BY EDMONG ODOK, ABUJA – A veteran journalist and Executive Editor of Forefront Magazine and Online News, Amos Dunia, has decried observable lapses in the performance of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the media during the 2019 general elections
He said besides other stakeholders, who muddied the electoral process by their actions or inactions, both INEC and the media cannot excuse themselves from some of the challenges and shortcomings that characterized the polls.
In a presentation on: ‘The Coverage of the 2019 General Elections: A Practitioner’s Perspective’ Dunia admitted that the 2019 polls, like others before it, came with its peculiar challenges, but said it was worrying that the processes went off course despite INEC’s repeated assurances that “everything and all things required” were in place to “conduct of free, fair, credible and acceptable elections.”
Speaking at the Forum on media coverage of the 2019 elections, organized by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in collaboration with INEC, Dunia, a former Chairman of NUJ, Abuja Council, said the electoral umpire clearly had issues delivering on its vision statement and prized values of autonomy; transparency; integrity; credibility; impartiality; commitment to quality electoral services; equity; excellence; and team work in the recently-concluded polls.
According to him, given what transpired in the field, there are no doubts the Commission had difficulties proving itself as “one of the best Election Management Bodies (EMB) in the world that meets the aspirations of the Nigerian people.”
The Forefront Executive Editor stated that to any eagle-eyed journalist, the 2019 elections’ postponement by INEC was “timed, calculated and deliberate”, adding that media practitioners must therefore work to unravel the whole truth behind that ugly development.
He said without necessary logistics and adequate safety valves to protect them as the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm’, media practitioners were clearly in a fix and unable to “effectively perform their oversight function, public education, and conflict management roles during elections.”
Dunia, who also served as NUJ National Auditor between 1992 and 1994, said despite INEC’s huge publicity budget and “avowed profession of openness and transparency in dealings with the media, the reverse seems to have been the case in approach and practice.”
“INEC, by what seems a deliberate policy, has made coverage of elections more and more risky for journalists by its refusal to accord them protection against abuse, especially by security agents.
“It is equally important to acknowledge that due to logistical challenges, the Media could not afford to cover all the 119,973 Polling Units (PU) and 57,023 Voting Points created by INEC.”
The veteran media man also lamented that; “The structure, nature and operations of the media also made it only practicable to cover a cluster of polling points mainly in State capitals and Local Government headquarters for obvious reasons that include security, communication and transportation.”
He further listed other areas where journalists had challenges covering the elections effectively to include; “results’ collation at the Ward, Local Government and State collation centres where security agencies took over control and decided who should be allowed access or not.”
The Forefront Editor, while admitting that; “events before, during and even after the elections substantially compromised the media”, said; “Sadly, many media organisations openly displayed bias in their reportage with the practitioners becoming active participants rather than observers or unbiased umpires in their story deliveries.
“It was therefore not surprising that the two main political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) crowded the media space with their paid agents. One can safely say that both parties had many journalists and media houses that were clearly identified with them and their selfish agenda for the elections.”
Dunia noted that this “ugly scenario saw some media, traditional and new, churning out skewed messages for their respective readers and audiences without concern for the integrity of their medium, even as the smaller political parties were completely left in the cold with their activities grossly under reported in the media”
He also accused State-owned media of suppressing opposition voices, saying; “As usual, opposition parties and elements did not enjoy a level playing field in the various States as the respective governments ensured their views were openly suppressed with impossible to meet conditions.”
Describing the issue of fake news as ‘quite distressing’, the former NUJ Council boss said: “Indeed, never in Nigeria’s political history have we recorded such unprecedented high level of fake news as events of the 2019 elections evidently portrayed.
“With this ugly development becoming the daily order, it was appalling that even the traditional media seem to be in an unhealthy competition with the new media on who comes out tops.”
The activities of some state and non-state actors did not also escape Dunia’s scrutiny as he frowned at the ignoble role played by some security agencies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who were complicit in alleged distasteful events during the elections.
He said; “Accusations abound that security agencies, especially the Military, against all known rules of engagement, and some political thugs were engaged in scuttling the electoral process in some states of the Federation.
“More worrisome is the fact that the CSOs that were depended on and considered as impartial arbiter did not fare better in their job delivery with some of them clearly demonstrating partisanship during the polls. Of serious concern is that some faces among the Local Elections Monitors/Observers so-called were obviously agents of political parties that readily came up with reports that tended to promote and support the position(s) of their paid Masters.
“If the story making the rounds that some of the CSOs are also agents of INEC, then elections in Nigeria have a long way to go”, the media practitioner lamented
He however said the noticeable lapses notwithstanding, media practitioners, as agents of change, have the responsibility of participating actively in charting the best course forward on electoral management and processes in the country.
Dunia therefore challenged the NUJ to take the lead in holding INEC and other stakeholders accountable while galvanizing media practitioners to stay focused and remain a strong voice for equity, peace and unity in building the Nigeria of our dream.