The Role Of Media In The Democratic Process In Nigeria ,By Gbemiga Bamidele

Umahi legacy


Introduction: When elements, central and peripheral, to the electoral process are in symphony, the process results in an election adjudged free, fair and credible. The emergent office holders will be the best among the contestants. The result will be a virile and vibrant democracy where the citizenry enjoy real “fruits” of democracy and not sour grapes as most elected authorities in Nigeria feed their people with. Central to the process of ensuring the institutionalization, operationalization and sustenance of a credible electoral process in Nigeria is the mass media.

The media has been variously defined by scholars of mass commutation among which media is referred to as a collective means of communication by which general public or populace is kept informed about the day to day happenings in the society. The media is also said to be an aggregation of all communication channels that use techniques of making a lot of direct personal communication between the communicator and the public. While talking of mass media however, the word “mass” means a large number of people or a collection and media means organs or channels. Hence mass media is a collection of organs of communication and information dissemination that reaches out to a large number of people. The information circulation is not only confined within members of the public but the media also serve to coordinate the information flow between government and the public and vice versa, in our own case between leaders and the led and vice versa. More importantly, the media is also refer to, as “The fourth  Realm of the Estate”, i.e the fourth pillar in support of the essential tripod of government, the Executive, the Legislative and the judiciary. The two broad categories of the media are (a) the print media and the electronic media. The print media comprises of Newspapers, Magazines, Journals and periodicals and the electronic media includes the Radio, Television and all related modern means of communication such as the computer and the internet. The term “press is also used to refer to both category of the media, the print and the electronic media.

Brief on Nigeria’s Democratic Experience

On May 29, 2010, Nigeria commemorated 11 years of uninterrupted democratic government, that is, the period between 1999 and 2010.

This is out of a national life span of about 50 years. (Adekola, 2010). It’ has been a troubled democratic experience for the nation since the first experiment in democratic governance in 1960. Military interregnum had aborted attempts at democratic governance in 1966, 1983, 1993. The interjections notwithstanding, uninterrupted democratic governance in Nigeria today has run for about 15 years.


The brief above rests on the premise that the meaning and significance of the term democracy are all too obvious. Experience worldwide, especially in developing countries of Africa, Nigeria inclusive, has proven and continues to prove that such assumption is not only dangerous, but may also hamper the growth of democracy in the nation. This conclusion is vitiated by the carrying one by our political leaders and political public office holders whose utterances and actions are a great assault on the basic tenets of democracy, which is “representativeness”.

In this light therefore, it serves good purpose to remind ourselves even as media professionals of what democracy really means. Though frequently talked about and having being in practice since the 17″ century in parts of Europe. The term ‘democracy’ does not have a single universal definition even among scholars.

Ranney, cited in Felix (2005), defines democracy as “A form of government organized in accordance with the principles of popular sovereignty, popular consultation, political and economic equality and majority rule.” This is achieved through institutionalization of electoral processed principles of popular sovereignty, popular consultation, political and economic equality and majority rule.” This is achieved through institutionalization of an electoral process.

Democratic Mandate of the Media.

To speak of the mandate of the media in a democracy is to assign a constitutional role for it. It is indeed to proceed on the assumption that the media is a constitutional instrument or phenomenon. Though, it is rarely mentioned unlike the Executive, legislature and judiciary, the philosophy of modern governance and especially of modern democracy conceives the media as a monumental force and as an institution similar to the tiers of government and to the arms of constitutional government.

In the Nigerian Experience, the media was mentioned only in section 22 of the 1999 constitution as part of the fundamental objective and directive principles of the state policy. The obligation of the media as indicated that section equally endows it with the duty not only to discharge its normal watchdog role in all aspects of governance and in guarding and advancing the frontiers of the people’s liberties and freedom but also the obligation to regard itself as “the policing institution over the fundamental objectiveness and Direct principles of state policy as well as the citizens’ fundamental Rights”. The fact that the constitution imposes a duty on the media to monitor governance implies that it should undertake vigilance over the relationship between the people and the government.

