This is part II of The Tide Roundtable encounter with AC leader Prince Tonye Princewill first published last Monday. Read on.
You sought for an opportunity to effect change in a system you perceived as bad. That, according to you manifested in the emergence of Gov Amaechi. Morally that imposes on your party the AC to help check possible excesses of the ruling party. As an opposition is the AC providing enough checks on the activities of the ruling PDP?
Well it is on-going, you may say, working in progress. I think if you look at it objectively you will see that AC has been vocal on issues of common interest even if we have some level of interest in what is going on. Our views are expressed regularly. Yes, of course, would have liked to have been in the system itself but since that didn’t work, we are where we are. The media has been a fantastic voice and so we are making progress. There are certain things we will like to have seen done differently, at least we have a voice.
One of the biggest checks and balances is the ability to speak. And I believe that the media are a fantastic voice. We have always at any opportunity thanked the media because if not for the media giving us that opportunity to express how we think, it could be impossible for anybody to know our feelings. So, that is one way we’ve been able to put checks and balances on existing system. The other way of course is that we are engaged at the source. I mean the source of decision making.
I am a member of the Economic Advisory Council, most of the state policies are discussed and debated on. Sometimes policies are even formulated in that forum. There are other opposition party members, there are also, a couple of them who are not PDP members, or even politicians. They have the opportunity of saying, you might think this, Mr Governor, but we think that. And that has really provided some measure of restraint on what the governor does. For the first time in about eight years of first PDP government, AC now has some councilors at the Wards and at state level we have commissioners, at Board level we have appointees and I believe the trend is going to continue. It wasn’t there before now. There was nothing like that.
There was no opposition person anywhere. It was just one system. So we’ve been able to create some avenues for alternative views. I think that allows for checks and balances and expect the figures that will continue to increase. In fact, at a recent meeting we had with the governor, we agreed to increase the number of opposition people in various positions across the state. That process is underway and very soon, we will see that reflecting, so I think that when you add all that together you’ll agree that work is in progress.
You resigned from a federal government committee job on the Niger Delta question, why so? And secondly, has the amnesty to militants changed your view?
The amnesty was a retreat or what I see as the break. You’ll recall when federal troops invaded those Niger Delta communities in Delta communities, about 3 o’clock in the morning I said that I can’t continue to work while somebody continues to kill my people.
How can I be involved in nation-building when a part of that nation that I belong is being bombarded heavy-handedly. However, I was relieved and happy that amnesty was eventually pronounced. But before that, some people in the system must have been thinking we are not human beings so we got to a point where I said o.k. This is step one. If you read our statement, you’ll find end to hostilities at the statement, we said that, in the days and the weeks to come, based on the reaction of the federal government’s action we will decide our own next step. So we were happy when they pulled back from that attitude and we saw the amnesty but we discovered that attitude as ineffective because it was good, yes but it was almost as if people were not thinking about the amnesty programme. It seems that it was a rushed job. How would you go and start building centres for people to be turned out when quite clearly that is not the method that has been applied, people have been collecting arms, usually going to people’s camp and collecting the arms from them. Check the budget you see that huge amount of money was put aside for these disarmament centres. It is no longer as if people don’t know what to do with money or they do not even know what they are doing. I regret resigning; of course not because first of all the action required an action that was best suited for the time. And should I go back and work with them, the answer is no because even though they talked about amnesty, what we described as half-baked, there is no international community involvement, that means, there is lack of confidence, immediately before you start.
For those of us who are members of the Presidential Technical Committee, on Niger Delta, amnesty was part of the process. That process having been followed, guns were always supposed to redeem not just the individuals but communities, if Ateke returns three thousand guns or if Ateke returns six thousand guns, there is no difference. So there is nothing that encourages more guns to be taken out of the system because if I am a militant you come back I will give them ten guns. If you have amnesty meanwhile you could have 150, 200, 2,000 guns to starsh away somewhere but you are now a beneficiary of the amnesty programme, the best strategy was that the individual guns should redeem communities so if Ateke comes with three thousand guns, those three thousand guns should be entitled to three thousand people for instance to jobs, three thousand people for instance to education, three thousand people will benefit from three thousand guns, they don’t all have to be militants. They can be just youths because if one gun redeems one person, ten guns should redeem ten people and Ateke might say well, in all my spirit of redemption, I remember, some families were victims of this crisis, please I beg see the man’s name, make him pickin go school so he has used his gun to redeem some other person. That was the only way the root redemption, is through the gun.
