“T[he]…passiveness of the media regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to challenge…bias and effectively regulate the broadcast media is not fully consistent with regulatory framework for the elections or international standards requiring the state controlled media to ensure fair and equitable access by contesting parties” – European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM).
Last week in Abuja, the European Union’s chief election observer for the 2015 Nigerian elections, Santiago Fisas, released the Final Report of the European Union Election Observation Mission. The 58-page report touched on several issues that were relevant to what, arguably, was the most important elections held in Nigeria, since the 1999 transition to civil rule. The stakes were very high indeed and as the report pointed out: “the campaigning environment was extremely competitive and tense. Incidents were reported in all parts of the country resulting in more than 160 people killed in election-related violence.” The report continued, “issue-based campaigning was overshadowed by negative tactics, with increasing use of inflammatory language, hate speech and religious, ethnic and sectional sentiments and appeals” [Pg. 5].
On the place of the media in the elections, the EU report stated that “the steady growth of private outlets and use of social media contributes to pluralistic media environment overall”, even when the broadcast media continues to be dominated by federal and state government-controlled media, “which primarily serve incumbents’ interest”.
On the point of the state-owned broadcaster, the EU mission monitored the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), the broadcasters with the widest coverage and the report stated clearly that: “both provided extensive exposure of PDP and its officials (the President and Federal Government). On NTA news, coverage of PDP and its officials totaled 84%, which contrasted with APC’s 11%. A similar pattern was identified in FRCN’s news, and in NTA’s editorial programs. More extreme uneven coverage was identified in some state-controlled radio stations, with over 95% of airtime allocated to incumbent governors seeking re-election. Thus federal and state government controlled media gave incumbents clear advantage over their opponents”[Pg. 5]. The EU EOM’s quantitative analyses of the NTA and FRCN showed that they were clearly biased in favour of the PDP and the incumbent government: “of the overall prime-time news coverage dedicated to presidential candidates, NTA and FRCN allocated to President Jonathan 85% and 77%, respectively. Inequalities were even more apparent in other NTA prime-time programs that almost exclusively covered only the ruling party, incumbent president and government, merging formal official functions with campaigning” [Pg. 24-25]. The report also exposed the crude bias of the private broadcaster African Independent Television (AIT), which was part of the NBC-NTA triangle of very vile propaganda, against the opposition but especially the opposition presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. And this is the heart of the matter!
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), is the regulatory body for Nigerian broadcasting and by law, is expected to ensure that broadcast organizations strictly adhere to standards of objectivity and professional ethics in their electoral and other outputs. But in the lead up to the 2015 elections, NBC became partisan and was therefore unable to regulate, enforce the rule, or sanction offenders like AIT, because the Director-General of NBC himself, Emeka Mba, was a staunch supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan. He labored under the delusion that he had presidential cover and was under the wings of Jonathan’s SGF, Pius Anyim, as well as being very close to the controversial Diezani Allison-Maduekwe.
Against this backdrop, NBC lost focus and became very much part of the problem. Similarly, Nigeria has not been able to position the NTA and FRCN as genuine public service broadcasters, in the tradition of the BBC, SABC or CBC. In those traditions, the public service broadcaster is dedicated to the national good, and is not operated as the propaganda mouthpiece of the regime or administration in power. In the Nigerian setting, the appointment of the leadership of these organizations takes place in a context that obliges them by tradition and practice, to operate a groveling tendency of servitude. The activities of the president and his wife become the most important items of day-to-day news, while in the election season the stations are turned into handmaidens of the electoral interests of the incumbent leader and his political party.
