By Chinyere Nwachukwu
The Center for Research on Development of African Media, Governance and Society (CEREDEMS-Africa) and Positive Agenda Nigeria (PAN) have formally launched a project to discourage promotion of toxic electoral campaigns.
The centre said this was necessary, especially as the 2023 general elections in the country were fast approaching.
Prof. Lai Oso, immediate past President, Association of Communication Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria (ACSPN) was joined by the duo of Dr Sadia Jamil and Dr Greg Simons to unveil the project at an online event on Thursday in Lagos.
Jamil is Chair of the Journalism Research and Education Section, International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).
Simons, is an associate professor at Uppsala University, Sweden.
Oso expressed optimism that the project would advance scholarship and deepen democratic process not only in Nigeria, but Africa at large.
He spoke on the theme of the programme: “Reconstructing Nigeria’s Election Campaign Atmosphere in a Time of Conflicting National Unity and Information Pollution”.
Oso counseled political actors to purge themselves of the divisive characteristics inherited from colonial rule..
“Some of the features that we now see, were really established by colonialism during those periods and those features are still there.
“They form the context with which election campaigns are conducted in Nigeria, right from the colonial period.
“These features were inherent in the country’s social structure, multicultural make-up and uneven development.
“Some of these features include: ethno-religious and regional differences/orientation, trying to amplify differences between the various ethnic groups, the region and even religion.
“These are some of the weapons that were used,” he said.
He said that there was also the issue of violence and ‘do-or-die’ nature of political competition, as there was the high-level of contestation and lack of consensus on basic issues.
Oso said that some of these contestations could be very bitter, among the various political actors.
“From what we see now, there are no ideological differences among the major contending political parties, unlike in the first republic, where you see ideological orientation among the parties.
“This has led to cross carpeting, or what the media called political nomadism, hegemony and supremacy
struggle among the different political elites.
“ They want to really be in charge of the resources of the country, which makes politics and elections to be very bitter and an acrimonious affair,” he said.
Oso, a former Dean, Lagos State University School of Communication, said the young ones driving political messages, on social media were basing it on ethnicity and religion.
He noted that rather than ideology, some of them are driven by anger and frustration of the county’s current challenges, security, economic, poor leadership among others.
Oso added that with their campaigns so far, mainly confined to the cyber-space, there was a lot of hate speech and fake news, intolerance of opposing views and ideas and an attempt to impose a spiral of silence on others.
“You find that all the ethnic groups are looking toward one candidate or the other, as representing them or one religion.
“People are not looking at competence, they are not looking at party platforms and programmes. They are looking at the ethnic and religious affiliations of those who are there,” he said.
The former dean said that already, a lot of venom, hateful and dangerous speeches, among others, were being circulated in the public sphere, especially on the social media and newspaper commentaries.
These according to him, will divert attention from real issues of public concerns.
“In order to counter this, there is the need to identify those things; events, values, practices and others, that we, as a people, have in common, the challenges we face and the opportunities available to all of us.
“Through the Electoral Act and INEC guidelines, determining what are campaign materials, conduct of political rallies and political campaigns, efforts have to be made to sanitise the campaign atmosphere, by stipulating some measures to have cleaner, more acceptable and wholesome campaign messages.
“In this context, all the stakeholders in the electoral process, must be familiar and be guided by the provisions in sections 91 to 97 of the Electoral Act, 2022, prescribing certain measures.
“ We should find a way of enforcing those provisions on political parties, individual political actors and civil society organisations to obey the rules, and those who fail to obey the rules should be punished.
“I also note that certain bodies like NUJ, NBC, APCON and some other media supported guilds, have been able to establish some codes of conducts for reporting politics, for creating political advertisements,” he noted.
Oso said that the media, in their coverage of campaigns and other electoral activities, must be fair and balanced.
He said they must allow for diversity and plurality of voices and representation, and put issues in proper context and perspective.
“Media organisations that are involved in producing political journalism must take their gatekeeping functions more seriously.
“Not everything that comes out that has to be published,” he said..
According to him, professionals must try to communicate in a very clean wholesome manner, in a bid to ensure that citizens get informed and not become propagandists for political actors.
“We need to really check fake news, hate speech.
“There is a need for all newsrooms to establish fact-checking desks in their newsrooms.
“We need people who can easily and quickly respond to any item of suspicion, fake news, hate speech and debunk them as quickly as possible,” he stated.
Dr Simons, on his part, spoke on “Contextualising and localising foreign lessons learned from election campaigns in times of crises”.
Also, Dr Sadia delivered a speech on “Choosing the right candidates from a toxic election campaign environment; How voters should navigate the terrain.
In his own address, the Executive Director of Media Career Development, Mr Lekan Otufodunrin identified the solutions to toxic political campaigns and information pollution.
Otunfodunrin said there was a need for the detoxication of the elections in Nigeria by insulating the political process of its corrosive effect.
He asked politicians, electoral body, media institution, the government and other stakeholders to play their roles in this regard.
In her lecture, Dr Ganiyat Tijani-Adenle, a lecturer at the Lagos State University School of Communication, spoke on: “Making Political Campaign free of Information Pollution; Critical Questions.
Tijani-Adenle asked political stakeholders to cultivate a good sense of history, think beyond elections, ethnicity, religion and primordial sentiments to put Nigeria on the right track.
Earlier, the Executive Director of CEREDEMS-Africa, Dr Mustapha Muhammad Jamiu, she’d light on the project.
He said it is tagged: “Improving Credible General Elections in Nigeria through Real-Time Monitoring of Campaigns in Physical and Virtual Platforms during the 2023 General Elections”.
Mustapha said the project was initiated realising that while elections played a vital role in the process of democracy, campaigns for the elections and information management of the campaigns are also important.
“We are here today to witness a kick start of a developmental journey through a developed media, governance and a better society for Africa.
“We are also here to learn, reflect, and digest the possible ways to achieve a free, fair and credible election in 2023,” he said.
Mustapha explained that CEREDEMS-Africa, is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and research institute established in 2020.
According to him, it focuses on using cutting-edge multi-disciplinary research methods to generate insights that improve policy initiative and implementation.
This is with regards to improving media ecosystem, as well as governmental and societal institutions.(NAN)