Now all these will have been avoided if they had consulted if they had just literally consulted. But of course, this is the same issues I keep saying when you are powerful, you don’t feel you need to talk to anybody. You are used to issuing decrees, you are used to just giving orders, you are used to just taking decision and the ability to build consensus is not something that we think we have to do because to be truthful and building consensus take time.
But what it is, it saves you time later. The event of people of the amnesty committee looks like if you asked them some of them would say, look, we don’t know what we are doing; they are the committee that presupposed to driving the amnesty, they don’t know what they are doing.
If you have consulted with the militants, consulted with the community, consulted with the Oil Companies, consulted with the state government, a lot of the state governors were not consulted, so what kind of a system are we operating, so, I described the amnesty as half-baked, it wasn’t that I was saying that I did not appreciate it. I appreciate it but I expect more of the government, I expect more of the leadership in a country like Nigeria where we have so many resourceful people, the results we produced do not reflect on all the country.
Just follow up, still on the amnesty thing. By first week of October, the amnesty will last, yet there are so many militants that have not surrendered, what will be the next option?
There are variety of options that could come. One is that after the fourth of October, the Federal Government can decide, can step down on people and start to catch people carrying guns. The other is that the amnesty could be extended. The third one is that instead of all out military option, they could be very selected targeted seizures. The position of the matter is that all these scams be avoided, it can be avoided because if you look at all the militant leaders none of them have said that the idea of amnesty is normal. Even MEND has said well, amnesty o.k. but what exactly are you doing after amnesty. Even the governors saying what are you doing for post amnesty, I don’t know whether you guys in the media have heard but I haven’t heard what post amnesty just they probably don’t even know what to do in post amnesty. Post amnesty what they should do is to issue a white paper on the Technical Committee Report and implement it.
That is what post amnesty should be, is just to issue a white paper in this report what are you going to implement; then implement it. And if they go some length to addressing the issue then people will be happy but may be there is a genuine interest in extracting the oil and not putting anything back in which case it will not work; is not about any individual power or individual might, is just justice and ultimately it has to be done and it will be done but I think they are the ones who are under pressure now. I don’t think anybody out there in the creek or anywhere else is worrying too much as what will happen post October 4.
We want to know if attempts have been made to meet with them?
Several attempts have been made. Yes, but I always answer truthfully so I will tell you yes, but like I said I am not comfortable; I can’t be led by somebody I don’t respect and so if we are in a meeting of PDP people, I will start abusing them and they will probably drag me out of the hall. So it will be impossible for me to be led by people I don’t respect. As the chairman of the organised opposition, we were going to see Amaechi but we were taking a plan from him, they said ha, how you go talk like that, I said no, if you people are not going down that part, you tell me now so we stay here, I am leading that kind of delegation. We go there we talked we spoke our minds, when we finished, we feel dignified, but if he gives you Fifty Thousand Naira is not going to change your life so I want dignity because of the hunger level in society.
People become dependent on government; I left the shores of this country with thirty pounds and landed in London in 1991. I landed London with thirty pounds and I built what I have built that brought me back in 2002, 2003 to come and do business in Nigeria, from a position of strength, not a position of weakness. In UK there is no safety net, if you die you die, here you can run to a brother and sister, uncles and things like that there is nobody to run to, in UK so you have to survive and you have to do well. But how did I pay my ticket to London, my father did not want me to go, infact he refused me to go, I hustled just here, opposite Traditional Rulers Council where I was working, selling photocopy machines, and selling computer sets, eventually I managed to make enough money, I was okay. My father said where are you going? From that hustling I paid my ticket, I plaid my way down to London, and I have come back now, I find it so easy because if you put me in a room, I will find the opportunity, that’s the way I worked any other people are sleeping I am awake I am working.
I give a typical example for instance, I arrived International Airport about 2002, and I was watching what was going on, the trolleys were very bad, they were scrapping the ground, after watching carefully and watching carefully I now was able to get some people to put together an idea and through some people I got to the Minister of Aviation and said why don’t we charge for trolleys you go around the world people pay for trolleys. Why don’t we charge for trolleys? The woman was thinking a lot, I said don’t worry, if we charge we will pay you every month One Million Naira.
