The Media and the Task of Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy: An Emerging Framework for Evaluation and Agenda Setting By Prof. Godwin B. Okon

Prof. Okon Godwin
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  • Posted by: Imoh Robert


Okon.godwin@ust.edu.ng

 

Preamble

Good governance and democracy are complementary concepts in the lexicon of political economics. As a matter of fact the latter precipitates the former. While good governance is all about accountability and sensitivity, democracy is all about representative participation. Viewed from a continuum, the common denominator across these concepts becomes the people.

 No doubt the task of consolidating Nigeria’s democracy rests extensively on the mass media since they have by default been endowed with propensities to inform and educate.

The Setting

Nigeria, as a country, has enjoyed relatively stable democracy since 1999 but it appears that the system is far from democratic ideals hence the qualifier-nascent-to Nigeria’s democracy.

In this our nascent democracy, it is not strange that politics get away with outright lies, deliberate misrepresentations and false assertions as well as ridiculous and unachievable proposals. In each instance, the public and democracy have been poorly served.

Features of Nigeria’s Democracy

A few scenarios may illuminate the discourse:

  1. The thrust of governance today is not centered on the will of the people but on personal greed and self aggrandizement of the political actors.
  2. Governance in its present state has deepened poverty and widened inequality
  3. The political class as typified by the elites is highly compromised and as such cannot be referred to as the voice of the people.
  4. Elections and campaigns are marked by widespread violence.
  5. There is widespread apathy in the polity

The Editor’s Privileged Position

The value chain of news reveals gates and stops in its sourcing and processing. What eventually comes out as news becomes mere survivors of those gates and stops.

To this end, news in this context has always been defined as “an account of an event and not the event itself.”

It means that an event becomes news only when it has been reported.

What appears as news therefore becomes a product of the judgment of those at the gates and stops.

Herein lies subjectivism

Kurt Lewin’s notion of the Gate-keeping theory finds expression here.

The persons who make decisions on what to block or leave out are referred to as Gatekeepers.

In a typical sense, the editor is at the apex of the hierarchy of gates.

The editor is key when it comes to the process that shapes discourses in the political space.

The imputation is that the editor can mould public opinion through reverberations that shape cognition.

The aphorisms include:

The pen is mightier than the sword.

One newspaper should be feared more than a thousand bayonets

It must be noted however that sound democracy can only thrive in an atmosphere of vibrant voter education and news media coverage has been found to be the main source of voter education.

The Mass Media and Democratic Ideals

Ibemesi and Duru (2013) note that the media “influence the emergence of political ideology by the fact of their being the platform on which political discourse happens” (p.176).

No doubt, the mass media are indeed endued with capacities to wield an enormous influence on the people through widespread voter enlightenment and awareness.

The strongest is their ability to erode voter apathy.

Assessment on How Far and How Fair

Since this segment naturally dovetails within the framework of empiricism, the approach will simply entail a critical discourse analysis (CDA). The cases outlined herein may interestingly suffice within the emerging  parameters.

How Fair?

Case study 1 – How fair?

     Akande (2018) observes that:

Salisu Buhari was a young businessman who was deemed one of the young promising leaders who would usher Nigeria into the new era. After getting into the House of Representatives in 1999, Buhari began his ascent, competing for the position of speaker. On the 3rd of June 1999, he was elected speaker… but barely six weeks into his new role, the veil was lifted. On the 16th of February 1999, the News Magazine ran an article attacking Buhari’s credibility. It claimed that the new speaker was born in 1970 and not 1963 as claimed. The magazine also knocked off his claim of having graduated from Toronto University for its findings revealed that he never attended the university talk less of graduating (para.4).

Case Study 1 Cont’d

  • Matters Arising
  • On Thursday, July 23rd 1999, disgraced and cornered, Salisu Buhari faced Nigerians and admitted to falsifying his age and forging certificates as well as other contents of the news report. In his words: “… I apologize to you, I apologize to the nation, I apologize to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them – I was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation. I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”

Case Study 2

How Far?

Igwe (2018) observes that:

A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mr. Babachir Lawal says he is happy with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s investigation into allegations of corruption against him… Lawal was fired as SGF by the President on October 30, 2017 after being indicted for corruption. Before being fired, Mr. Lawal was on suspension for three months for allegedly violating the law and due process in the award of contracts under the presidential initiative on the North-East (para.3).

 Matters Arising

The case has gone into the bowels of premeditated amnesia.

