The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), says over ten million names have been added to Nigeria’s voters register in the course of the continuous voter registration exercise being undertaken by the commission.
The exercise is scheduled to end next month.
This was revealed Saturday by the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, at a bi-annual retreat of State House journalists with the theme ‘covering electioneering campaign’ which held at EPE Resort, Lagos State.
Represented by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of INEC in Lagos, Samuel Olumekun, Mr Yakubu said “as at 13th July, 2018, a total number of 10,292,647 (5,620,401 males, 4,672,246 females) prospective voters had registered.”
Mr Yakubu, however, said the commission still has a large number of uncollected Permanent Voters Cards in their various offices.
He called on members of the press corps “to use your networks and platforms to publicise this information and encourage the owners to come and pick them.”
Mr Yakubu said political activities are already gathering momentum in the country and very soon the electioneering campaigns will commence.
He said he already came up with the timetable of activities for the 2019 general elections.
He said the timetable indicates that the commencement of campaigns by political parties for presidential and National Assembly, and for governorship and State House Assembly elections are slated for November 18, and December 1 respectively.
He called on the media to ensure an accurate coverage of political activities.
Mr Yakubu said all over the world, the media are known as the “cornerstone of democracy” because they play critical roles in proper functioning of democracy.
He said in facilitating the full participation of the citizenry in democratic elections, the media are specifically saddled with the responsibility of educating voters on how to exercise their democratic rights.
He also said it is the duty of the media to provide platforms for political parties and candidates to communicate their messages to the electorate; as well as “providing a platform for public feedback, concerns, opinions and needs to the political parties and candidates, the Election Management Body (EMBs), government, and others.”
The INEC chairman advised the media that as they carry out their duties they should provide information in a manner devoid of inflammatory language, and help to prevent election-related violence.
“Elections are not just about the right to vote. Knowledge of the voting process, information about political parties, candidates and their programmes are also crucial.
“Also required is the acquisition of the knowledge of how to vote.
“It is the sacred responsibility of the media to provide avenues and opportunities for citizens’ participation, political inclusion, and empowerment.
“The media should avail voters with adequate information about the electoral process and informed analysis on policies, political parties, and their candidates, to enable the citizens make informed choices,” he said.
Mr Yakubu also said INEC has improved with every election it has conducted so far. He said INEC under him is determined to make the 2019 general elections “our best election ever but we cannot do it alone.”
He said the commission needs the support of all concerned.
“I wish to remind you that the role of the media in the forthcoming elections is challenging.
“Our expectation is that the media will set agenda for the political class and also play the role of peace building, to heal the cleavages that may have been raised from intense campaigns,” he said.
Also, a University lecturer, Abubakar Kari of the department of Sociology, University of Abuja, who made a presentation on ‘Hate Speech, the Media and Nigeria’s Unity’ said the upsurge on hate speech in Nigeria presents a clear and present danger to the peace and unity of Nigeria.
“Everywhere and in all circumstances, hate speech pitches persons and groups often as “us” versus “them.”
“For a fragile polity such as Nigeria`s, which complex diversity seems forever a source of friction and which fate almost always hangs on the edge of a precipice, every dose and every moment of hate speech takes a huge toll on the social fabric of society,” Mr Kari said.
The don said the Nigerian media, just like their counterparts elsewhere, “have been complicit in the matter of hate speech in a number of ways.”
He said the media often serve as “veritable sources of offensive and toxic hate speech materials; as platforms and peddlers of same; and for encouraging, tolerating or being indifferent to something so atrocious.”
He said these things happen in spite of clear moral, social and legal issues associated with hate speech, and grave consequences the phenomenon easily elicits and instigates.
Mr Kari described hate speech as “any expression or picture or symbol that vilifies an identifiable group”.
“If that is the case, then, Nigerian media, both print and broadcast, are full of them,” he said.
Mr Kari said the media in Nigeria sometimes publish and broadcast stuff that borders on hate speech such as “news items and headlines that stereotype groups; feature stories that drip with prejudice and scapegoating; radio shows and audience-participatory programmes on topics and issues that easily provoke or precipitate exchange of insults and hatred.”
“Radio and television shows hosts sometimes actually encourage or even lead the way through their handling (or mishandling) of proceedings, nature of questions asked, how the questions are asked, choice of words, etc.
“In certain instances, the very choice of guests to discuss an issue is guaranteed to generate hate speech,” he said.
The University lecturer said controversial figures are often given platforms to spew hate speech in the country.
Mr Kari also lamented what he described as “herdsmedia.”
“These are media men and women that have made Fulani herders their bogeyman. Every act of violence and crime is blamed on the Fulani herdsmen regardless of evidence to the contrary.
“Gradually, the frontier of the scapegoating in the mischievous lens of the herdsmedia is being stretched to profile every Fulani man as a mindless killer and destroyer,” he said.
As a way out, Mr Kari said media practitioners should be educated and re-educated on media ethics on matters of balance, fairness and objectivity.
He said they must also be trained on matters of public good, public safety and national security.
“Our reporters, writers and editors must appreciate the fact that freedom of speech is not absolute, and that no individual, group or medium has any right to publish or print materials that incite, precipitate disquiet or lead to break down of law and order.
“Journalists should be schooled in conflict-sensitive reporting and multi-cultural awareness. In particular, they must learn to avoid “us” against “them” reporting. They should exercise professional standards in articles they write, programmes aired and learn to speak to people without taking sides,” he said.
Mr Kari said the full weight of the law should always be brought to bear on perpetrators of hate speech and their collaborators.
He expressed his support to a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Aliyu Abdullahi, which provides for death by hanging for any person found guilty of any hate speech that results in the death of another person.
“I support the speedy passage of the bill and its immediate assent,” he said.
Mr Kari said he has also observed that there is no provision against hate speech in the Code of Ethics of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.
“That is a serious anomaly that must be corrected forthwith,” he said.
Words Of Caution
The chairman of editorial board of Thisday newspaper, Olusegun Adeniyi, who drew from his experience both as a State House correspondent and a presidential adviser advised members of the corps to be careful of information they receive from sources especially in the build up to the 2019 elections.
He said anyone that comes up with a scoop but declines to be quoted is either lying or out to cause a problem.
He advised the correspondents to “always verify every information received” before writing their stories.
Mr Adeniyi said the Nigerian media is often seen as anti-government, saying, reporters should always be professional despite their personal opinions on any matter.
He also disagreed with the position taken by Mr Kari on the efforts by the National Assembly to pass a bill against hate speech.
He said the goal is not really to curb hate speech but “to muzzle the press and it won’t happen.”