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Media Should Prioritise 'Nigerian Project' In Reporting 2023 Elections, Says Ozekhome

November 27, 2022

Ozekhome gave the advice in a paper delivered at the 2022 Media Week of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Cross River State titled: “2023 General Elections: The Nigerian Project And The Media”.

Human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, has advised Nigerian journalists to eschew skewed reportage tailored towards self-interest above the national good as the country approaches the 2023 general elections.

Ozekhome gave the advice in a paper delivered at the 2022 Media Week of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Cross River State titled: “2023 General Elections: The Nigerian Project And The Media”.

The lawyer said the only way Nigerians can have the country of their dreams and ultimately bequeath it to generations yet unborn is by guiding the electorate to make informed voting choices.

He stated that as the country goes into the 2023 elections, the media ought to focus its attention on two key things: the state of the Polity and the status of the Nigerian Project. According to him, it is a journey towards building a strong, reliable and resilient country that everyone will be proud of.

He observed that for the first time in 23 years, Nigeria appears to be doing away with the rotational principle or the prioritisation of identities in the determination of the emergence of candidates.

He said, “The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will be contesting the presidential election with Asiwaju Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a Southern Muslim, as the presidential candidate and Alhaji Kashim Shettima, a Northern Muslim, as the running mate. This has generated much ruckus and debate given that religion remains an important element of Nigerian politics and society.

“On the other hand, against the expectation of fielding a Southerner, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is fielding a Northerner and former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as its presidential candidate. The candidate will however have a Christian Southerner, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, as his running mate. While it will be interesting to see how electorates react to these changes, both parties argue that their candidates’ selection is based on calculations that would ensure victory in the 2023 elections.”

Ozekhome, however, noted that since 1999 to date, the management of the nation’s diversity, allocation, and distribution of its resources to the different groups in the society has often brought up challenges, which political parties have to manage through zoning arrangements.

While analysing the election, Ozekhome expressed optimism that with the current energy with which Nigerians, particularly young people, discuss the 2023 elections, “it is hopeful that more voters than the 34.75% recorded during the 2019 general elections will turn out to exercise their rights.”

He said, “The chief consequence of this intertwining of journalism and politics is that the media sometimes shirks in its obligation to be objective in its coverage of politics in particular and the society in general.

“A corollary to this is how the public now views media content with skepticism, often sieving the news to separate the story from the interest of the paper. Therefore, the media — the watchdog — sometimes becomes the ‘watched dog’.

“The politics-journalism alliance has also limited the capacity of journalists to build professional careers independent of political influence. It has increased the diffusion of journalism with politics, to such an extent that the journalist today is a politician tomorrow and is back to journalism the next minute. Still, journalism has been one of the undisputed bastions of democracy in Nigeria.

“The media played an important role in the agitations for an end to years of military rule in the 1980s and 1990s, often finding itself at the receiving end of military might. Concord and The Guardian, two of the leading papers of the time, were the subject of frequent military crackdown, many of their senior editors spending lengthy times in jail. The media continued on this path upon return to civilian rule in 1999, with a newsmagazine, The News, exposing age and certificate falsifications by Salisu Buhari, the first Speaker of the lower chamber in the Fourth Republic who, after a few denials, had little choice but to admit to the crime, weeping on national TV before throwing in the towel.”

He maintained that both journalists and broadcasters alike should imbibe and prioritise national interest or ‘The Nigerian Project’ in their reportage and analysis of the next elections.

“This is critical, as insensitive or irresponsible news coverage can easily become political propaganda deployed for divisive and, often, destructive ends. The incidence of ‘fake news’ has become so prevalent across the world that the phrase has become part of mainstream lexicon and consciousness. It simply connotes news that has little or no bearing with the truth or reality. Such news has caused much pain, distress, upheaval and turmoil across the world.

“The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 was – at least, partly - sparked and sustained by radio broadcasts by the leaders of rival ethnic groups. Nigeria has had its fair share of such news coverage which has been inimical to the national interest and has consequently undermined the Nigeria Project. However, this might be a matter of perception because, as it is said, beauty (or its opposite!) is in the eye of the beholder. Hence one man’s freedom fighter might be another person’s terrorist. In other words, our values are usually subjective,” he said.