Case Study 3

      Ogundipe (2018) observes that:

  A scandalous video has been published appearing to show Governor Umar Ganduje pocketing vast wads of US Dollars in what was said to be bribe payments from public works contractors. The Kano State governor could be seen collecting the dollars before rolling them into his white dress in one of a series of questionable deals allegedly struck over a span of several months. The two minutes video was recorded in 2017 in what Daily Nigerian described as a sting operation aimed at beaming a searchlight on the governor’s alleged penchant for contract racketeering. The governor debunked the video as cloned but Premium Times’ graphics’ expert who examined the video corroborated the position of Daily Nigerian.

      Matters Arising

  If the content of the video holds sway, how come the man in the mirror contested the 2019 elections under the watchful eyes of the media? Not only that, he won overwhelmingly.

Case Study 4

Sanni (2002) observes that

     Ibrahim Magu has been suspended from office as the acting-chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Mr. Magu was suspended amidst allegations of gross misconduct. Mr. Magu was accused of corruption, insubordination and abuse of office by Attorney General, Abubakar Malami. Mr. Magu was arrested by a police team outside his office in Abuja and driven to the presidential villa where he appeared before a panel investigating the allegations against him (para. 7).       

     Matters Arising

     It has assumed a normal equidistant curve

Case Study 5

     Salem (2020) opines that:

    The immediate past Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta development Commission, Joy Nunieh, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC investigating the alleged financial impropriety at the commission, leading to a fresh summons of the Minister of Niger Delta, Goodswill Akpabio, and the current Acting MD, Prof. Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei.

     Matters Arising

  The drama that ensued created the buzz phrase “…off your mic…” and that mic is yet to be turned on ever since.

Case Study 6

Jimoh, Abu, Daka, Opara and Ehiaghe (2018) note that:

      Masked operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) yesterday barricaded the gates to the National Assembly complex, shutting out lawmakers. The drama happened amid concern by some legislator’s undercurrent plots of impeachment. When the lawmakers attempted to enter, the security men barked they had orders not to allow anybody in.

      Matters Arising

 Since the security men barked that they had orders not to allow anybody access into the hallowed chambers, the question of who gave the directive is still begging for answers.

Case Study 7

      Nathaniel (2021) notes that:

      On Friday, October 29, a team of security operatives make up of soldiers and policemen, laid siege to the Abuja home of Mary Odili, a Justice of the Supreme Court. The agents are said to have gone to the home with a search warrant identifying themselves as members of a joint task force. It took the intervention of some senior lawyers and government officials to have the siege called off.

     Matters Arising

     The article further notes that following the extra controversy, Nigerians need answers to the following questions:

       Who really is “Fake Police CSP” Lawrence Ajodo?

       If Malami did not send the group, who did?

      How did they obtain valid documents?  

Deductions from the Case studies

The question of how far can be satisfactorily answered by case study 1. Recall that there was a great deal of perseverance and tenacity by the press even in the face of litigations. That case – Salisu Buhari – could most certainly be said to have ended on a conclusive note. Matters that end in this manner will always have latent messages that serve to reassure the citizenry that the system is working while serving as a deterrent to those who may want to toe the path of infamy.

   On the other hand, deductions from case study 2 to case study 7 tend to depict a form of journalistic passivism bearing in mind the fact that some just fizzled out of public sphere while those in the public domain have been relegated to insignificance completely devoid of salience.

    From this reverberation, it may not be in doubt that the generality of the populace may have lost track of the update.

The Agenda Setting Metaphor

    The issue of the agenda setting is enmeshed in ideological divide. While some schools of thought have it that the mass media set the agenda for public discourse other schools aver that the society sets the agenda for media content. Elizabeth Noelle Neuman came up with some prevailing variables which may necessitate the media setting the agenda for the society. These variables have been listed as:

        i) Cumulation

        ii) Consonance

        iii) Salience

      If these variables hold sway, then the mass media would most certainly be successful in telling the society what to think about.

From the foregoing case studies, one may be forced to think that the media allowed themselves to be pandered around by societal reverberations thereby lending credence to the view that the society sets the agenda for the media.

 The cases so pointed out were garnished in sensationalism at the breaking point with the sensationalism being eroded in the course of time.

This ought not to be so since the media can actually keep the flame aglow through content and consistent portrayal. This is where media advocacy comes in. It must be noted at this point that media advocacy is a form of journalistic activism.

    It abolishes journalistic deviations like country man, cocktail, bootlicking, brown envelope journalism and lots more.

