Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), through the support of the EU-SDGN, began the process of strengthening the working relationship between the commission and the media by organising a one-day strategic media round-table in Lagos on Friday with editors of major newspapers and broadcast media, to brief them on the progress made so far and its readiness for the 2023 general elections..
The INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu in his keynote address, highlighted the achievements of the Commission since electoral campaigns have begun. He expressed the satisfaction of the electoral umpire with the political parties and candidates travelling the length and breadth of the country. The INEC Chairman however, frowned at the violence, use of abusive language and hate speech by the political parties.
He noted that the violent conduct of political parties and their supporters were already resulting in fatal incidents, in just two months out of five slated for political rallies and campaigns. ‘We are in the critical phase of the 2023 election. We are in the middle of electioneering campaigns and the tempo will increase as the date of the elections draws nearer. Already there are signs of positive and negative mobilization for the elections’ he stated.
Continuing, Yakubu noted that ‘on the positive side, parties and candidates are campaigning nationwide including some places where some of the candidates, in particular, have not visited for a long time, if at all. On the flip side, we have seen a lot of negative mobilizations and even violence. As of the 9th of November 2022, barely two months into the five months of campaign periods, we tracked 52 incidents involving the use of abusive, inciting language, denial of access to public facilities of political parties for their campaigns, destruction of campaign materials, physical attacks resulting in fatalities. We also have cases of the destruction of INEC facilities and properties.’
While the INEC Chairman took time to address the concerns of the journalists, the participants were put through a detailed presentations on the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Election Results Viewing Portal (IReV) by the Commission’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Department. The BVAS and IReV are two major innovations introduced by the Commission under the watch of Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and are expected, like the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and Smart Card Reader (SCR) introduced in 2015, to game change the conduct of the 2023 General Elections by adding further value and transparency to the electoral process.
Festus Okoye, The National Commissioner for voter education and publicity, in his remarks urged the media to be professional in their reportage and to be conflict-sensitive in their reports, explaining that electoral matters are issues of national security, and the media must factor this into their reports. He also explained the complexities of election reporting and the need for journalists to be trained for such purpose, and that the media should ensure they always verify their information from the appropriate quarters in 2023 before going to press.
He stated that ‘journalists that report on elections and electoral processes must be conversant with the processes and the procedures of the Commission as well as the dynamics and play in the conduct of elections. In other words, the media must be aware and understand that preparation for elections, the conduct of elections and the resolution of elections principles are in a class of their own and cannot be discussed from a derelict point of view. The media and media practitioners must have a basic understanding and working knowledge of the framework that guides and underpin the work of the constitution’.
Speaking also at the roundtable, the Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje acknowledged the essence of media in the electoral process. He noted that the media had access to information which is the health of democracy. He praised the media for providing the public with the opportunity to make informed decisions at the polls.
Mr. Agbaje admonished the media to operate within the prevailing environment to create balanced engagement for public interaction about the electioneering process for the sustainability of democracy in the country. In his words, ‘As the 2023 General Election is around the corner, that is 84 days away to be precise, the need for an interactive meeting with the media such as this cannot be overemphasized. For democracy to thrive the media on their part must operate within the prevailing environment to engage the public in promoting access to quality information that will influence their judgments and decisions.’
The meeting which availed the journalists an opportunity to put forward question on salient issues, saw the attendance of the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of the Information and Voters Education Committee, Festus Okoye.