How editors can promote credible elections -Mutallab
Published On 29 Aug, 2014 At 03:09 PM | With 0 Comments
Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, Mr Femi Adesina, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, and Alhaji Mukhtar Ibrahim Katsina, Secretary to  Government, Katsina State

Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, Mr Femi Adesina, President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, and Alhaji Mukhtar Ibrahim Katsina, Secretary to Government, Katsina State

Speech Delivered by Dr. Umaru Mutallab, CON, Keynote Speaker at the 10th All Nigerian Editors Conference (ANEC) with the Theme “Credible Elections and Good Governance: The Role of the Editor”, held at Katsina Motel, Katsina, August 27-31, 2014.

How Editors Can Promote Credible Elections and Enhance Good Governance in Nigeria
Permit me to start by expressing my profound gratitude to the leadership of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), for choosing me out of millions of eminent citizens of our great country to serve as Guest Speaker at this year’s All Nigerian Editors Conference, the 10th in the series, holding in the historic city of Katsina. I have pondered over the decision of the Guild to ignore the myriads of renowned public speakers we have in this country and to settle for a quiet businessman like me to perform this critical role. However, the decision did not come as a big surprise to me given that the NGE, being the apex and most influential body of journalists in Nigeria, is itself relatively conservative, for very obvious reasons. This is why I am most delighted to be here today to address this distinguished gathering. Undoubtedly, the media is the conscience of any nation or society. And if the media falters, then a nation or society is doomed. As Malcolm X once said: “The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that is power. Because they control the minds of the masses”.

For us in this part of the world, it is a well-known fact that since the era of our occupation under the British rule, the media has been in the vanguard of the struggles by our people to entrench a positive atmosphere that promotes freedom, peace and unity,  and also allows for socio-economic and political growth and development  of the country. It is on record that besides the IweIrohin which was started in 1859 by Reverend Henry Townsend in Abeokuta, newspapers like The Nigerian Chronicle which was started in Lagos in 1908, Daily Times in 1926, The West African Pilot in 1937, and even Nigerian Tribune and the New Nigerian in 1946 and 1966 respectively, played pivotal roles in advancing the cause of our nationhood. It is no surprise therefore, that the Nigerian media are regarded worldwide as the most vibrant in Africa. Although Nigeria is a heterogeneous society and has had a chequered political history, especially after independence, there is hardly any segment of our society that can claim to have thrived without the support of the media. Is it people like us in the Business Class that would claim to have successfully built and nurtured commercial entities without the help of the Fourth Estate of the Real? Or is it members of the Political Class in our country that always ride on the back of the media to ascend to strategic positions of power that will lay such claim? Or is it the military which relied on the cooperation of the media to justify their regular incursions in politics? None! At a personal level, even though I am not the greatest media enthusiast, have nevertheless enjoyed tremendous helpful support from the media in my numerous endeavours over the years.

But then, with the kind of social upheavals that we have witnessed in our country in the over five decades of our existence as an independent nation, so many of which are attributed in part to the failings of our media, a lot of fellow citizens would raise doubts about the capacity of our media, nay editors, to promote credible elections and enhance the realisation of our collective dream of good governance in Nigeria. As an optimist, however, I strongly believe that you can make the difference. The question some may wish to ask then is, how can editors in the Nigerian media promote credible elections in 2015, and also enhance good governance in our country? To answer this pertinent question, it is very important that we put in context what we mean by “credible elections” and “good governance”.

So, what do we mean by credible elections?

The free dictionary defines election simply as: “The act or power of electing”. But the American Heritage Dictionary of English Language stressed further by defining election as “the selection by vote of a person or persons from among candidates for a position, especially a political office”.

