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Coalition wants media support for citizen driven electoral amendment bill

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Chairman, Radio, Television, Theatre and Arts Workers’ Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU), Com. Dare Durosimi (left); Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Dr. Akin Akingbulu; Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), David Anyeale and Chairperson, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Lagos State Chapter, Adeola Ekine at a stakeholder parley on electoral reforms in Lagos last week.

A coalition of civil society groups has stressed the need for media to ensure that the 2021 Electoral Amendment Bill reflects citizens’ priorities and inputs from women, youth, Persons Living with Disabilities (PWDs), civil society and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

At a media conference held last week in Lagos, participants argued that any amendments that do not take cognisance of these groups would not help to strengthen the electoral process.

Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, who read the coalition’s speech, said the ninth National Assembly, as the fulcrum of democracy, must restore confidence in the country’s democratic process through a legislation that would address gaps in the current electoral legal framework insisting that Nigerians deserve a new Electoral Act in which citizens’ aspirations are not only prioritised, but produced through adequate timely attention of the National Assembly.

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The Civil society group, he stressed, is proposing some amendments that would ensure that the media is not encumbered in the coverage and reportage of political parties and candidates, especially as self-regulatory frameworks, including the media code for election coverage, which requires that the media should give them equitable access while also promoting the inclusive issues of women, youths and people living with disabilities.

Indeed, he noted that all frameworks governing media role in elections require that journalists should adhere to the ethical and professional imperatives of fairness, balance, accuracy, conflict sensitivity and avoidance of hate speech.

Continuing, he said, “we want to once again draw the attention of members of the National Assembly to the proposals contained in one of the memoranda submitted to it.

Arogundade noted that the above demands reflect “our rejections of the proposed amendments to the electoral act in the bill before the National Assembly especially in Section 100 (6) (a) of the bill proposing that the fine for media houses be increased to N2 million in the first instance and N5 million upon subsequent conviction and Section 100 (6) (b) proposing: “Principal officers and other officers of the media house to a fine of N2 million or to imprisonment for a term of 12 months.” In the current Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) the penalties for contravention of the provision in Section 100 (3) and100 (4) as stipulated in Section 100(6) is: A maximum fine of N 500, 000 in the first instance, and a maximum fine of N1million for subsequent conviction.”

Specifically, he said electoral reform remains the only way an inclusive electoral system can be achieved. Hence, the continued call for the enabling legal instruments wherein inclusive participation of all Nigerians to participate in the electoral process (without being disenfranchised, without fear of attack by hoodlums and political hooligans, without fear of insecurity, without denials based on gender or disability, and without any restrictions in the ease to emerge as a candidate, and without any inhibition to vote and the votes to count during the election, etc.) is guaranteed. We wish to use this opportunity to reiterate our demands for the National Assembly to give utmost consideration to the following inclusion issues:

According to him, “it was a welcome development when the National Assembly began a process in 2020 to amend the electoral laws. The December 2020 Public hearing by the National Assembly (NASS) on the Electoral Amendment Bill provided an opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to participate in the electoral reform process and contribute to the bill. The urgent need for a new law is founded on the broad-based consensus by all Nigerians and electoral stakeholders on the need for a more credible and improved electoral process that encourages active citizens’ participation while genuinely guaranteeing their rights in choosing leaders that will provide quality representation and sustainable governance. There’s no doubt that over the last two decades of uninterrupted civil rule, there is still a deep yearning for reforms that can significantly inspire citizens’ trust in democracy.”

Conclusively, he said, “the silence from the National Assembly on the Electoral Amendment bill since the public hearing in December 2020 and the retreat to consolidate citizens’ feedback into the bill in late January 2021 is worrying. Nigerians deserve that the elected representatives readily respond to the needs of the people and grant the request for a new electoral law that genuinely captures the wishes of the people. This delay in concluding the process serves as a reminder of the failed process in 2018 and the lost opportunity to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy in 2019.”

Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Dr. Akin Akingbulu, urged the media to fight its own cause and not allow anybody to sit somewhere and criminalise media practice.

The Chairperson, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Lagos State chapter, Adeola Ekine, observed that concerning inclusion, the nation is not there yet. According to her, “as female journalists, we realise that when it comes to beat sharing male, journalists are given preferences above the female counterparts and we went to the same school. I believe that beats should be shared according to performances and not gender. I also encourage women to support one another.”

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Chairman, Radio, Television, Theatre and Arts Workers’ Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU), Com. Dare Durosimi, said every part of the amendment is very important.

He also stressed the need for media owners to provide life insurance for all their members of staff.

According to him, “security in the nation today is nothing to talk about. We are not safe.”

Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), David Anyeale, said the greatest challenge for PWDs is access. “Where there is no access, discrimination is inevitable. So, we want the media to serve as our eyes, our ears and legs.

On her part, Director, Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Mary George Peluola, observed that since return to civil rule in 1999, women have not been properly represented. They have faced discrimination, violence. Women are under represented in decision-making and leadership. Women participation is lees than 10 per cent. Other issues are cultural and ideology. There is need for gender balance.”

The coalition is made up of: Institute for Media and Society (IMS), International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), CLEEN Foundation, Inclusive Friends Association, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Nigeria Women’s Trust Fund, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), The Albino Foundation and Yiaga Africa.

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