How the media discharges these grave responsibilities which involve unfettered access to information is an interesting subject matter that should engage not only the media itself but also indeed, all civil society actors, both domestic and international.

The point is that the media has a constitutional mandate in the advancement of the political and democratic process. It is equally true that the nature and character of the democratic process greatly impacts upon the performance of the media. It is in this sense that the nature and character of military regime can affect tremendously the performance of the media just as the nature and character of a democratic regime can do the same. Consequently, until it is fully researched  and analyzed, it is not enough to proclaim that democracy necessarily provides a much healthier environment for the media or that a military regime necessarily undermines or stifles the fundamental performance of the media.

Weather in a military rule or a democratic regime, the media suffers a huge array of poverty and disabilities, the elements of which include the political and business interest of its ownership or proprietors, the extent of limitation of patronage and manipulation of market forces, location and cultural preferences, values of the target or readership audience, the work conditions and salary of journalists, and the staff of the industry all of which affect performance of the media in its relationship to the democratic process.

The media in the electoral process in Nigeria have a three tier operational period. pre election operational period, election operational period and post election operational period.

Essentially, the media have the responsibility to ensure that the wheel of the electoral process grinds such that there is good and responsible performance in the land.

In Nigeria electoral experience, however, the media have fallen short of exemplary performance. According to Agba (2007), a European Union Election observation mission in respect of the 2003 general elections in Nigeria reported that: media performance during the Nigeria election was flawed as it failed to provide unbiased, fair and informative coverage of political parties and candidates contesting the elections. Federal and State owned (and even private owned) media were biased in favour of parties and candidates in power.

This alleged unsavory performance by the media was also highlighted by John and Enigbe (2001) when they wrote, inter alia, that

….. there is recklessness and partisanship on the part of the press during elections … instead of restraint and responsible reporting of events; the principle of objectivity is always abandoned by the press in championing the causes of their masters political struggles …

The focus on the media in the electoral process is understandable. Media scholars are agreed that keeping surveillance on the environment, education, information, entertainment and transmission of a people’s cultural heritage are acknowledged functions of the media in the society. Through reportage, the Fourth Estate of the Realm brings to public domain the actions and inactions of the three other realms, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Indeed, the media serve as the mechanical, social and economic thread that binds the three other realms to society social fabrics. Exemplary performance by the media will strengthen the three other realms and energize society’s social fabrics.

Ciroma (2005) in Agba (2007) highlighted one way the media can have such performance. This is through: Journalistic writing …commentaries, editorials, articles, reviews, columns, broadcast discussion…. (The media) Should raise and answer pertinent questions that help to elucidate confusing issues, particularly those relating to policies and leadership.

The imperative of having competent professionals who can do what Ciroma mentioned above were highlighted by Kasoma

(2010) and cited by Udoudo and Bassey(2011). He said:

Good reporters are essential to their communities and their nations as any professional or government person. A populace needs to be well informed in order to be good citizens of their countries. Journalists must learn what is of interest to their readers, listeners and viewers and provide them with reports that are useful to them.

Media and the Transition

The media in the New World order have emerged as a crucial part of the apparatus for vetting and legitimizing elections.

They provide information to the voters about the candidates, the electoral process, actual voting dates and the rules of the game.

All aspects of the transition to democracy in Nigeria (1998-1999) and subsequent elections were extensively covered and intensely reported by the media. Following the refreezing of the political space by General Abdulsalam Abubakar on 20 July 1998 and the release of a transition time-table, a senior journalist, Tunji Oseni organized an agenda setting seminar for journalists in August 1998, entitled “The Media and the Transition” It had the declared aim of getting journalists to reflect on the transition programme. As enumerated by the departed senior journalist, the responsibilities of the media in a transition period include.

  • Keeping the administration to its word or promise on the handover of power to civilians.
  • Being strong in the face of danger and offering where necessary, alternatives to the transition agenda.
  • Serving as a feed back on government policies as well as expanding the score of the transition to area such as morality, accountability, management of national economy and the amelioration of poverty. (Oseni, 1999).