In a season of change, Nigeria has very vital decisions to make about the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the NTA and FRCN. The NBC’s leadership today is very much part of the baggage of the Jonathan period and that brings into sharp focus the need to shield the institution from the type of crude partisanship exhibited in the lead to the 2015 elections. NBC should play its regulatory role; able to hold broadcasters to their obligations as well as being able to sanction violators of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code as they relate to election coverage. That means that the Director-General of the NBC must never be part of the media team of the incumbent president or become so obviously biased in favour of an incumbent. As the EU EOM report clearly showed, NBC’s “passiveness” handicapped its ability to “challenge…bias” and it could not “effectively regulate the broadcast media” during the last elections. Similarly, a decision has to be made about running the NTA and the FRCN as genuine public service broadcasters dedicated to the best interests of Nigeria through a firm fidelity to the best professional practices that eliminate crude partisanship in favour of incumbent administrations. A government committed to positive change in the way Nigeria is run must have a serious interest in placing these national institutions on the very best footing possible. As we saw in the 2015 elections and even before, these media outfits’ partisan coverage makes it difficult for them to have any real credibility with the Nigerian people. That can be changed for the better. It is heartening to note that the EU EOM report noticed the fact that, “Positively, some private media provided overall balanced and fair coverage of key contesting parties” [Pg.6]. Nigerians are in debt to media outfits that stood for democratic consolidation and accurate reportage of elections which, in the final analysis, led to the peaceful transfer of power in our country.
BORNO ENTERS POST-INSURGENCY RECONSTRUCTION MODE
Last Saturday, Kashim Shettima, the Borno state governor, went on an inspection tour of Auno, Jakana and Beni Sheikh. These are communities on the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, where the Borno state government commenced the rehabilitation of communities and the reconstruction of infrastructural facilities that were destroyed, burnt or vandalized by the Boko Haram insurgency. Some of the projects inspected included primary health care centers and staff quarters for doctors, nurses and other health workers; rebuilt and modernized primary schools; the residence of the district head; a central mosque; a general hospital; a local council secretariat that was being reconstructed; magistrate’s court; an office complex for the Federal Road Safety Commission; an upper area court; divisional police headquarters, even boreholes. In all, a total of sixteen project sites were visited in the Kaga local government area of Borno. And that area was chosen for the first phase of a reconstruction process in liberated and reclaimed communities of Borno state. The next phase of the reconstruction process will be taken to Bama, Gwoza ana Askira Uba.
Last month I was in Maiduguri and was privileged to witness a meeting the governor held with officials tasked with the mobilization of the logistics for the reconstruction of these different communities. There were pictures tendered which showed the extent of destruction of infrastructure by the insurgents. They went all out to vandalize and burn offices; residences and even boreholes in the communities that they occupied in the years of the insurgency. The reality is that these were communities that were underdeveloped in the first place and which the insurgency had consciously vandalized and tried almost successfully, to return to the Stone Age. That is why the commencement of reconstruction and rehabilitation of these communities has become a major step in the direction of a post-insurgency era in Borno in particular and the Northeast in general. The Borno government has decided that given the balance of forces today, leading to the massive degradation of the insurgency as well as the commitment of the Buhari Presidency to end the insurgency by the end of the year, the time has come to take the definitive step in the area of reconstruction. To this end, thousands and thousands of blocks are being molded, with working people becoming busy in Borno in providing the vital needs to reconstruct communities and basic infrastructure to resume life in these communities. The central plan is to modernize public infrastructure; and ensure functional service delivery in sectors like healthcare delivery; water supply; education and other essentials of life and helping to bring the people rapidly to modernity. Many of these are farming communities and the government has also procured agricultural machinery and basic implements that will be used in a massive agricultural revolution that is planned to become central to the re-commencement of community life in all the areas that were destroyed by the insurgency.
I think the Borno State government has chosen a most auspicious time to begin the reconstruction of these communities. There is a very positive environment nationally, with a government at the center that is committed to a rapid ending of the insurgency and which is also not hostile to the Borno State government, like the Jonathan administration was. The regional situation is also favourable, with the cobbling together of a serious regional military alliance that will close in of the insurgents from all directions to eventually flush them out. And finally, there is an international ambience that is also very conducive to the return of peace; the Americans are introducing troops in regional countries as well as intelligence gathering capabilities that will assist the regional force just as the international community is pledging funds to assist in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process. The end of the insurgency is very close (never mind the desperate bombings of soft targets which only underline the strategic weakness and degradation of the terror organization) and a window of opportunity has opened for the people of Borno and the Northeast to begin to contemplate life in a post-insurgency era, with its own very unique and exacting demands. The easier part will be to rehabilitate infrastructure while the more long lasting issues will be about the people who were traumatized; those that suffered physical and emotional damage, especially women and the very young and the long term issues of de-radicalization and reintegration of former terrorists back into communities. Borno’s government has taken the tentative first step into the future that hopefully will be one of peace and development, but it is going to be a very long journey indeed.