Clearly, the starting point in a democracy is that people must choose who they want to lead them in any given set up, whether at the national, state or local government level. And going by these dictionary definitions, we can go on to describe credible election as the process of recruiting leaders for elective offices in a “free and fair atmosphere”. While many people across the world take this power of electing their leaders for granted, the story is quite different here in Nigeria, given what we all know of our experiences with conduct of elections since independence. To begin with, there are often potholes on our paths to elections. A prominent Nigerian columnist revealed recently in a tribute to the late South African leader and global statesman Mr. Nelson Mandela, that the Global Icon once confided in him in a private encounter that “In Nigeria, elections are like war”; and it should not be so.  During electioneering campaigns, a lot of our fellow citizens get killed and maimed needlessly because of the winner-takes-all culture that has been deeply entrenched in our system.For instance, over the years, voters register, one of the key instruments for a credible election had been a subject of controversy on account of its reliability.

However, since 1999, we have remained a stable democracy.You will agree with me that democracy is stabilizing in Nigeria because we–the Nigerian people –have together demonstrated that democracy–that is, to use the popular definition, the government of the people, for the people and by the people–is an ideal that we all cherish. We have shown great faith in democracy to the extent that despite our strong reservations about the conduct of some of the elections, we have neither submitted to despair nor the temptation to invite the military to take over power. Of course, it is widely acknowledged that the processes have improved lately with the composition of the current leadership of the electoral body. We have seen a conscientious effortby the authorities to clean up the voters register, build the capacity of electoral officials as well as other stakeholders involved in the electoral process such as the political parties and civil society organisations, and even delivery of reasonably acceptable elections across the country, the most recent of which was the governorship election in Osun and Ekiti States, South West Nigeria. It is indisputable that Nigerians appears to be developing confidence gradually, in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) now more than ever before in our history.

But despite hope and confidence in the electoral body, it is increasingly becoming obvious that Nigeria needs to improve its handling of elections at much speedier pace. This, we must do, first to save our collective reputation as a nation.

What is Good Governance?

For the purpose of this discourse, I wish to adopt the definition of good governance by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which instituted The Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership under the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), as a step towards promoting positive change in African countries. The Foundation defines governance as “the provision of the political, social and economic goods that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens”. The IIAG assesses progress under four main conceptual categories: Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. These four pillars are populated with data that cover governance elements ranging from infrastructure to freedom of expression and sanitation to property rights.

Going by the above yardstick, can we truly say that our nation is on the path to success in this regard? We are constantly making efforts to perfect our dream of deepening our democracy and entrenching good governance in our society. The turning point was in 1999, when General Abdusalami Abubakar handed over the baton of authority to a democratically elected government of President Olusegun Obasanjo.  And lest we forget, the nation did not arrive at that turning point by accident. Many citizens made sacrifices, some even laid down their lives for that transition to civil rule to become a reality. Some were jailed. Media houses were attacked and shut down. Notwithstanding, the people’s resolve has been firm and unshakeable. We have had three consecutive elections after the military-to-civilian transition, including a civilian-to-civilian change of baton, and we are still progressing despite the noticeable hiccups.

On the economic front, our nation’s outlook has been positive. The Nigerian economy, due to our collective efforts, has been resilient in spite of the last global economic recession that had impacted negatively on many countries’ economies. The country’s credit rating is positive, in contrast with many nations being downgraded. There is also positive transformation in the power sector which will no doubt, shortly accelerate the country’s productive capacity and trigger the much needed economic growth. There is also improvement of transparency and accountability in government business. The federal government also stabilized and improved the nation’s fiscal regime. We also note that the government is working hard to provide a multi-dimensional framework to boost the nation’s trade regime, to facilitate higher inflow of foreign investments. For instance, to facilitate the ease of doing business in Nigeria, the federal government recently put in place a policy to make visa procurement easier for foreign investors, with safeguards to prevent abuse. At the other levels, particularly at the state level, there have been remarkable success stories. Katsina, which is my home state;is a typical example as you shall testify before you round up your conference.

Notwithstanding the progress enumerated above, you will agree with me that we have a long way to go for Nigeria to attain global reckoning among countries where citizens are accorded the political, social and economic rights they expect from their state. Our situation has now been compounded by the rising insecurity across the country. The question therefore is: how do we tackle this and the numerous other challenges facing us as a nation, in order to put our country on the right track to achieving good governance? This is where I think you as editors have a great role to play.

