Let me welcome all of you , with pleasure, to this Town Meeting with the theme ” Agenda Setting for Sustainable Development”
This is the sixth and the last leg in the series with the first five held in Lagos , Kano Yola, Abuja and Enugu under the NGE/US Embassy capacity building programme for editors in the Southwest , Northwest , Northeast, North Central and South East zones .
It has been a worthwhile experience traversing the whole country and meeting our members.
This Town Hall meeting will as usual provide us an opportunity to examine critical issues and ask ourselves tough questions concerning the duty of the media in defending and deepening democracy in Nigeria. What role should the media actually play in setting the agenda that would lead to a sustainable democratic culture in Nigeria? What should we do to encourage all segments of society, especially the youth and the women, to participate more actively in the democratic process?
Section 22 of the 1999 constitution says ” the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the media should at all times be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”. This section gives the media the enormous responsibility to hold the government accountable to the people.
Can we beat our chests and say we have carried out this role effectively ? This Town Meeting is expected to assess our performance and suggest ways for improvement.
Various stakeholders, including youth groups, organized labour, students , civil society organizations , traditional and religious groups, have been invited to this Town Hall meeting should feel free to tell us what we have done well and areas that need improvement. We should also share ideas on how we to sustain our hard -earned democracy.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors on the occasion of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, issued a statement on the state of media freedom in Nigeria. We warned that our freedom is under threat from government policies, proposed laws and the poor economy.
Why are we worried? Why do we cherish our freedom? The answer is simple:
A free and independent press has the capacity to facilitate all aspects of good governance . It is only when journalists are free to monitor, investigate and criticize public policies and actions that good governance can take firm root.
Freedom of the media allows for the creation of a public space in which a wide range of debates and expression of variety of viewpoints can take place.
A free and critical press is essential for the growth and development of any democracy.
A free press is important in a democratic society for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
An independent and free press is always a threat to dictators , corrupt elements , impunity by government and anti-democratic characters. Little wonder that all over the world, dictatorship begins with a clampdown on the media.
Activities leading to the 2023 general elections have commenced.
The amended Electoral Act has been signed into law by the President.
It is the responsibility of the media to monitor compliance by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the political parties and the politicians.
I do know that some politicians are busy studying this Act now , with a view to identifying the loopholes and creating ways to circumventing its provisions. It’s our duty to expose such characters. It is rather unfortunate some key actors in our democratic process are the same people manifesting glaring undemocratic tendencies. We are not surprised anyway because these characters never fought for democracy. When journalists were in the trenches fighting the military dictators , some of these politicians were in bed with the military junta.
As the campaigns begin, let’s interrogate the promises that are being be made by candidates. It is not enough for you to say you will create 10 million jobs in one year, the media should ask for details of how this will be achieved. It is not enough to simply say you will tackle insecurity, you must tell us your plans to overhaul the nation’s archaic security architecture. Ironically, some presidential aspirants who are part of this present government, are promising to tackle insecurity and revamp the economy. But the question is : why didn’t they give their ideas to current government which they are part of to deal deal with these challenges now?
I’m not attacking anybody, but we need to speak out for the sake of our dear country and future of our children.
We shouldn’t shy away from digging deep into the antecedents of those offering themselves to lead us.
Someone told me recently that the easiest way to defraud Nigerians is to spike the fraud with a heavy dose of ethnicity and religion. The media should ensure that this time around, politicians do not deceive the electorate with the two emotional factors of ethnicity and religion.
Poverty and insecurity know do not recognize ethnicity and religion.
The major issues dominating the campaigns currently are zoning and power shift. I believe that a multi ethnic and multi religious country like Nigeria should pursue equity, justice and fairness. However, the campaigns shouldn’t neglect the issues affecting the common man.
The Guild believes that democracy remains the best form of government because it guarantees freedoms and it has the ability to correct its own mistakes . The media should assert its agenda setting role in the 2023 general elections. On no account should we allow politicians to set the agenda for us. We should be the one setting agenda for them. We should be telling them what exactly the people want. The media has the capacity to shape issues for national discourse. We should tell the politicians to focus on the the issues of insecurity, unemployment, the struggling, huge national debts, and inadequate funding of the education sectors. These are the real issues that concern the ordinary people.
We want to hear from the stakeholders here how well the media has performed this agenda setting role . We are open to suggestions on how we can improve on our performance.
I won’t end this speech without saying a special thank you to the US government through its Embassy in Nigeria in making this event possible. The Nigerian Guild of Editors is indeed very grateful for your support. Let me single out the spokesperson of the US Embassy in Nigeria, Jean Clark for special commendation. She has been with us throughout. She was with us in Lagos, Kano, Yola, Abuja , Enugu and now she is here in Port Harcourt.
Dear colleagues, special guests and students here present,
I want us to form a strong alliance in the quest to sustain and deepen our democracy.
I thank all of you for coming and I wish all of us fruitful deliberations.