.
I am positive that the fortunes of the Nigerian media will improve when the economy returns to its lost glory and the media can help achieve this as soon as possible by taking a leading role in easing the tension in the land and remain professional and unbiased in its reportage of events concerning the general elections.