For The Record:
Being The Text of Speech Delivered By Barr. Mike Igini (immediate past Resident Electoral Commissioner, Akwa Ibom State) on the occasion of the NUJ Week Cross River State Branch on 25th October 2022 at Transcorp Hotel Calabar on the topic: 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS,THE NIGERIAN PROJECT AND THE MEDIA
1. May l warmly thank members of the Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) Cross River Chapter, many of whom l worked with throughout the period of four years, five months and eleven days as a Commissioner in this state. Thank you for the invite to be part of your Union’s week activities. and the honour to share my thoughts on the topic “2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS, THE NIGERIAN PROJECT AND THE MEDIA”
2. As the 2023 elections approaches; How do you effectively carry out the most important role of the media; educating the electorates to make informed choices in an election through issues based campaigns ? In other words, what is the most important role of the media in the build-up to elections?
The Nigerian Project
3. What is the Nigerian project and what does it mean to the people of this country ? Is it about how to build a country of collective shared vision, that we all have equal responsibility to contribute and share ? Is the Nigerian project about the ruling elites at any given point in time or a country where there will be opportunity for and responsibility from all ?
4. Sometime around the year, 2000, a renowned journalist by name Karl Maier, wrote a book about Nigeria which he gave a curious title: “This House Has Fallen” (midnight). I was initially upset by the title of the book but decided to find out what it meant. l read it with a sense of shame and embarrassment and asked myself that in the event that this house actually collapses because of our inability to manage ourselves, where will l go to with my family and truly feel at home. We cannot dismiss the ,m,many factual situations that portray us like a pack of cards.
5. That is why the 2023 elections is so critical that we must make success of it, the vocation of politics Charles de Gaulle admonished is to serious to be left alone to those who say they are politicians. The Nigerian project and governance cannot and must not be left entirely in the hands of those who are popularly elected into power. The exigencies of the time demands that all hands must be on deck and all serious-minded groups and individuals of talents and vision must be passionately engaged in building the project which in my view requires a reset and demands ethical revolution or a process of moral regeneration.
6. The 2022 Act & INEC INNOVATIONS
The 2022 Electoral Act has secured INEC ICT designed innovations to deliver credible election difficult to manipulate. The whole of sections 29,31,33,34,43,47,50,51,60,61,65,77,81,84,91,95,115,121,134,137. For example, section 47 of the Act provides for compulsory use of the Biomodal voters Accreditation system (BVAS) for the accreditation of all voters across Nigeria, failure to use invalidate the election. Its a dual system i.e biometrics and facial recognition. Consequently, the use of incident form completely eliminated. In the same vein, result collation through INEC result view portal (IREV) of the total number Of Accredited voters and votes scored by political parties (S.60(4)(5) is also a dual process of upload and manual recording with hard copy duplicates given to party agents
The Role of Media
7. The power of the media in shaping society,moulding public opinion and setting agenda for public discourse and bringing about the reality of government by discussion, which is what democracy is all about in the final analysis is both legendary and long-standing. That perhaps was why the 3rd President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Independence Declaration document once said “The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man and improving him as a rational, moral and social being” This was also re-echoed by his immediate successor, James Madison when he said “To the press alone, chequred as it is with abuses,the world is indebted for all the triumphs…by humanity over error and oppression”
8. The 1999 constitution of the the federal Republic of Nigeria in section 22 specifically imposed on the media the obligation to “at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives…and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people” Thus, the most important function of the media in a democracy is the media’s role as a watchdog.
9. ln this role, the media function to guide and protect society in its leadership recruitment process from selecting or electing individuals who have no philosophical insight to what leadership is all about by exposing their individual backgrounds, competencies, past and present views on key national issues or policies and the kind of leaders they would likely be if elected or appointed to certain public offices. In this way, the media act as the public protector or guardian angel (of some sort) for society’s sanity and survival by keeping in check and monitoring the exercise of power by public office holders to deliver the full story of the whole essence of the embrace of democracy.
10. This watchdog role is the most important part of the journalist’s job, because it bridges the democratic variance between electoral promises, expectations and actual deliverables that affect the material and social condition of the people. In ensuring acceptable elections, therefore, the primary remit of the media during electioneering periods of campaigns is to partner with election managers to educate the electorate to perform their civic duties of voting on the basis of real issues that affect their material and social condition, as well as educating citizens on sound knowledge of democracy and its processes, engage and beam a search light on election managers to limit variance between elections as it is expected to be and election as it is managed and delivered.
11. Elected political office holders have obligation to deliver on electoral promises in order to meet the expectations of the public, while voters are supposed to be able to assess or measure performance by their standard of living to determine the choices to make in the exercise of their residual soveregnity during elections.