All those touts at the airport, we will take them, brush them up and they will be dressing neatly, we called the business Sky Blue. Now that business services, is in the new terminal in Lagos. I don’t need to rely on government and that’s why I can speak freely about Amaechi because tomorrow if Amaechi says Tonye Princewilll should not come to Government House, it won’t change my life, but for Christ sake, let us have our voice, let us be free to speak our mind. But if we look at opposition and during party, the difference is just which side of the fence you are.
If I wanted to be in PDP, they will give me a heroes welcome but I would be muffled, I will be part of a system which do not really focus on improving our own system. Is not helping us. Amaechi is trying.
PDP, some of you must be card carrying members of the PDP, not interested in helping the people. That is not; is simple as that. Amaechi sometimes scratches himself on how he can make his policies people friendly?
How does this things affect the common man in the streets. A lot of the policies are not getting to the people. All these roads, they are doing here yes as of August 2008, we have spent about N140 billion on roads. O.k. how is it helping the common people? O.k. Schools they are building plenty schools, how is it helping the common people.
Health centres, of course health centers where are doctors, how is it helping the common people. Microfinance is not working so how are we helping the common people, if you look carefully, you see that the man is trying but his problem is that by the time you rolled the contracts out they will just grab it, it never left these people. So the problem is the common people and is difficult for a governor at his level to supervise that grassroots empowerment so my brother, then they said they want to rule for 60 years, I can assure you that if they carry on the way they are going, there won’t be a Nigeria.
America said that by 2015, Nigeria would disintegrate what did they see before they made that statement what security report did they assess. They predicted the break up of USSR, they predicted the break up of Yugoslavia, they have now predicted the beakup of Nigeria.
If they continue the way they are continuing, there will not be a country to run in 60 years.
Nigeria is in danger of not qualifying for the 2010 world cup, the first to be hosted in Africa, where have things gone wrong?
The time when they scored that second goal, it was as if somebody shot me, I was standing after and I fell down on the carpet in the floor. What sports does for you is that it gives you a false sense, you think that every thing is OK, if my team Manchester United wins today, I will be happy for the whole of the day, I will be happy meanwhile may be I still have problem, I still have issues to address but I forget those issues for that moment in the euphoria of the victory.
And Nigeria has so much going wrong, may be this euphoric, let me call it schizophrenia that would have invaded the country because we are going to the world cup I think it would remove us from the serious issues that we need to focus on that we have problem, of course across the country but also in sports, the problem of leadership. We had a good chance of turning around the very bad situation, Amaechi was helpful in making sure that the team had everything but I think that there are most of the things that even gone wrong that was why a taskforce was even required in the first place.
I think most of the things that went wrong, are all traceable to this same issue of leadership why would people like myself watch football in Europe is because when I watched football in Europe, I don’t know who is going to win, the chances that the likelihood of victory are up in the air, there is not the likelihood that corruption is compromised there is not the likelihood that, fans of a loosing team will descend on fans of the winning team to the extent where people’s lives would be lost, so the leadership of those places have been able to put a system which is sustainable which is appealing and is unfortunate that we have not been able to do likewise here.
Even though people like GLO have come in with money and so and so forth, but the regulatory authority and the leadership of this authorities have been found wanting so what Nigeria should be doing now is not rebranding we just need to fix. The basic issue you don’t rebrand something that is spoilt you fix it and I think Nigeria requires fixing and not rebranding.
To be contd
HIV/AIDS: As 2030 Draws Near…
Years ago, the immediate past National Coordinator of the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS In Nigeria (NEPWHAN), Victor Omoshehin, expressed fear over the ability of Nigeria to meet the United Nations’ “Vision 2030” of eliminating HIV in the country.
His fear stemmed first from the fact that Nigeria relies more on international donor agencies in terms of finance for HIV/AIDS-related programmes, and also the seeming inability of the Federal and State Governments to take up the responsibility of fully financing HIV/AIDS programmes.
There was also the gradual withdrawal of their finances by such international donor agencies that were of the belief that, given the length of period they had spearheaded HIV/AIDS preventive programmes in the country, government at various levels should have been in position to own-up the processes.
Omoshehin summed up his fear thus: “If the Government of Change will not increase the domestic funding for HIV, then Nigeria cannot own up to the responsibility of achieving the Vision 90:90:90 by 2030 and we cannot end AIDS by 2030”.
During a visit to Nigeria from 7th to 10th of February, 2016, the then Executive Director of the United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé, met with Nigeria’s Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, and urged the Federal Government to increase its support for the Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Week, with the aim that all pregnant women are tested for HIV by the end of 2016, and all women who test HIV-positive have immediate access to antiretroviral therapy.