The Yawning Gap

This is a clarion call for the mass media to pick up their groove as agenda setting institutions. The challenges are daunting but surmountable. The myriad of challenges in the light of the subject matter presents yet another element in the mix – the social media.

The Social Media Imperative

In the context of social media, Okon (2015) affirms that “social media platforms allow the voiceless to be heard and the seemingly uneducated to contribute to rational discourse because the rules for structured language appear a bit flexible” (p.132).

The absence of credibility in the social media  seems to be a major albatross.

This downside of the social media seems to be the strength of the mainstream media

The Crux

   The 2023 general elections offer us a new vista. The outcome will either make or break our confidence in the geographic and political entity known as the Nigerian state. Societal dynamics have entrusted the mass media the onerous task of deepening our democracy. The clarion call is for all sets and segments to play by the rules. An abdication of the rules of engagement is an invitation to anarchy.

   Today the country is polarized along ethnic, religious, political, ideological and economic lines. Incidentally, these lines of divide are driven by cognition. What is needed to bring all divergences into a convergence is for the media to focus more attention on the things that bind us together rather than the things that divide us. Attitudinal conditioning is key and behaviour change quite uppermost.

Outlining the Agenda for the Future

Achebe (1984) in his book – The trouble with Nigeria – typified the problem of Nigeria as a problem of leadership. The upcoming 2023 general elections offer us an opportunity to chart a new course for the country. Since the process is all about producing leaders, it therefore becomes the responsibility of the media, through an agenda setting discourse to create mental pictures of the qualities expected of such leaders that will dot out political skyline in 2023. This agenda can be set through an evolving matrix that entails:      

Creating Multilateral Awareness

Journalism through its cardinal role of informing and educating can sure create widespread awareness on the ideals and principles of democracy.

The awareness so created will relegate voter apathy to the background.

Creating a Platform for Discourse Analysis

Journalism in this regard serves to give interpretation to issues with a view to engendering informed decisions among voters.

This brings to fore the notion of the free market place of ideas while animating the reference to the press as the “people’s parliament.”

  More

Generating through agenda setting a checklist for probity and accountability – Journalism through objective reporting and contextualization of issues can develop a universally acceptable framework for honesty, integrity and accountability which can embolden electorates to exercise their God given right of recall and suffrage. The beauty of democracy lies in the exercise of this God given gift because through it, electorates can vote out of office a representative that did not serve the cause of the people.

Bringing to bear the propensities of global dynamism – since journalism has transformed the world into a global village, it can also mainstream consciousness on equity, fairness and justice as the incontrovertible wheels of democracy.  Free and fair elections are ideals that can be transformed into reality through concerted efforts. Journalism can bring about this act of will by impinging in our heads, glowing pictures of a society driven by egalitarianism thus precipitating a firm belief in democracy as a system that works.

 Giving vent to the principles of checks and balances – Journalism can animate our democracy through constructive separation of powers and the institutionalization of the firm belief in the supremacy of the law. Journalism can do this through the exercise of its oversight function of exposing wanton violations of the principles of governance as they relate to the three arms of government thus giving verve to its conceptualization as the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm.’

Post Script

No doubt, the form of journalism that deepens the root of democracy is that driven by purpose, honesty and integrity in contradistinction to sensationalism and sycophancy. In a democracy powered by the wish of the people, journalism does more than keep the citizenry informed but enables them to echo their voices in the chambers of power while providing them with the basic facts necessary to monitor trends and moderate the sources of power that shape their lives.

 This is the bedrock of a pedantic culture of good democratic principles embellished in the ideals of ensuring an egalitarian Nigerian state in 2023.

End Notes

Achebe, C. (1984). The trouble with Nigeria. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

      Akande, S. (February 22, 2018). The story of Salisu Buhari, fake certificates and the 1999 Toronto saga. (pulse.ng/gist/pop-culture/throwbackthursday-the-story-of-salisu-buhari-fake-certificates-and-the-1999-toronto/b2vo27r).

      Bardoel, J (2002). Auditing public broadcasting performance in the Netherlands: A regulator’s performance. Presentation during an expert meeting by the Amsterdam school of communications.

     Igwe, I. (15 June, 2018). Grass cutting scandals: Former SGF, Babachir Lawal happy with EFCC investigation. Channelstv.com/2018/06/15/grass-cutting-scandal-former-sgf-babachir-lawal

Author: Imoh Robert

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