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 got threat calls from phone number 07088772401. I was warned to be careful or pay the supreme prize.
Therefore, as a Writer, Reporter,Publisher,Columnist and Journalist, I was confused on what would have led to the threat. Was it because of what I wrote, or what my Newspaper Published, since most people ignorantly believe that if you are part of a Newspaper, you solely dictate all that comes out in the medium, not knowing that a Newspaper is an Institution of itself and different from your own personal opinion pushed through your column.
However, when the organizers kept calling to remind me of the Training, rather than get settled, I became more apprehensive, wondering how such a fine female voice would be on your line daily telling you, “we still expect you at the Seminar,Sir”.
So, I braved 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.
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, with facts as Journalists, but shunned sensationalism that may provoke fear and mayhem among the society. And how Editors will couch their Headlines with moderation without provoking fears.
Various Teachers took on different Topics. They were concerned on Non violence, and harped on the fact that Elections can only produce good result if they are held peacefully and the society will benefit through an organized development, necessitated through Non Violent Polls.
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,during and post Election periods.
“But should the facts be buried in a bid to write stories that will not cause confusion and chaos during elections?” I asked.
He maintained that while News must be published with facts, we must be cautious of its impact on the larger Society.
A Tall beautiful fair 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, the Press must “Fact Check” before dishing out the information, as most people rely on what they read in the Media.
She said that Journalists should not be in a hurry to beat each other in being the first break the News only to later discover that it was a false information, 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, because their concern is to run their opponents down and therefore left for the Journalists to detach from emotions, because relying on what comes from one source alone 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 be sure of the source and its authentication.
The youthful Prof went memory lane, saying that it sounds strange but true that up til today the Press Release that annulled the June 12 Election was not signed, yet the entire Media in the Land carried the story, even as it could not be linked 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 in one piece with the story. Therefore he said the Security of Pressmen during Elections is paramount.
The famous Journalist and Activist, 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’s topic was “Election and Conflict Sensitive Reporting”.
The Human Rights Advocate and former 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 from the scene.
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 at the young Lady. And she was equal to the task,though.
My take away from her lecture was that truly Nigeria panel- beated the Electoral Act to add some technological innovations that can stem rigging Elections in the Country, but unfortunately, all those powers were left in the hands of INEC.
This was the reason the Presidential Tribunal Panel ruled that INEC has the right to determine the method it wants to collate and release the results.
However, during and after the lectures, the issue of the coming Imo Governorship election dominated the discourse by the sidelines by participants.
Unfortunately,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 , ironically when they should be the problem solvers,were not there too.
In Imo State, the Press obviously is very vibrant, with the State parading the highest number of what we call “Local Newspapers” in the entire Southeast. These Newspapers not only disseminate information and help enlighten IMO populace of Government policies and projects , but reduce unemployment in Imo State. So they are big Stakeholders in the State.
But the big question remains: even as CAPPA and European Union have come to Imo to emplore the Press there to handle the Election with fairness andreducebTension by avoiding sensationalism reporting , what has the Government of Imo State done to encourage and partner the Home Press?
It only proves the adage that a Prophet is hardly recognized in his own land.
Speaking 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 the hasty competition 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 a fight to finish scenario, where lurid and bizarre stories dominate the Media space, rather than 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,and even whip up ugly reactions that will be disturbing.
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 materials that will not add any value to those vying to be Governor, and the one on the seat.
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 important issues are abandoned for private and frivolous matters that may heat up emotions. We must be constructive and opinionated.
It is quite unfortunate how a fellow who calls himself a Professional 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 too many positives to write about the four years he has been in office.
Uzodinma may not be an Mbakwe, but he has some signature projects that can occupy his Media Minders.
Assuming the opposition engages in dust raising, it would be because they are scheming to win 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 by Government Media is a distraction, rather than show- case to the Electorate what the Governor has done these years.
In the case of opposition, it would be more gainful to point out what the incumbent has failed to do or could have done better.
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.