The Vice President told Sidibé, during the meeting, that Nigeria was making huge budget allocations for social investment programmes, in part, to increase access to health care and help end the AIDS epidemic.
How much this amounts to, and to what extent such budget was truly executed on the purpose it is meant for was not clearly stated. This was in the face of widespread allegations of non-accountability of funds allocated to the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
One question that readily comes to mind at this juncture is if anything else has been done towards changing the narrative for the better, especially in the light of the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic which many believe has distracted attention from HIV.
In a recent interview with newsmen, the Director-general of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Mr. Gambo Gumel Aliyu, stated that the focus on Covid-19 has not affected the mandate of NACA in its quest to check the HIV/AIDS trend in Nigeria.
According to him, “NACA has been up and doing in the fight against HIV/AIDS by implementing our mandate. We have done extremely well during the pandemic and have recorded huge results we had never recorded before. We are passionate and optimistic to achieve our mission to the letter”.
While noting that HIV/AIDS in Nigeria is largely funded by international donor agencies, Aliyu explained that “Nigeria is contributing less than 10 per cent at the moment, and this contribution is what we are increasing on an incremental basis every year.
“We have this agreement with them (donor agencies) that, every year, we shall take an additional 50,000 people living with HIV/AIDS from the total number they are treating to add to our number,” he said.
On June 8, 2021, the United Nations’ General Assembly held a high-level meeting on AIDS in which United Nations member-states adopted a set of new and ambitious targets with a pledge to end all inequalities faced by communities and people affected by HIV towards ending AIDS.
Towards this end, they agreed to reduce the annual number of new HIV infections to under 370, 000 and AIDS-related deaths to 250, 000, eliminate new HIV infections among children, end paediatric AIDS and eliminate all forms of HIV-related discrimination by 2025. They also committed to providing life-saving HIV treatment to 34 million people by 2025.
It is believed that if the international community reaches the targets, 3.6 million new HIV-infections and 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths will be prevented by 2030. To achieve this, the political declaration calls on countries to provide 95% of all people at risk of acquiring HIV within all epidemiologically relevant groups, age groups and geographic settings with access to people-centered and effective HIV combination prevention options.
It also calls on countries to ensure that 95% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 95% of people who know their status to be on HIV treatment, and 95% of people on HIV treatment to be virally suppressed.
This target, 95:95:95, is an improvement from the previous ambitious target of 90:90:90, but has the same goal of either eliminating HIV, or reducing its spread to the barest minimum.
The question is what does this mean for Nigeria, knowing that towards the previous target of 90:90:90 the country’s efforts at meeting the target took a nosedive at some point in terms of funding, especially after international donor agencies started reducing their funding, leading to gradual pulling out.
Already, several HIV/AIDS programmes aimed at checking its trend have either gone moribund, or ignored because donor agencies no longer sponsor them. This is in the face of rampant allegations of deep-rooted fraud by way of diversion of monies meant for HIV/AIDS interventionist activities amounting to billions of Naira.
Meanwhile, the NACA DG last October stated that Nigeria needed the sum of $2.4 billion to control the spread of HIV in the country for the next three years. He explained that the amount is an estimation needed “to reach where we have targeted to be”.
According to him, the amount will enable Nigeria “to achieve the 95-95-95 initiative of the United Nations, where 95 per cent of people living with HIV know their HIV status; 95 per cent of people who know their status are on treatment; while 95 per cent of people are on treatment with suppressed viral loads, and we are on track”.
He noted that “United States Government alone is investing, this year, over $400,000,000, global fund is investing over a $100,000,000 this year and the government of Nigeria is contributing its part”.
Explaining Nigeria’s contributions further, Aliyu said “over the last one year, the Nigerian government invested about a $100,000,000, and 50, 000,000 persons are needed to be tested annually, but now the figure has been reduced because, when we did the estimation, we never knew we would identify such a huge number over the last 20 months.
“So, with that projection, we may need to reduce the number and test below 50,000,000 persons to reach the range of 1,800,000 to 1,900,000; because, right now, we have 1,500,000.
“Remember the annual incremental number is 50,000 to 60,000 every year. In the last two years, we identified 350,000, which is more than five times the number we identified every year”, he said.