But how can voters who are largely illiterates, many of whom are under extreme poverty and are ever willing to sell their votes or PVCs make this assessment of what was promised and actual deliverables by elected office holders to enable them make a better choice in the next election?
12. This is where the media could be the guiding “angels” of some sort by educating the electorate on the long term consequence of self denial for good governance and the consequences when they sell their votes for pittance, by reminding and providing electorates with information about previous electoral promises made, kept or unfulfilled vis-a-vis new promises.
The media as the main deliberative platform in a democracy, should in its agenda-setting, focus and aggregate the choices of the electorate around real measurable issues that matter to the wellbeing of citizens; explain and expose gaps between voter expectations and the reality of the actions of elected political office holders in authority. The media can do all these through the following:
· Providing platforms for candidates to communicate their messages to the electorate; political parties and candidates’ debate on issues of development.
· Educating citizens to enable them make informed political choices.
· Encouraging political pluralism by allowing equal air time/print space for ruling and opposition political parties as stipulated by the Electoral Act
· Expose actions and conduct of stakeholders that could undermine the integrity of the electoral process through advocacy-reporting.
Impact Of Media On Elections
13. Those who underrate the impact of the media in elections and particularly with the emergence of social media do so at their own peril as a few illustrations of historical electoral contributions of the media in electoral contests readily come to mind with some of the oldest democracies like the U.S and Britain.
The first most important impact of the media in American democratic competition was the political contest between two associates of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State) and Alexander Hamilton (Treasury Secretary). At that time Jefferson believed Hamilton was misleading the President with the pro-British and anti-democratic position of the media which supported Hamilton’s worldview, mainly through the Gazette of the United States Newspaper. Jefferson could not openly express his direct opposition, so he created a surrogate voice using a newspaper founded by his associate Phillip Freneau called the National Gazette. Jefferson’s use of an opposition media created the consciousness of the media battleground as a viable platform for opposition politics.
14. The media seed that Jefferson sowed in the National Gazzette was nurtured to bloom, first by the Philadelphia Aurora which developed a loose network of local newspapers in the United States that strongly attacked President Adams (1797-1801). The attacks were so effective that President Adams and other Federalists panicked and responded by creating the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. The Act which was meant to strangle the network of opposition newspapers outraged Americans that saw it as a blatant attempt to destroy press freedom for political gains because while the Adams administration closed numerous opposition papers, the Democratic-Republican leaning newspapers grew bigger and stronger. The anger of Americans reflected in the election of 1800 to 1801 which was won by Jefferson and became the first recorded transition of power peacefully from one political party to another in the United States and indeed world history.
15. Another media impact example on elections from the United States was the election of President Andrew Jackson, who lost the Presidential election in1824 to John Quincy Adams, but by the election of 1828, Andrew Jackson had developed a media machine network that included every major city and town in the United States of America and won the election. In acknowledgement of the impact of the media to his victory, Andrew Jackson became the first President that openly acknowledged newspapers for their support in getting him elected, and was also the first to appoint as many as about seventy journalists to federal offices in the United States.
16. Comparable illustrations can also be drawn from the United Kingdom, where it was shown that in the “Leaders debate” in the United kingdom organized for leading political groups in the UK on television, for the first time impacted the proportion of votes taken away from the Conservative party by the Liberal Democrats. The first debate was watched by 9.6 million people in the United Kingdom, and viewers indicated that Clegg won the debate by 61% of opinions polled after the debate. Although Prime Minister, David Cameron recovered in the other two debates, it was later accepted that the margin of majority that the Conservative Party lost to the Liberal democrats in 2010 compared to 2005 was attributable to the impact of the televised Sky news “Leaders debate”.
17. Similarly, several authorities have also attributed the same impacts though with disputed agreements to the effective use of social media by the Obama and later the Trump campaigns in the United States and the Macron campaign in France.
18. In Nigeria, we cannot also run away from the fact that most of the early and later print journals also had partisan origins, with nationalist and regional interests as the motivating foundations of the later news journals.
There is no doubt that the media has significant impact on the 2015 elections that led to the first historic peaceful transfer of power from one party to another political party. As we have seen from the historical examples, media impact is often partisan. Now being partisan is not new or wrong in a democratic setting, as long as the medium declares its conflicts of interest and does not close its space to other views but balances its coverage with the views of the opposition to clearly contrast the diversity of political opinions.
19. This has not been well practiced particularly by media owned by governments or partisan party leaders. Media balancing, is not clearly the same as neutrality, but media practitioners should avoid a relapse into what in medical palance, the American oncologist, Jerome Groopman refers to as “cognitive cherry-picking”, a short cut in thinking wherein medical doctors selectively judge their current cases by past cases by latching only on symptoms that confirm their original presumption (hypothesis) while ignoring contradicting ones. This has found its way to journalistic practice, the media not only cherry-picks but also reinforce this with what is called the “echo-chamber effect”, which is basically the subjective interests and alliances of media proprietors whether they be private or government. That is why certain interests and views of political groups are played up or given prominence to the exclusion or relegation of alternative views.
