JOURNALISTS AND COVERAGE OF THE 2019 ELECTION

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The much hyped Nigeria’s general elections have come and gone, leaving a sore taste in the month. The presidential and National Assembly elections were held on 23rd February 2019 while the governorship and State House of Assembly elections came up on 9th March 2019. As predicted, following the intense heat generated in the political space by the candidates and the political parties, the elections didn’t end well, with violence and deaths on their trail.

For journalists, the coverage of the elections was like taking a journey to the unknown. Yes, treading the unknown might be a common endeavour to the journalist as, to unearth the unknown, is the true essence of journalism. However, I’m talking about life and death here; that the coverage of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria was like going to a war zone.

But why a war zone? First, it could be because of the existential reality of Nigeria being the largest democracy and economy in Africa: the stakes are high. Secondly, because the politicians and their collaborators want to continue to rip off the country’s economy by desperately assuming authority. What’s on my mind? I’d not hesitate to choose the latter.

Let’s now look at the report of one or two accredited observers of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria. A joint observation mission by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDi) wrote: “Incidents of violence and disruption to the balloting process were observed in Lagos, Benue, Rivers and Nasarawa states. The delegation was informed of loss of lives as a result of election day violence. The mission deplores these losses and expresses its deepest condolences to the bereaved and the Nigerian people.

“These actions and the impunity, with which some electoral actors conducted themselves, including some polling agents and members of the military, undermine citizen confidence in elections and threaten the legitimacy of Nigeria’s democracy.”

The heart may jump out of the chest watching the videos and seeing the photos of violence displayed across social media platforms, and in the newspapers in the aftermath of the elections. No system can be completely perfect though, but the apparent buying over of security forces by politicians across the political divide to advance their enlightened self-interest calls to question the free and fair conduct of the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

It was in the midst of these happenings that journalists did their beat during the muddled elections. So much so that a group of Nigerian journalists, in Abeokuta, South West Nigeria, launched a celebration of fun in a Facebook page for the relief which came their way after the hectic and dangerous coverage.

However, some journalists weren’t as lucky as to pose for fun. The concerned journalists encountered one form of harassment or the other in the line of duty, including denial of access to election collation centres, verbal attack, beating, kidnapping, illegal arrest and detention, illegal seizure and destruction of laptops, vehicles and equipment, as well as gunshots wounds.

More specifically, let’s look at five details of such harassment as highlighted by the International Press Centre (IPC) in Lagos, an organisation that is “dedicated to building media capacities for democracy and development”, amongst others.

• Collins Ossai of Channels Television was barred by political thugs from covering the elections in Central Primary school, Iruekpe, Edo State.

• BBC Africa Pidgin reporter, Ajoke was slapped by a politician over her coverage of vote buying at Pleasure Bus Stop polling booth, Agege, near Lagos.

• Amos Tauna of Daily Post and a group of journalists were physically assaulted close to Zonkwa police station by thugs in Kaduna State while covering the irregularities being perpetrated by politicians and their thugs. Phones, cameras and other personal belongings were seized and destroyed.

• Aside the IPC report, Premium Times published that Reginald Dei, a Government House photographer was shot in his residence by unidentified armed men who wore military uniform at Oweikorogha, Southern Ijaw Local Government, Bayelsa State.

• Again, Nonzo Isiguzo, a news editor with the privately-owned Nigeria Info radio station narrated to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) how the officially branded vehicle of his office in which he travelled on election day to cover the elections was stopped in Ahoada local government area of Rivers State by armed men wearing camouflage uniforms, the occupants were ordered to disembark and the car key seized.

There could be no doubt that such attacks endanger not only journalism, they threaten freedom of speech and democracy. If allowed to fester, human existence itself will be swamped and spoiled by absolute power. As part of efforts to limit the aggressiveness of power and hold government to account, there has been an increased use of digital tools to effectively highlight the dangers that confront journalists and the journalism profession in Nigeria.

Wole Elegbede, Abeokuta, Ogun State