With this, the NACA boss says the Agency is on its way to attaining its target to end HIV/AIDS by 2030.
“It is very feasible”, he said, adding that “We are not mincing words. In 18 months we have identified an additional 350,000 on treatment. In another 18 months, if we identify another 350,000 persons, we are done: we have reached the control level.
“Once you reach the level, that is the first step. You have to reach the control level first, that is the condition. We have to control HIV first before we can end it. So, the control level is supposed to happen in 2025, but here in Nigeria we are very hopeful that this control level target will happen in 2022”, he said.
By: Sogbeba Dokubo
Planting Trees To Save The Earth
As an annual event, World Earth Day is celebrated to demonstrate support for environmental protection from degradation and experts say if the Earth has to be restored, humans must begin to plant as many trees as possible.
Until quite recently, it was common for people to plant trees as symbols of events; for instance, planting of orange or coconut trees in the name of a child, after its birth.
Marking the 2021 Earth Day celebration recently, the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Port Harcourt, Professor Prince Mmom, said efforts at saving the trees is a race for the survival of the human race. With the theme: “Save The Trees, Save Humanity” organised by the Junior Chamber International (JCI), the varsity don said the Earth’s trees and forests are critical components of the world’s biodiversity as many forests are more biodiverse than others.
He pointed out that forests cover 31 per cent of the global land area and added that the total forest area is 4.06 billion hectares, which is approximately 50 x 100m per person.
Mmom explained that since 1990, it is estimated that 420 million hectares of forests have been lost through conversion to other land uses even though the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades. According to him, between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million in the ‘90s and he said inhabitants on Earth risked losing basic life support systems rapidly on a daily basis.
The don maintained that the Global Tree Search database reports the existence of 60,082 tree species but that more than 1400 trees were assessed as critically endangered and in urgent need of conservation action. As at December 2019, he said, a total of 20,334 tree species had been included in the IUCN Red list of threatened species of which 8056 were assessed as globally threatened and, therefore, became vulnerable.
Emphasising the values of trees, he said from the existence of man on Earth, trees have furnished human beings with two of life’s essentials such as food and oxygen. As human beings evolved, he insisted that trees have provided additional necessities such as shelter, medicine and tools. His words: “Today, their value continues to increase and more benefits of trees are being discovered as their role expands to satisfy the needs created by our modern lifestyles”.
Mmom averred that trees are form an important part of every community as it concerns aesthetics and as he puts it: “we gather under the cool shade they provide during outdoor activities with family and friends”. He said that spiritually, they are beautiful and majestic, pleasant, relaxed, comfortable-feeling, inspirational, provide mental health and emphasised that many people plant trees as living memories of life-changing events.
The former Director, Centre for Disaster Risk Management, pointed out that trees are source of raw materials for industrial uses which generate income and eco-tourism potentials and added that they provide livelihoods that are essential for sustainable food production and medicines.
“Trees and forests are homes for the earth’s terrestrial bio-diversity”, he opined and said that the values of trees cannot be overemphasised as they contribute to their environment by providing oxygen and improving air quality.
He stated that Earth’s function of conserving water, preserving soil cannot be overlooked as shade from trees slows water evaporation and added that as trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.
“They support wildlife, conserve soil and prevent erosion and nutrient loss; they are storehouses of large amounts of carbon, absorb carbon dioxide (Co2), removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air”, he explained.
In continental United States, the professor pointed out that non-federal forests store an estimated 38.6 billion metric tons of carbon which makes the climate to ameliorate. He regretted that rapid decimation of trees and forests is a threat to the survival of humanity even as he advised that human beings must take bold steps to reverse the trend for the benefit of present and future generations. As he puts it: “We must reduce the rate of deforestation. We must plant more trees, cut one, plant ten and plant at least 100 trees a year”.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are doing more to create awareness on the need for people to plant more trees since one of the reasons is to secure the Earth especially with the soot all over the environment as a result of illegal refining of petroleum products.
Recently in Port Harcourt, Journalists for Sustainable Development in Nigeria (JSDN) flagged- off ceremony of the 2021 Tree Planting Campaign exercise with the theme: “Tree Planting Awareness Campaign: Combating Climate Change Through Sustainable Tree Planting Exercise”.
At the event, the Executive Director of JSDN, Pastor Parry Benson, appealed to those who felled trees in the name of harvest without replacement to stop as that was responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer, which is currently causing a serious threat to the health of humans on Earth.
