The Media and Task of Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy By Abdalla Uba Adamu Department of Information and Media Studies Faculty of Communication Bayero University Kano, January 20,2022 @NGE Capacity Building Workshop, Kano

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  • Posted by: Imoh Robert

Democracy and the Citizen

  • Let us begin with the conception of democratization as reflecting the degree of citizen participation in the political process, leading to  political equality
  • And the degree of acceptance of public contestation (political freedom)
  • This evokes the notion of free and fair elections and the testing of civil liberties
  • These include freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of the press, suffrage, eligibility for candidacy, etc.)
  • In addition, the manner in which elections are held contributes to the overall evaluation of whether a given regime is democratic or not
  • Free and fair elections conducted through transparent processes require a media sector which gives candidates equal access, and reports the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner
  • The goal of media development should be to move the media from one that is directed or even overtly controlled by government or private interests to one that is more open and has a degree of editorial independence that serves the public interest
  • The goal of “democratization“, therefore is the establishment of free and fair elections
  • However, the concept of media and democracy in a country like Nigeria is rooted in a paradox
  • On the one hand democracy, like anywhere else, connotes liberalization of choice
  • On the other media, as a platform, is often used to curtail such liberalization by being muzzled to suppress opinions and perspectives that differ from the dominant political systems
  • Further rooted in the paradox is government subscription to the same media platforms as propaganda tools


READ ALSO: Responsible And Responsive Conflict Sensitive Journalism: Rethinking The Role Of Editors By Umar Faruk Jibril Professor Of Mass Communication Faculty Of Communication Bayero University, Kano

Media and Democracy

  • A free, objective, skilled media is an essential component of any democratic society
  • On the one hand, it provides the information which the polity require to make responsible, informed decisions
  • On the other, it performs a checking function ensuring that elected officials uphold their oaths of office and campaign promises and that they carry out the wishes of the electorate
  • Media freedom should be about transferring the media from direction or control by government or private interest to a situation of editorial freedom exercised in the public interest
  • The ultimate goal should be to engender diverse, plural and credible voices providing information and opinion to the electorate
  • It is the only way ensure maximum participation in public affairs
  • Media constitutes as the fourth pillar of democracy
  • The role of the media is vital in generating a democratic culture that extends beyond the political system and becomes engrained in the public consciousness over time
  • Media is supplying the political information that voters base their decisions on
  • They identify problems in the society and serve as a medium for deliberation
  • They also serve as watchdogs that we rely on for uncovering errors and wrongdoings by those who have power
  • Media is vital in generating a democratic culture that extends beyond the political system and becomes engrained in the public consciousness over time
  • The role of media in a democracy is as crucial as that of the politicians and should never be underestimated

Old, New, Old-New

  • Traditionally distinguished from ‘old’ media including newspapers, magazines and even television, New Media is a term typically used to encompass the assortment of so-called ‘digital’ media which complement and conflict with the traditional media
  • These media are usually informal, often principally social and are not easily reducible to specific categorizations: much of the content is extremely diverse and even mundane activity can harbour political content
  • Essentially, ‘New Media’ should be understood as a series of platforms; it encompasses a vast field of digital activity including web logs (blogs), micro-blogging (such as Twitter), Social Media (like Facebook), video-sharing (as on YouTube), online reporting (by both institutions and individuals) and RSS feeds (information)
  • New Media can offer the inclusive and open space for a conversation about dominant discourses to occur, outside of the hegemony of established institutions such as the government or the traditional media
  • This space can encourage mass participation in the conversation which can allow individuals to challenge dominant narratives and develop new, more democratic discourses concerning individual, cultural, social and political representations
  • New Media, therefore is any form of political and/or social activity which is enabled by the advent of internet technology
  • This includes offline activities such as citizen journalism and informal social/ political organization
  • This particular point is vital since New Media understood here is not merely restricted to digital ‘online’ activity but encompasses a large array of activity offline
  • It facilitates the informal, networked structure of activity which has shown the greatest potential for the development of a strong civil society

