By Henry Ekpe
Corporate Accountability And Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, is a Non Governmental Organization NGO, who held a Journalism Training on Peaceful and Non Violent Elections in Imo State, Sponsored by the European Union.
The seminar held at Rockview Hotel Owerri, and lasted for two days. The theme was “Journalism Training On Peaceful Election And Non-Violent Elections”
When I got the invitation, I was not too keen to participate, especially because of my busy schedules and the apprehension of the unknown within me.
And unfortunately, two days before the seminar commenced, I had go threat calls from phone number 07088772401. I was warned to be careful or paid the supreme prize.
Therefore, as a Writer, Publisher and Journalist, I was confused on what would have led to the threat. Was it because of what I write, or what my Newspaper Published, since most people ignorantly believe that if you own a Newspaper, you solely dictate all that comes out in the medium, not knowing that a Newspaper is an institution and different from your own personal opinion pushed through your own column.
However, when the organizers kept calling to remind me of the Training, rather than get settled, I became more worried, knowing our system, and how such a fine female voice would be on your line daily telling you, “we still expect you at the Seminar Sir”.
So, I brared it, and behold when I got into the Seminar Hall, as I deliberately came a little late, I was surprised with what I saw. A full session of studies already on going.
I joined immediately after filling my documents, and there was no dull moment because of the serious Topics being treated by the lecturers, and the Intellectual level of studies, coupled with top Journalists around, some I have not met for years, and from various Media Outlets in the State.
According to the Organizers, CAPPA, they were in Imo to Educate and Counsel Imo Journalists on the forthcoming Imo Governorship election slated for November 11, 2023.
The crux of the matter was : How to report the Election, by the stating the facts as a Journalists, but without sensationalism that may provoke fear and mayhem among the society. And how Editors will couch the Heads with moderation not to provoke tears.
Various Teachers took on different Topics. They were concerned on Non violence, and herped on the fact that Elections can only produce good result if they are held peacefully, after which the society will benefit through an organized development, necessitated through a No Violent Polls, reported with moderate words by the Press, for the peace of the society.
On the walls in the lecture Room were such shouting inscriptions like “Vote with your Thumb Not with Gun” “I Support peaceful Polls: Vote in Peace, Not In Blood” “ Election is not War”.
The Executive Director, CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi introduced by the Moderator Abayomi Sarumi, in his opening remarks said that violence during elections in Nigeria does no one any good, the reason they were in Imo State to charge the Journalists to desist from Publishing materials that could stir violence, pre and post Election periods.
“But should the facts be buried in a bid to post stories that will not confusion and chaos during election?” I asked.
He said, maintaining that News can be published with facts, but with moderation explained to avoid violence.
A Tall beautiful woman, Zikora Ibeh who is the CAPPA Policy and Research Officer took us on “Engaging the Media in Peace Building”.
She reminded the class that at all times, despite the fact it is the job of the Press to disseminate information, but it must engage in “Fact Check” before dishing out, as most people rely on what they read in the Media for their information gathering and assimilation.
She said that Journalists should not be in a hurry to beat each other in being the first to publish, only to later discover that it was no accurate when the harm had already been done.
Taking us on “Understanding Conflicts and Drivers of Conflicts, Dr Tunde Akanni, an Associate Professor of Journalism, LASU, warned Journalists not to pander to the sugar coated tongues of politicians, as their concern is to run their opponent down with propaganda and therefore, left for the Journalists to dethatch from emotion, and put the story down in facts, because relying on what comes from politicians alone, without cross-checking may lead to conflict and violence.
He stressed that as the Gate-keepers, even if Reporters make mistakes, the Editors must take pain to cross check facts, and must be sure of the source and its authentication.
The Prof went memory lane, saying that it sounds strange, uptil today, that the letter that annulled
June 12 Election was not signed, yet the entire Media in the Land carried the story, meaning that it could not be officially traced to any Government official till date.
He admonished Journalists to be careful with their security while Reporting Elecions, pointing out that though a Press man hunts for News, but that story can only be carried if that Reporter gets home with the story. Therefore he said the Security of Pressmen during Elections is paramount.
The famous Journalist Activist and Veteran of may students Battle but still looking young, Lanre Arongundade held us spellbound with his incisive lecture, that was spiced with Professionalism, politics, and as well as practical dangers Journalists face in the field.
