By Chukwudi Nweje, Lagos
The United States has reiterated its commitment to free, fair and credible 2023 general elections. It noted that the elections next year provide a strong opportunity for Nigeria to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa.
The United States also charged the press to ensure professionalism and responsibility in the coverage of the polls.
The US Consulate Regional Security Officer, Jim Suor, made the remarks during the closing ceremony of the Lagos edition of the four-city regional election reporting workshops at the weekend.
The workshop is organised by the Embassy of the United States in Nigeria in partnership with West Broadcast and Media Academy (WABMA), and Enugu Liberty Society is aimed at strengthening the media’s understanding and appreciation of its responsibility of reporting accurately on elections and the electoral processes.
He said, “The 2023 elections are a pivotal opportunity for Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country and largest economy – to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa. The United States hopes to see an election that is credible, transparent, peaceful and above all that reflects the will of all of the people of Nigeria.
“Peaceful and credible elections are key components of Nigeria’s democratic development. The upcoming 2023 general election provides a channel for the Nigerian people to shape their future and choose a leader who will govern fairly and transparently and ensure access to basic services for all.”
Suor noted that the media has critical in entrenching a strong democracy not just in Nigeria and Africa as a whole but everywhere in the world.
He further said, “Press freedom and a professional, responsive, and independent media are critical parts of any democracy. We need responsible members of the media to play a role in policy debates, to help the public understand policies and – when needed – to hold leaders accountable for their decisions.”
“Recognising the vital importance of a free press and the Fourth Estate to democracy and good governance, we partnered with the West Africa Broadcast and Media Academy (WABMA) to help the media appreciate the huge responsibility of reporting accurately on elections and the electoral processes.”
The Enugu Liberty Society also partnered in organising the workshop which has held in Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Lagos, and would be moving to Enugu next week.
The United States representative also urged the media not to relent on its doggedness and courage in holding the government to account.
He added, “Before my arrival in Nigeria two years ago, I had read about the courage and sheer doggedness of the Nigerian press in the dark days of military dictatorship. In my time here, I have seen that you are still the voice of the forgotten. You have not lost your thirst for the truth or your willingness to go wherever a story leads you, thereby contributing to transparency, accountability, and good governance in your country.”
The workshop facilitators were drawn from both within and outside Nigeria and they handled different aspects of what is expected of pre, during and post-election reporting expectations from the media.
Prof. Chris Ulasi, Dean School of Communication, Texas Southern University, who spoke on ‘Political Communication and the Electoral Process’.
Prof. Lai Oso, former Dean of Communication at the Lagos State University; in his contribution on Ethics urged the media to be mindful of the information they put out during the election, even as he reiterated that the media should remain objective, neutral and balanced in reporting.
Other facilitators include Mr Timilaye Ajayi, who stressed the media managers to ensure the safety of their staff during election coverage.
He stated that the first duty of journalists is to be safe. He quoted the International Federation of Journalism Safety manual that no story is worth the journalist’s life.
Speaking on Media Law, Mr Joseph Obare, a lawyer, who is also WABMA Registra, urged practitioners to alway crosscheck the information they put out to the public to ensure its accuracy and avoid misinformation and libel.
Mr Ken Ike Okere, WABMA Director, stressed the need for fact-checking information before it is put out in the public..
He stressed the need to avoid misinformation, sharing false information by mistake; disinformation, sharing of false information deliberately to sway people; and misinformation, information which may be true but is shared in a way to damage someone.
Other facilitators include Grace Ekpu, Investigative Reporter, Associated Press; and Gbenga Sesan, a Digital Safety expert.