He appealed to the Rivers State Government and other relevant authorities to set up taskforce that will be responsible for prohibition of felling of trees in order to tackle reckless cutting down of trees.
The Chairperson, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Rivers State chapter, Susan Serekara-Nwikhana, during this year’s flag-off of the 2021 tree planting exercise, urged people to plant trees in their surroundings if they wish to live longer on Earth.
An environmental engineer, Monday Amos, said, the Earth is for man and therefore human beings have to explore and exploit the earth and its resources to survive. He said that the result of exploitation on the Earth currently is the climate change, pollution and extinction of biodiversity that are due to the activities of man.
The activities of man on Earth, he said, are affecting humanity and this has given rise to how to solve the threat posed by the activities.
“But the Earth cannot remain the way it was created. As long as man dwells on Earth, activities carried out for man’s survival cannot be ignored. When people occupy a particular space definitely there will be a change in that environment”, he maintained.
In the olden days as well as present day, man needed certain things to survive on Earth. Humans need firewood which is got from trees for cooking. Charcoal got from fire is used for ironing when used with charcoal iron. The smoke from burning firewood changes the atmosphere.
So, because of these, experts say there is the need to explore sustainably instead of getting to the point of exploitation. Exploitation may take the Earth beyond its caring capacity to the extent that cannot replenish itself. The issue of climate change is due to extreme exploitation of the Earth, changes in activities in Earth – changes in period of rainfall, a little from the exact period as well as dry season and harmattan not taking place when they should.
Carbon dioxide is produced from activities of man, such as burning of petroleum products, gas and firewood. This, in the long-run, can affect the human system. In the Niger Delta area, according to experts, refining of petroleum products by throwing a lot of Co2 into the air and gas flaring heat up the system. Economic activities by man contribute in damaging the Earth, environment and the eco-system. Yes, the activities are necessary for life to be sustained but the resources got from the Earth must be explored to achieve economic growth.
So, sustainable development advocates that humans can achieve and explore the resources of the environment to achieve the economic growth without damaging the environment. This is the reason for advocating for renewable energies by many countries of the world to put a stop to the exploitation of the Earth.
For us to restore the Earth as much as we can, humans must plant trees to stop deforestation. When trees grow, they form shade that stops Co2 in the atmosphere from eating the Earth.
Agricultural practises such as farming, hunting and fishing help man to survive in life but they have to be done sustainably. If humans have to restore the Earth, the locally operated refineries must be put to a stop because of black soot. Black soot is the implication of human activity on Earth. Since World Earth Day is an international activity; it is high time international best practices were put in place in refining.
A chemical engineer, Titus Nbah, said modular refineries must be established in the Niger Delta region since locally operated refineries part of the problems affecting the Earth. Gas can be injected into the soil using the available technologies instead of flaring.
He said Nigeria should domesticate some of the enabling laws which have been signed. Pupils should be educated from the kindergarten on laws guiding the rules on restoring the Earth. Since the essence of World Earth Day is to re-echo man’s commitment to the environment, the end product should be change of behaviour and policies that will restore the Earth.
By: Eunice Choko-Kayode
Challenges Of Reporting Nigeria’s Electoral Process
The Institute for Media and Society (IMS) in conjunction with the European Union Support for Democratic Governance in Nigeria, Component 4A (Support to Media), recently organised a Focus Group Discussion (FGD) on “Trends And Challenges In Fair, Accurate and Ethical Coverage Of the Electoral Process In Nigeria” in a bid to strengthen the media houses. Here, our reporter, Susan Serekara-Nwikhana, attempts an analysis of the main discourses at the one-day event held in Port Harcourt.
Speaking during his open
ing address, the Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Mr. Akin Akingbulu, stated that the mandate of his Institute was to see that the Media provides fair, accurate and ethical coverage of the electoral process in Nigeria, adding that since the project started they have been working on this mandate and have recorded tremendous results.
He explained that the Nigeria Component, which is also called Support to Media, has four components, namely: To enhance professionalism of the media; To help to strengthen institutions to deepen and diversify the delivery of voter and civic education; To help strengthen the capacity of the regulators, especially the broadcast sector regulator, as to enable it do better on its mandate; and To drive the focus and attention of the media on marginalised groups in society such as women, youths, persons with disabilities for input participation of these particular groups in the electoral and broader democratic processes in Nigeria.
