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Campaign promises: why media must hold politicians accountable

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[FILE] Former vice-President Atiku Abubakar (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

In just 39 days, Nigeria will yet again elect another democratic leader to make 20 years, going to 24 years, of uninterrupted democratic governance in the country. It would be recalled that since independence, about 13 individuals have ruled the country, with eight being military rulers.

The country’s second attempt at democratic rule was between 1979 and 1983, when the late Shehu Shagari was president. In 1999, Nigeria returned to democracy after 33 years of military rule. Many heaved a sigh a relief from military dictatorship, as democracy offers more open governance and especially for the press, with its attendant freedom of expression and the right to hold government accountable as part of journalistic ethos.

Since 1999, it has been argued that the media have been weak and ineffective, as it has not been able to document, track and monitor electoral promises made by candidates during election campaigns and, more importantly, the extent to which such officials at all levels have been able to implement electoral promises while in office.

As a result, media owners and managers have been urged to understand that they would be falling short of fulfilling their constitutional obligation if they fail to pay attention to the issue of democratic accountability. They have been tasked to provide the needed resources for their reporters and editors to monitor and document campaign promises and report their findings.

According to a resource manual on reporting elections and democratic accountability by IPC, there are national, regional legislations and instruments that provide the context for reporting democratic accountability. These are the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG). Section 22 of the 1999 constitution states that the press and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. And the article 13 of ACDEG says the media should continue to promote political and social dialogue, ensure public trust and transparency between political leaders and the people, to consolidate democracy and peace.

In a bid to equip journalists with skills on how to report election processes and hold leaders accountable, the International Press Centre (IPC), with the support of European Union (EU) Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (SDGN), recently organised a two- day workshop for 40 journalists in the Southwest on ‘Best Practices and Professional Reporting of the Election Process’ in Osogbo, Osun State.

[FILE PHOTO] Dr Oby Ezekwesili

Editor of Africa Check, David Ajikobi, stressed the need to report campaign promises critically and requesting evidence from politicians to back their claims, as they are always willing to say and do anything to get into positions of power. He said it was left for journalists to probe more and hold politicians accountable to these promises. He highlighted some of President’s Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign promises in the 2015 election, which ran on the mantra of ‘Change’. Buhari made numerous promises to Nigerians, and Ajikobi argued, “How many of these promises have been realized? How effective has the press been in holding him accountable? He had promised to focus on security, education, unemployment, economy, health care, social security, infrastructure, energy, environment, human capital development, politics and governance, and fight corruption among others.”

It has also been argued that the president has neglected other promises and has focused only on fighting corruption, which is widely considered the least of Nigeria’s problems.

Ajikobi who spoke on ‘Eliminating Biases and Using Fact-Checking Tools and Accurate Reporting of Elections,’ said misinformation, disinformation, opinion and facts are four words that are usually misunderstood, noting, “Misinformation is not given intentionally like disinformation. And while opinion cannot be checked, fact can be checked. Asking questions is the first line of accountability.”

Clearly, this year is a critical one for the media as they strive to deliver the above mandates during and after the elections. Ajikobi noted that reporting elections starts in earnest after the elections have been conducted, as a good journalist would be more concerned about the campaign promises of politicians, who emerge winners and “monitor or track campaign promises.”

The IPC manual furthers states that, “electoral systems would be more credible and democratic if the media increasingly investigate and report on conduct of politicians.

‘After the elections, seek for timelines for the fulfillment of campaign promises,” Ajiboki stated, “let the public know what has been promised and when they are supposed to be fulfilled. Monitor budget and report on the extent to which it captures or does not capture campaign promises by the president and governors.”


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