20. Given the above and having regard to these pitfalls and tendencies of the media despite its strength, how then do we, on the one hand, make future elections particularly the 2023 elections produce “sui generis” elected public office holders based on a media driven issues-focused campaigns by politicians and on the other hand, partner with and beam a search light on all those who have a role to play in the conduct of the 2023 election for a transparent, free, fair and credible election for the sustenance of our democracy.
21. Success in these goals requires common but differentiated responsibility of the Media, INEC, political parties and their candidates. The issues required to hold election managers accountable are different from those required to hold political parties and their candidates to account. The Media should hold election managers accountable on the process based on the well enuciated metrics of competition, participation and legitimacy propounded by Lindberg in relation to issues of planning, organizing, controlling and directing the course of an election to make it acceptable. This would also include the onus of proof that should be placed on the umpire (Sections 31and 36) of the Evidence Act on how well the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the law in relation to the election return.
Political Parties Accountability
22. Holding political parties to account for the benefits of democracy, is a bigger responsibility for the media in playing its role as an effective watchdog and gatekeeper for democratic practice. To do this effectively the key issues also need to be well defined.
For the political parties, the media needs to focus on whether they have been able to deliver on some of the following broad functions:
· How have the parties been managed in terms of their internal democracy processes in the choice of candidates for election
· Have they been able to form and institutionalize effective regime of seperation of powers between Executive, Legislation and Judiciary ?
· Have they been able to formulate and implement effective public policies. Are the opposing parties offering credible alternatives to policies?
· Have they been able to formulate and organize public opinion around key issues of development through institutionalized debate and get the public to aggregate their votes around such issues?
· Have the parties been able to provide national stability by uniting, simplifying and stabilizing the political process of the country?
· Have they been recruiting leaders and creating successional processes for coaching and mentoring future leaders. E.g will the sham across the country called LGA elections pass for a model of leadership recruitment process?
NUJ can develop its own Index for evaluating political parties akin to the stock market index for assessing the delivery of benefits and the maximization of public welfare delivered by elected officials at all levels. In making this recommendation, I am fully aware of the diverse awards given by different media organizations to past and present office holders. While not diminishing their importance, its my well considered opinion that the media as a body should have one composite governance award metric for public elected officials, a scorecard for performance that reduces subjectivity in scoring public officials. Such an indicator will not only help the voting public to make informed choices during elections but also insulate our politics from the corossive and divisive matters of ethnicity and religion and focus on real issues that affect the people.
23. IMPERATIVES OF POLICY DEBATE
A very important measure to commit and hold those seeking elective political offices to account is for the media to institutionalize political debates for aspiring leaders, especially in the following issues for public debates:
· Security (see S.14 constitution)
· Healthcare and social welfare
· Economy (job creation/employment/position on international trade)
· Infrastructure for development
· Foreign Policy
South Korea model : It must be emphasized that from our study tour to countries such as South Korea, we found that they have effectively used political debates to achieve, purposeful leadership selection which sieves out aspirants that are ill-prepared for leadership.
Political debates are also very important for internal democracy in political parties because it will enable members to elect committed party members grounded in the manifesto of the party.
If the media is able to focus on and mobilize the electorate around the above mentioned thematic issues that have direct bearing on their welbeing,then they would not only have carried out an important duty in a democracy, which is to act as a watchdog for society, but they will be seen to have delivered on the three key impacts of the media during election as espoused by professor Pippa Norris which are;
· Agenda setting, by choosing which issues to cover and in what way
· Persuasion, by influencing voters’ perceptions of the parties, leaders and their candidates and
· Mobilization, by encouraging people to take interest in the issues that drive campaigns.
In concluding, therefore, let me remind us again of my principal submission that the success or failure of the Nigerian project is entirely up to us the people of this country. The forthcoming 2023 election is yet another opportunity for us to renew the journey of our country both in terms of those who have run the affairs of the country and the policies that have been implemented in the last few years. Thus, the most important role of the media in a democracy as a watchdog is Setting agenda on issues and policy debates on Security, Economy, Job creation and Employment, Education, Health, Infastructure and foreign policy for political parties and their candidates. That is the only way the media can help the Nigerian people to make informed choices of qualified and competent leaders that would occupy the legislative and executive arms of government at all levels.
I thank the media, Nigerians cherish your partnership in the continuing efforts at sustained voters’ education and in building public confidence consensus on INEC innovations and processes designed to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023 towards the consolidation of democracy and building a Nigeria where there will be opportunity for all and responsibility from all.