The Presidential elections of February 1999 were intensely covered by both national and international media. Confronted with a choice between accepting a flawed election and its cancellation, the media mostly advised a grudging acceptance of the results without glossing over the hitches and the flaws.

Doubtless, the watchdog role of the media was at work throughout the transition and beyond.

The media in a stable democracy are considered the principal institution from which members of the public can better understand their society.

Challenge of the Electoral Process: The electoral process in Nigeria is bedeviled by mean challenges. These challenges are not systemic; rather they are external to the process itself. They are inflicted on the system by the operatives. And they are legion. 

These challenges include: tardiness or ill-preparedness on the part of the electoral body INEC, many a times, election materials often arrive polling stations late, or not at all, unscrupulous officers abscond with election materials or voters names are found missing on voters lists, among others.

Political parties and their agents also do compound the problem by engaging in ballot snatching or stuffing or disrupt voting exercises. We also have the issue of belligerent oppositions which see nothing good in the electoral process and denigrate it as such unless they win elections!

These and other problems confronting the electoral process in Nigeria provide daunting challenges, but the media have a responsibility to confront and surmount them for the sake of the society and deepening of the democratic culture in Nigeria.

Put simply, the role of the media in the electoral process is to ensure that ultimately the process is well known by the citizenry and operatives canvass and fight for its entrenchment and sacredness. In order to do this, the media professional should do the following:

Media and Democratization

The argument that the media play a role in democratization has been advanced not only by government officials, but also by many in political science and in communication science. Berman and Witzher (1997) for example, argue that the three accesses and exchange of information is indispensable to the notion of democracy.

The very nature of democracy suggests that free and open communication, through a variety of channels, is necessary to foster critical practices found in democratic societies. According to this argument, the mass media in a stable democracy are the principal institutions from which members of the public can better understand their society. The media provide citizens with information about their world, by fostering debate about various issues and by encourage informed decisions to be made about available courses of action. The media are also a site of contestation in which diversed positions are advanced, significant opinions are heard, interests and inner-working are exposed, and input is received. These all contribute to public debate. The media are also expected to provide a monitoring function on government, industry and society (Curren 1991) Garnham (1992) states that it is “axiomatic that some version of communicative action lies at the heart of both the theory and practice of democracy” O’Neil (1998) writes that “without the freedom of communication mass media provide, the foundation of democratic rule is undermined”. McQuails (1994) notes that “The conduct of democratic (or undemocratic) politics, nationally and internationally depends more and more on mass media”. And Ungar (1990) claims that “A free press is needed everywhere, no less in developing countries than in advanced industrial society”. Linz (1975), in presenting what he considers to be components of a liberal democracy cites among other criteria, freedoms of association, information, and communication. These interconnected ideals, considered cornerstones of U.S democracy, are of course enshrined in the first amendment of the U.S Constitution, (Voor hoof, 1998).

Challenge of the Media

Be knowledgeable 

It is axiomatic that you cannot give what you do not have. In order to strengthen the democratic process in Nigeria, media professionals must be familiar with relevant extant laws.

Be Incorruptible

The sophomore journalism student learns early that “there is no free lunch anywhere.” A corruptible media person, who will take money to look the other way when election is being rigged, can only do a disservice to the electoral process.

Learn Interpretative


If the media are to play a significantly positive role in adding value to the electoral process in Nigeria, then their professionals should be adept at interpretative reporting. They must move from their realm of rote in electioneering reportage to interpretation. As noted by Ige (2003) they must tell the reader, viewer or listener about the ‘why?’ of the event…. give events meaning by pointing out their consequences, (and) make complex events meaningful to the media consumer.” Mancher (1981). Says interpretative reporting goes “beyond recital of facts into the subjective areas of judgment and inference.” By being grounded in interpretative reporting, the

Journalist will go beyond parroting the sugar-coated politician who has uppermost in his mind everything but fulfillment of electioneering promises. This will also cure the media of what Agba (2007) sees as its failure “to engage in thorough analysis of party manifestos.”


