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Stakeholders canvass safety of journalists covering Edo/Ondo polls

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Accreditation process before voting during a previous election

Ahead of Edo and Ondo governorship elections, stakeholders in the media space have stressed the need for the safety of journalists.

Speaking at a virtual conference organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) and the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) yesterday, they also emphasised the need for journalists to observe safety protocols while reporting amidst COVID-19.

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The collaboration of ACSPN and IPC is to promote professionalism, protect the professional interests of journalists and enhance the relevance of journalists and journalism in the forthcoming Edo/Ondo election.

With the theme: ‘Edo/Ondo Elections: The imperative of Safety Consciousness and Conflict Sensitivity in Media Coverage and Reportage’, the conference had in attendance, Professor Umaru Pate, President, ACSPN, and Dean, School of Post-Graduate Studies, Bayero University, Kano; Mr. Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, IPC, Lagos; Dr. Akin Akingbulu, Executive Director, Institute of Media and Society, Lagos; Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Mrs. Melody Akinjiyan Lawal, Program Officer (Safety); Dr. Clinton Okonye, Medical Officer, Caleb University, Imota, Lagos and Dr. Rugayyah Aliyu, ACSPN Vice President, North-West and Lecturer, Bayero University, Kano.

At the webinar, participants argued that journalists must not be biased and they must uphold the ethics of the profession.

The moderator of the panel, Funke Treasure Durodola, in her opening salvo, said the forthcoming elections in Edo/Ondo states had raised concern about the safety of journalists in the face of recent violence, intimidation, and hate speech used by the political actors.

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In his opening remarks, Executive Director, IPC, said where there is violence, journalists are unable to do their work effectively.

“We have chosen to organise this one with a specific focus on the imperative of safety consciousness and conflict sensitivity in media coverage of the two elections because of the prevailing circumstances in the two states. In the area of safety, we are looking at how journalists could avoid getting in harm’s way in the course of their legitimate duties amid the general concern that the elections could turn violent as pockets of violence are already being recorded here and there particularly in Edo State.

“We are also looking at how journalists could ensure their health safety in view of the fact that the two elections are taking place under the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. In the area of conflict sensitivity, we are looking at how journalists could contribute to the peaceful conduct of the elections by embracing the principles and guidelines of conflict-sensitive journalism.”

According to him, “this election is taking place under the COVID-19 atmosphere. One of the things we have done before now is that we have a number of publications to aid journalists in the professional report of elections, I want to appeal to our colleagues in Edo and Ondo states and elsewhere to make use of the manual. There is also the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, as well as the new Nigerian Broadcasting Code. Journalists must keep abreast of all these.”

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He added that the webinar was held under the overarching framework of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN), the component 4b: Support to Media, which IPC has been implementing since the past three years.

The key objectives, he emphasised are, “to strengthen the capacity of the media to engage in the professional, ethical, issue-oriented, gender-sensitive, inclusive sensitive and conflict-sensitive reporting of the electoral processes and elections.”

Akingbulu stressed the need for journalists to be properly kitted, saying, “safety of journalists is important. Our colleagues on the frontlines need to be protected. We should remember that the safety of journalists now has the second leg in Nigeria’s general elections. That is a violation of the rights of journalists on election duty by a range of actors. It is now well known that attacks on journalists, denials of access to election activities constantly confront our colleagues while performing their duties. We must be alert and navigate this terrain appropriately.”

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He also implored INEC to be alert to the issue of harassment, violence, and access to electoral, which has posed a challenge for journalists to carry out their job efficiently.

In his speech, Oyekanmi revealed that INEC was ready for the governorship elections. Specifically, he said, “all the logistics for the elections, our electoral officers and their assistants have been trained.”

According to Oyekanmi, “as we approach the Edo Governorship election, it is clear that the good people of the state and Nigerians as a whole are very concerned about what will happen on election day. We have all been hearing the loud drumbeats of war from political actors. There have been accusations and counter-accusations. Just like everybody else, the Commission is deeply concerned.

“To be sure, INEC is ready for the election. Indeed, we are determined to conduct the election despite the current difficult circumstances. Out of the 14 activities listed in the timetable that we released in February, we have carried out 12. The only two left are the deadline for campaigns – 17th September and the election proper slated for 19th September.

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“All the logistics needed for the election have been taken care of. The non-sensitive materials have been delivered to the 18 local government areas of the state. Our Electoral Officers, their Assistants, and Supervisory Presiding Officers have been trained. Officers nominated by the various security agencies under the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) have also been trained and their actions will be guided by the Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement for Security Personnel on Electoral Duty. To that extent, regardless of the not-so-pleasant experiences Journalists might have experienced with security agents during elections in the past, they rest assured of a good experience this time around.

“On proactive measures taken by the Commission to address security concerns, consultations with the ICCES are ongoing. About two weeks ago, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu led a delegation to meet with the revered Oba of Benin to ask him to intervene and appeal to political actors to allow a peaceful election. The respected Monarch promised to invite them to his palace for interaction and he has already done so. Plans have also been concluded for all the 14 political parties participating in the election to sign a Peace Accord in the coming days. With all these efforts, it is our hope that the election will be held peacefully.”

For Lawal, journalists needed to be alive to tell their stories, hence, the need to be safety conscious.

According to her, “there have been more attacks on journalists in the last eight months, mostly females. Attacks or harassments were of diverse forms like threats to life or battering. Journalists must be professional and keep themselves safe. Journalists must be non-partisan, brave and smart, must not walk or move alone. They must not negotiate with politicians on classified information but publish such information; they must exercise caution in dealing with security operatives. In case of any attack, report to INEC, NUJ, police station, and hospital.”

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In his presentation, Dr. Clinton Okonye, of Caleb University, Imota, Lagos, said COVID-19 has changed the landscape of interaction and well being and would continue to do so for a while to come, “with this in mind we must endeavour to embrace this new normal and individually play our part to see that recovery from the untoward effect of this pandemic is reversed.”

Okonye said, “when covering elections under COVID-19, journalists must observe safety protocols like clean your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand-rub. Wash for at least 20 seconds.”

In her paper titled, ‘Electoral Conflict and Media Coverage: The Need for Conflict Sensitive Reporting in Edo/Ondo Elections, Dr. Aliyu of Bayero University, Kano, pointed out that analysts and observers have raised concerns about the possibility of violence erupting from the elections. She, however, noted that the media has a role in curtailing violence.

She said the “success of the whole process to a large extent lies in the effectiveness and efficiency of media coverage because citizens rely on the media to make informed decisions.”

According to the academic, “any disagreement through which parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns and therefore strive to protect these perceived needs, interests or concerns or the fear is if it goes violent, the consequences might be devastating, with multiplier effects on the society.

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“If the present situation is ill-managed, what is going to be experienced is the opposite of peace, youths will be exploited, innocent people will suffer, governance will be interrupted, the states will be dragged backward, violence might escalate, consequences might be unpredictable and electoral violence is better avoided.”

She said the media is a key factor in causing of curtailing violent election conflicts at any point during the electioneering period.

Thus, the mass media must live up to its statutory and social responsibilities by upholding to ethics and professionalism.

Se said, “there is a need for a balanced, fair, and accurate report. According to her, “journalists must verify all facts and figures, they must not be overzealous to do their work, national interest should be given top priority, set a positive agenda, the negatives stories must not make front pages, they must promote peace, be non-partisan, uphold journalist ethics, educate voters when they vote and why they should vote for peace, take advantage of the new media, bombard the new media with an accurate report to suppress fake news and hate speech.”

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