At the preliminary press briefing of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the outcome of Ghana’s 2012 at the Best Western Hotel in Accra on Saturday, a local journalist forced former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo, the ECOWAS Head of Mission, to re-examine his credentials as a democrat.
The occasion was the Question and Answer segment that followed the presentation of the preliminary report presentation of the Commission by the Deputy Head of Mission.
As one of the Commission's recommendations curiously calls for a media framework to curtail the “excesses” of the media in election reporting, the first time such a recommendation has found its way into an official ECOWAS document, a journalist in the gallery sought clarification on the proposed the media framework, in a question addressed to “General” Obasanjo.
The immediacy of the attack was not lost on Obasanjo, who promptly tackled the reference, in the process exposing himself as the author of the anti-freedom of information recommendation.
"My friend, I don't know why you address me as General Obasanjo,” the two-time Nigeria leader said.
“In Nigeria where I am the former president, it is my political opponents that address me as “General” Obasanjo when they want to show me as a dictator. My party call me Chief Obasanjo. It now depends on which side you belong".
The exchange threw the whole room into uncontrollable laughter before Obasanjo turned to the request for him to expatiate on his media framework proposal which is regarded among journalists and other election observers as reactionary and repressive.
Obasanjo said he believes there used a law to "curtail the excesses" of the Ghanaian media in the reportage of election process, and tried to distinguish between "right of information" as opposed to "freedom of information" in journalism and access to information.
In Ghana, Obasanjo’s assessment and position contradicts the popular verdict of independent, local and international observers of the election. It is believed that the proactive, efficient, timely, accurate and popular reportage of developments at polling units and transmission of verified results for public consumption is the missing recipe for transparent, popular, free and fair election in many African countries, including Nigeria.
In this regard, Ghana has over 1500 FM radio stations, community radios inclusive. Correspondents and reporters have been in polling units across the country, transmitting certified results live to their stations.
It is believed that the positive influence of such media participation does not meet with Obasanjo’s approval, as he is known to cherish secrecy in the election process that can be manipulated at the last minute as has been widely-done in his Peoples Democratic Party in Nigeria.
In 2006, Obasanjo single-handedly chose his party’s presidential ticket, and superintended a rigged election that brought Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan to power.