Akingbulu noted that, so far, there has been tremendous progress, adding that they have recorded these tremendous results through forums such as this over the past few years.
He further explained that the media is a critical stakeholder in the Nigeria Component for which reason they have come to Port Harcourt to engage in this activity, which falls under the sub Component, and is working on strengthening media platforms for improved delivery of voter and civic education in the electoral process.
“We have brought together conscious and strategically important stakeholders to be part of this discussion as we believe that focus group discussion should be small, but qualitative; hence our choice of selection, noting that it is expected that those selected for the focused discussion will do a step-down at their various media houses.
“We trust that we will get the best out of the conversation that we are going to have here. To ensure that activities run well, we have put in place a timber-and-caliber facilitator, a Professor of Communication, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Ifeoma Dunu,” Akingbulu announced.
In her presentation, the facilitator of the group discussion, Prof Dunu stated that it was expected that the discussions would suggest ways to move forward, adding that, for her, it was not just conversation and discussions, but the way forward.
Dunu emphasised that this year is the electoral period in Nigeria, using Anambra State as an example. Looking at democracy and governance in Nigeria, she wondered where Nigeria’s Democracy is today. Is it progressing, retrogressing or stagnated?
She added that IMS was in Port Harcourt to ensure that all the institutions responsible to the smooth running of the electoral process in Nigeria get it right, remarking that the discussion must find lasting solutions to some of the problems confronting the electoral process in the country.
The varsity don also noted that journalism challenges are part of the core challenges confronting the electoral process as journalists working in both the private and public media houses are faced with poor remunerations which forces them to give biased reportage.
In her contribution, the Chairperson, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Rivers State Chapter, Mrs. Susan Serekara-Nwikhana, drew attention to the meaning of democracy as a system of government in which power is vested with the people and exercised by them directly.
She, however, pointed out that in Nigeria the reverse is the case as this power is vested in the legislature, noting that democracy is not being practised in the country.
A staff of Radio Nigeria, Purity FM Awka, Dr Adaora Arah, who also spoke at the event, stated that there were many young broadcasters who engaged in broadcasting without possessing the requisite qualifications to do so. She, therefore, urged the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to beam its searchlight on television and radio stations, especially those operating in remote areas.
Arah stressed that many of them have not gone to communication schools, nor acquired the needed training on what broadcasting is all about before embarking on full broadcast activities, thereby bringing embarrassment to their stations, NBC and the general public.
In his speech, a member of the International Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (IBAN), Charles Maraizu, stated that the only way forward for the electoral process in Nigeria is for it to be centralised as there were many incidences that bedeviled Nigeria’s democracy.
He stressed that there were also voters’ apathy, in which the people were no longer interested to go out and vote as many of them have continued to express fear that their votes no longer count in elections.
Maraizu commended IMS for organising the programme and for always being gender sensitive as well as bringing serious-minded people on board for the focus group discussions saying, ‘whenever they do things, they always do it well’.
He advised everyone to generate ideas on the trends and challenges of the media “because, to me, it is not enough to produce gender sensitive media lens glass without representing it by putting it to action”, adding that IMS was always walking the talk and not just talking.
In his turn, the Director of Broadcast Monitoring at NBC, Dr Tony Anigala, informed that his Commission does not deal with an individual when a broadcast station violates the ethics of broadcasting.
He commended the IMS, which has been there over the years, helping NBC a lot during elections, adding that recommendations gotten from IMS platforms help the Commission to do better.
Anigala charged participants to produce positive results from some of the materials which NBC had given out to them and their organisations, while also adding that at any point in time people should tell NBC whatever it needs to do to improve, especially during the electoral process.
Chief Constance Meju, in her goodwill message, stated that marginalisation has been one of the challenges women go through, adding that her group has been pushing for more women to be included in all spheres as long as politics was concerned.
She was of the opinion that, as a way forward, both the private and public media, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC), among other institutions should be financially autonomous so that they can independently operate under the ambit of the law without fear or favour.
Meju also appealed that the training be extended to politicians and Nigeria leaders as they have allowed the security system to be too tight to the politics, remarking that governance is not about party. She advocated the retention of the multi-party system in Nigeria.
In summary, the main resolutions reached at the event include:
- The institutions responsible to drive the electoral process in Nigeria are not strong.
- Structures needed for such drive, not in place.
- Individuals, journalists in both private and public media houses and relevant institutions should be financially well equipped, so that they can operate independently and within the ambit of the law, among others.
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