In view of the “might” conferred by the “mighty pen”, the journalist is expected by the society to rise above mundane human foibles prevalent in our society such as ethnicism and religious fanaticism. It is the responsibility of the media to ensure that election and electioneering are devoid of them. Inflammatory remarks and comments and appeal to base religious and ethnic sentiments by politicians should be excluded from media reports. This patriotic zeal should be extended to Nigerian media professionals’ relationship with foreign Journalist. The penchant of some of these foreign colleagues for negativism should not be stoked by the Nigerian journalists.

Oiling the electoral Process

The media are well placed to serve as the lubricant with which the Nigerian electoral process is oiled. Beginning with the registration of voters, display of voters list, registration of political parties, conduct of party primaries, congresses and conventions, electioneering and .election proper, the  media should provide leadership in ensuring responsible- conduct. The media can do this via education, information, mobilization and monitoring.


Each facet in the electoral process requires that the target audience be properly educated. For instance, Nigerians desirous of forming a political association must be educated on requirements for the exercise. The media, through the simplicity of their language, can via news reports, features analysis and commentaries adequately educate the citizenry.


In a multi-party democracy such as we have in Nigeria, and given the flurry of activities both the electoral body, the political parties and politicians engage in, it is the responsibility of the media to distill from the cacophony of information and ensure everyone involved in the electoral process, the electorates inclusive, get useful information.


All efforts in the electoral process will amount to naught if the electorates fail to turn out to cast their votes on election days. To this end, the extent to which the media succeed in mobilizing the citizens to participate in the electoral process will largely determine the depth and strength of democracy in the land. People must be mobilized such that they are able to make informed political decisions.


Given the prevalence of malpractices like election rigging and violence in the polity, the media should ensure it is ever vigilant and therefore monitor the electoral process before, during and for the period immediately after elections.


In view of the fact that the electoral process in Nigeria is comparable to that prevalent in developed democracies of the Western world, the challenge to ensure it runs smoothly, while not the exclusive preserve of the media, no doubt largely depends on it. Through responsible performance, patriotism and incorruptibility, the media can ensure the process not only runs well, but that it is further deepened. The media should ensure objective scrutiny of players in the process like the Federal and State Electoral Commissions, the security agencies, politicians and political parties. The electorate should be educated, informed and mobilized to treasure their voting rights and exercise them responsibly. How effectively the media performs its role in the electoral process will add to or deduct from the number and quality of the ‘structures’ in its estate.

In a period of universal aspiration for good governance, mass media should ensure it takes its rightful position in fostering good governance always, and at all times way war against relapse into bad governance. In doing this mass media should be at the fore front of educating the populace, both the governed and the governors of some instrumental steps to be taken.

  • All our elected leaders at all levels of government should note that public office is public trust. Therefore, they should continuously build bridges of understanding and confidence between themselves and the electorates.
  • The electorate should not remain perpetually docile but should raise appropriate questions on all critical issues that affect them either directly or indirectly. The leadership should appreciate such questions in good fate and not misconstrue them as confrontational oppositional attack on their manner of governance.
  • All the citizens, both the elected leaders and others should subject themselves to the rule of law and due process. They should also constantly enhance both accountability and transparency in all public and private transactions that are guided by predictable rules of the game.
  • Government should perpetually guarantee freedom from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, gender or any other attribute.
  • Government should ensure that all their economic and social policies are aimed at eradicating poverty and expanding the choice the citizens have in their lives and not to worsen their conditions.

It is our conviction that one way of easily overcoming the difficulties inherent in meeting the wishes and aspirations of the entire citizenry of a country is to choose the path of democratic good governance, and we are optimistic that if the citizenry appreciate that democratic governance is a collective venture of both the governed and the governors, we would start to enjoy sustainable development in no time.

Gbemiga Bamidele, Senior Assistant National Secretary (NUJ) and Secretary, National Monitoring Network on Safety of Journalists can be reached on 08033237973 or/ and [email protected]


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