Lanre , topic was “Election and Conflict Sensitive Reporting”.
The avatar of many Democratic Battles in Nigeria, right from his hay Days as National President of National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, warned that a Journalist covering Elections, especially in areas known to be volatile must be extra careful, and should trust no one in a strange Environment.
He said every Journalist must have the experience to sense danger before it happens and move away before it occurs.
He gave us an example where some Journalists went to cover an event in a volatile area, and still kept moving even when the security personnel escorting them got to a point and pulled back.
Arongundade, Chair of International Press Centre maintained that Ethnicity, Religion and Political affiliations are the major Drivers of conflicts in our society, and must be battled by the Press through Advocacy and balanced Reportage.
Elegant and vibrant Aderonke Ige, Lawyer, and CAPPA official, tackled “The Electoral Law and Guide For Media Coverage of Elections”.
Even before she could say a word, barrage of questions bordering on the recently delivered judgment by the Presidential Election Tribunal, were thrown on the young Lady. And she was equal to the task.
The take away from her lecture was that it was true that Nigeria panel- beated the Electoral Act to add some innovations that can stem rigging of Elections in Nigeria, but unfortunately, all those powers were left in the hands of INEC, and not put in the constitution.
And this was the reason the Appeal Courts ruled that INEC has the right to determine the method it wants to collate and release results.
However, during and after the lectures, the issue of the coming Imo Governorship election dominated the discourse.
Therefore, while CAPPA preaches peace for the election in Imo State, not even one official from the State Government attended. Even the almighty INEC who Nigerians now see as the problem with elections in Nigeria, ironically when they should be the problem solvers were no there.
In Imo, the Press obviously is very vibrant, with Imo State parading the highest number of what we call “Local Newspapers” in the entire Southeast. The not only disseminate information, but reduce unemployment in Imo State, so they are big Stakeholders in the State.
But the big question remains, even as outsiders, CAPPA and European Union have come to Imo to emplore the Press to handle the Election with fairness and ameliorate Tension by avoiding sensationalism to subdue violence during the election, what has the Government of Imo State done to encourage the Home Press?
It the only proves the Adage that a Prophet is hardly recognized in his our land.
Talking about the Imo Governorship Election and mitigating violence through altruistic reporting, the Government should also help in supporting the call by reining in their publicists, who wreak up dusts to heat up the polity.
As November 11 approaches, both the Government and opposition parties must be cautious of what they publish in a bid to run each other down.
From what we have been observing lately in Imo, never before in the history of Elections in the State, has a Government and Opposition thrown caution to the wind in fight to finish scenario, where lurid and bizarre stories dominate the Media space, rather than each of the contending Gladiators telling the people what they will do better when re-elected, and what they would do when elected.
What one read in various WASAP Groups in Imo State can scare the lilly hearted.
The Non violence which I have ever been an Apostle, can only be achieved if the Imo Media Space is dominated with issue-based discussions, and not things that would not add any value to those vying to be Governor, and those they proclaim to serve.
The Imo Election as we near the D-Day has left the realm of topical issues to things that will divide us the more. In the end, it may tilt to violence, if the topics are not issue based but private and frivolous matters that may heat up emotions.
It is quite unfortunate how a fellow who calls himself a Proffessional Journalist will write what he or she cannot defend tomorrow when called upon.
For those marketing the Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, the candidate of APC, there are many positives to write about the four years he has been in office.
Uzodinma may not be an Mbakwe, but he has signature projects that can occurred his Media Minders.
Assuming the opposition engages in dust raising, it would be because they are just planning to come power and have nothing to point at. However, the opposition has no justification to engage only on name callings.
Therefore, engaging the opposition in frivolous replies is a distraction, when you have to show- case to the Electorate what the Governor has done these years. And they are many.
In the case of opposition, it would be more gainful to point out what the incumbent could not have done and then promise how to do it better than dwelling on matters that sounds gossip and cannot hold water.
And then, for those used as instruments to carry out these dirty assignments, there is always a tomorrow. A young man or woman should not write as if the world will end today.
Let us fight violence in Elections and reduce heating the polity through the Media, especially in Imo State.