The Editors’ Role in Promoting Credible Elections and Enhancing Good Governance:
I wish to open this part of the discourse by reiterating to you my firm believe that you, the editors, who are the gatekeepers in our various media organisations, hold the key to the conduct of credible elections in this country next year, as well as enhancing good governance in our society. Let me draw your attention to what the 15th President of Lebanon, Emile Jamil Lahoud, once said. According to Lahoud:  “Democracy, good governance and modernity cannot be imported or imposed from outside a country”. Now, bearing this in mind, and reflecting on the crucial role of the media in the growth and development of any society as I highlighted in the memorable quote from Malcolm X, it is only imperative for me to state without any fear of contradiction, that the sole responsibility for nurturing and deepening our democracy rests squarely on your shoulders as the egg heads in our country’s information and communication channels. This is without prejudice to the contributions that could be made by other groups such as the educational, traditional rulers, religious leaders and institutions, the armed forces and the police, who also have some role to play in that regard.

You may probably be tempted to ask why I am so convinced that the media, nay editors hold the ace in our struggle to become a developed nation. As I pointed out earlier, the power of the media in shaping society is long-standing and legendary. This probably informed the famous remark by United State of America’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) that: “The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being”. Jefferson, who is well acknowledged to have been vilified by the American press during his reign, also reportedly said that: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter”. God forbid, but has anyone ever imagined a situation where all the world’s media organisations are shut for say three days? How will the entire world be within that short period? I dread to imagine the huge negative consequences of such a scenario. As we all know, a well-informed public is the core of democracy in any part of the world. The media is the most vital instrument of humanity’s emancipation. This is one key reason why democracy flourishes in America.

Now, coming down home, I have narrated in the earliest part of this paper, how our own media in Nigeria helped tremendously in promoting the struggles of our forefathers towards liberating our country from the shackles of colonial rule. Since independence in 1960, the press has been in the vanguard of the promotion of our freedom to express ourselves and freedom from oppression by successive military regimes.

However, being the gatekeeper and mediator of content between a medium and the public, the Editor plays a strategic role in shaping whatever news and information the public receives. It is then easy to see why you as editors can change the tone of our national discourse today, from the rising emotional outbursts of various regional, ethnic and religious jingoists, to a healthy one that promotes national unity, peace, harmony, as well as political, social and economic growth and prosperity.

I know this is easier said than done given the numerous encumbrances in your way to exhibiting professional conducts in your operations. For instance, the Editor faces the uphill task of trying to strike a balance between the ethics of his noble profession and the economic interests of his/her publisher or broadcaster. Also, there is the difficulty in resisting some of the tempting offers being made to some of you to distort facts by some vested interest. Apart from this,  the Editor is also highly challenged by the stiff competition in the industry, which allows him/her little room for deep thought over whatever materials that come to his/her table. Also, I do not want to underestimate the enormous pressure you people have to contend with in trying to beat publishing or broadcast deadlines, most especially now that your task is made more difficult by the proliferation of numerous social media platforms, many of which publish and damn the consequences.

Despite these challenges and numerous others I did not enumerate in this paper, I am convinced that the Nigerian Editor is in good stead to promote our fledgling democracy and help in enthroning good governance in our country. I make this affirmation because the Editor, in any media establishment, is the most influential decision maker, who is well schooled in this business and is relatively comfortable enough to rise above the primordial interests that afflict people in the lower cadre of the profession. The Editor is knowledgeable enough to know that free and fair elections are crucial to promotion and sustenance of democratic culture in our society. He/she is better placed to know that whenever we fail to hold elections that can pass basic standards; we are taking our country many years backward from the league of democratic societies. The Editor is also in the most strategic position to know that media and journalistic practice thrive best in a liberal atmosphere or environment, which is only afforded by functional democracy.

Finally, it is my strong believe that millions of other citizens of our dear country, just as myself, count so much on you, your sense of patriotism and responsibility to see Nigeria through to the much cherished destination.

I thank you for your time and attention.

Ahaji (Dr.) UmaruMutallab, CON

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