New Technologies, New Media

  • Social media platforms can affect the political systems of different states in varying ways
  • The effect varies both between and within democratic and authoritarian states and depends mainly on three political actors
  • These are: domestic opposition, external forces, and the governing regime
  • Depending on how these three actors use social media, as well as on a state capacity and political regime type, there are four different effects that social media can have
  • It can have a weakening effect on strong democratic regimes, an intensifying effect on strong authoritarian regimes, a radicalizing effect on weak democratic regimes, and a destabilizing effect on weak authoritarian regimes
  • Media platforms, particularly new media provide an extremely powerful tool in political communication
  • Social media platforms have the power to strengthen democracies by echoing public opinion
  • Thus the new media also expanded the scope of participation in any democracy
  • Efficiently used, new media as part of internet communication technologies provide an interface between voters and government
  • It avoids the traditional top-down politics of mass democracies in which tightly organized political parties make policies unilaterally and mobilize support behind them with minimal negotiation and grassroots input
  • The fact that information is power has, thus, enabled the new media to empower the masses to participate actively in the process of governance
  • The spectacularly successful Arab Spring anti-government protests, in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, toppling undemocratic leaders, clearly demonstrated how media can serve as a powerful force of resistance to despotic governments
  • Other sites of contestation between democracy and social media included Moldova (2019), dubbed “the first Facebook revolution”; the 2009 unrest in Iran, called “the first Twitter revolution”; the 2011 Russian “almost-revolution”
  • These internet-enabled democratic movements represented a high-water mark that was followed by a countering wave of authoritarianism using social media itself, woven into a pushback of repression, censorship and even violence
  • In Nigeria, the #EndSars movement in 2020 on the behavior of the Nigerian Police, drew significant, and bloody, attention to lack of government accountability in a democractic setting
  • Yet #Northernlivesmatter, in response to banditry and general insecurity in the north of Nigeria received little response
  • This clearly shows how media, even from citizen journalism perspective, can reinforce its agenda setting and become selective in promoting public good
  • Elections in Nigeria, since at least 2015, had become increasingly mediatized
  • This forces politicians and their often unlettered followers to toe to the path of righteousness as every vote is counted and broadcast on social media platforms
  • This has created an army of citizen journalists – where the ordinary members of the public play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information, whether from partisan or non-partisan perspectives – entrencing democracy as rule of the people
  • This often raises the issues of reliability and ethics, as such citizen journalists are not necessarily bound by any organizational code of conduct
  • The development of internet technologies varies across different countries in Africa
  • In South Africa and Nigeria, there are significant challenges to introducing e-governance
  • It is, nevertheless, contributing to good governance
  • In Kenya, new media may have the potential to monitor and mobilize political activity and encourage political engagement
  • However, they can also reinforce the position of those in power
  • In Zimbabwe, news organizations, civil society organizations (CSOs) and ordinary people are using the Internet and mobile phones in information-gathering, dissemination and presentation to promote democracy and human rights
  • In Egypt, NGOs have used their websites to examine socioeconomic and political development – corruption, human rights issues and lack of democratic expression
  • In Uganda and Zambia, ICT projects targeted at women often privilege the Internet when, in fact, many more women have access to mobile phones
  • In francophone Africa, the Internet has enhanced citizen engagement through critical public debates, more access to official information and more interaction of local CSOs with their counterparts abroad

The Hand That Gives…

  • Absolute freedom to access to new media platform often pose threats to democracy in at least two forms
  • First is the issue of hate and dangerous speeches – Sentiments that lie latent in the minds of people were given a voice, and widely expressed, affecting voting patterns
  • It is a direct threat to a fragile democracy despite its dividend of increasing political participation and social awareness among electorate
  • The new media platforms have also provided voices for the forces of division in weak democracies where social media can help dissidents to communicate and organize more easily, as in the case of Nigeria’s the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) secessionist movement
  • Secondly, in the absence of moderating influences such as a strong education system, well-developed legal framework, and robust, independent media, rumors and falsehoods have spread largely unimpeded online, and often through traditional broadcast media that are now themselves online
  • This leads to development of post-truth politics, where democracy is threatened by appeal to emotions, rather than facts in political discourse
  • A good example is Kano’s radio spaces taken by by ‘sojojin baka’ – supporters of one political party or other who buy few seconds on radio to lambast each other – thus heating up the public culture


  • The public interest is defined as representing a plurality of voices both through a greater number of outlets and through the diversity of views and voices reflected within one outlet.
  • If the media is to have any meaningful role in democracy, then the ultimate goal of media assistance should be to develop a range of diverse mediums and voices that are credible, and to create and strengthen a sector that promotes such outlets
  • Credible outlets enable citizens to have access to information that they need to make informed decisions and to participate in society
  • A media sector supportive of democracy would be one that has a degree of editorial independence, is financially viable, has diverse and plural voices, and serves the public interest









Author: Imoh Robert

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