IDEAS Radio 21 November 2018
Aghogho Oboh: Right, welcome to Countdown 2019 on Nigeria Info 99.3, where we discuss all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 elections. You can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG and @RotimiSankore and also at @NigeriaInfoFM. You can also follow @AghoghoOboh
Today on IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, we’re looking at campaigns. Campaigns are open and running just a couple of days into the campaign, and by extension into of course, the bigger show itself where we’ll also look at many of the issues associated with the campaign.
So welcome to Countdown 2019. Hello Rotimi and Ayo.
Rotimi Sankore: Hi.
Ayo Obe: Hi. Hello.
AgO: Alright. So where do we take it off from? Was this what you expected Ayo? In terms of the … I’ve heard a lot of criticism of INEC. People expected Professor Mahmud Yakub to have some sort of speech you know, welcoming Nigerians, heralding the season of campaigns, but we just got a statement, saying … the voter education has actually begun … on a wrong note. What do you have to say about that?
AO: Well, I think that the biggest issue is that first of all, if you are flagging off a race you need to let everybody know what the rules of the race are, and it’s not just a matter … we have to remember that it’s not only the political parties who need to know the rules by which they are to play, but also that we, the members of the public need to know, so that we can also assist INEC. I think that the problem of INEC is thinking that it has to be the alpha and omega of everything to do with regulation of elections, whereas the fact is that INEC cannot be everywhere. We have how many political parties with how many campaigns at five different levels. And if the eye of the world is on the presidential and maybe the gubernatorial in some states (and not even in all states), and then perhaps on some of the leading Senate races, certainly when it comes down to the House of Representatives, State House of Assembly, the campaign could be just as vicious and visceral, or as lofty and elevated, but we would not see, and so, but the people who are actually voting in those elections would want to be … would want the rules to be obeyed, and would also want to see who is doing what is right and who is not. But if we’re not also brought into the picture by INEC, we can’t help INEC with that exercise. So I think that’s a really important part of it. Simply just letting us know: Oh, campaign has started, without telling us what campaign consists of, because, already as I’ve said, many people would have noticed billboards and posters here and there and we were wond… and they were being left there under guise of: Well, this was for the primaries. And yet, we’ve all seen some of these post, these billboards. Was that part of campaign or not? I think Rotimi you’ve raised some issues about commissioning of projects: is it just coincidence that many things are being commissioned and flagged off? In some countries, as you said, it’s forbidden.
RS: Well, we’re in a dilemma here now, because we were expecting the INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity to join us to help clarify all these very important questions, but it looks as if the man is stuck in one of those emergency INEC meetings.
AO: But Rotimi, should INEC be having emergency meetings? I mean seriously?
RS: No, they shouldn’t.
AO: Should it be? I mean this is a schedule that had been laid out for so many …
RS: … months
AO: … months, even years in advance. So one would expect that INEC has its things scheduled.
But if the INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity can’t join us, I wonder whether we can pick your own brain for … because on the IDEAS section, what concerns us is the integrity of the electoral process. And when we’re talking about the campaign, which is part of the electoral process, integrity isn’t just about whether you’re spending money or not (although we want to know from INEC whether, how it’s monitoring the spending of money).
But I think the first thing that occurs to most of us is the kind of voter … the kind of publicity and campaign advertisements that we are seeing. I’m not going to talk at the moment about social media where quite frankly the … I don’t envy anybody who has to monitor the kind of things that are said. But even on television, radio and newspaper advertisements, how do we guarantee the integrity of these advertisements.
RS: Well, first, let me say again, I was rather hoping that the INEC Director of Voter Education and Publicity would have been able to help really, because a lot of these questions are really quite specific. And I thought first of all, the first thing they would have done at this time, would have been throughout last week up to the 18th, to put out a series of ads, jingles, use social media to break down the Dos and the Don’ts, so that both the political parties and the candidates know what the rules are, and can tell when a party is bending or breaking. As it is now, a lot of it is up in smoke. So unless like us, you’ve read through the Electoral Act as amended, looked at the old one …
AO: Speak for yourself!
RS: Yeah, Well, well, I have to. So unless you’ve read both of them, you don’t really know when a campaign is a campaign and when a campaign is not a campaign. And when a campaign violation is a violation and when it is not.
And there are even some things that are not really ethical even though not illegal. So on the Monday, after the campaigns kicked off, and even up till today. But on the Monday it was very glaring, when the incumbent party at the federal level bought the front pages of four major newspapers and put the artwork of the President, the Vice President, their party logo, thumbprint, broom, on the front pages. And they … there was no line at the bottom saying: This is an advert. In more developed democracies where there are stricter regulations, what those newspapers may do, is to take the advert, create a special cover, but also say: Turn over for your regular headlines.
AO: Or even just simply say: This is a paid advertisement.
RS: … This is a paid advert. So that, by achieving that and what is really, I don’t know whether to say painful, or disappointing, is that one of the President’s spokespersons, in fact both of them, but one of them, especially Femi Adesina, was the former head of the Guild of Editors, so he knows …
RS: … that this should not be happening . And his former paper, which he’ll probably go back to after the four or eight years, yes, yes …
AO: It’s been known!
RS: The Sun, was one of the four. And it was just really disappointing. And it’s like some people don’t understand why it is unethical.
AO: Yes. Do you think most people would understand it as an advertisement, or do you think they would understand it as a news item being carried … by those papers
RS: Well the thing is, that if you had the luxury of looking at ten newspapers like we do, and you saw four, then you would know. If you see exactly the same thing, you would know. But if you picked up only one of them, say like the Punch for instance, which was one of the four, in isolation, you would think it was your headline for the day. And … Sorry, just to make another point you’d be wondering what is the Punch doing? Is this an endorsement for the incumbent party without a justification of why they are endorsing a candidate? Because newspapers can endorse, but they have to explain in their editorial that …
AO: It’s an editorial matter.
RS: Yes, it’s an editorial matter, it’s not a front page matter although they can put an editorial on the front page, on one side of it and say: This is an editorial. We endorse, or support …
AO: I think the point really is, Whether it’s an editorial, or where they place it, the difference between what the newspaper is writing itself, and what a political party has paid for …
RS: Yes, paid for
AO: … ought to be very clear. And I wonder whether there was any reaction from INEC when this happened?
RS: Not to the best of my knowledge because it’s carried over to today. Four very glaring on Monday, then again on Tuesday and on Wednesday. And the point again, is that if people get the impression that you can buy headlines, then, when it’s a genuine headline, then people will say: Well look, the parties buy headlines all the time. Why are people complaining? So if, in three or four weeks’ time, any, or a series of papers run headlines that the Presidency does not find to its liking, they will assume the other side paid for it.
AO: Yes. Yes.
AgO: And there’s something Ayo, you have to spare some thought. Maybe on radio it’s possible we could avoid talking about the advertisements on the paper, but on TV well,
AO: Yes, when you’re doing a Press review …
AgO: … some have found an ingenious way you know, to cover it up and not show it, but others I have watched would have shown those ads, unfortunately.
AO: In fact, this is one of the reasons why, as you said, to have the INEC Director of Voter Education and, would be important, because as I said, we the ordinary members of the public may also share your concerns, but how do we get our concern across to INEC? Is there a mechanism by which we can complain to INEC? And if we do complain to INEC, or raise our concerns (it may not be a complaint, it may just be an observation) what does INEC do with those issues that we raise? Do they just put them aside? And of course …
RS: Do they flag it, do they caution the parties? Do they say this is illegal? That this is wrong, it shouldn’t be done again? It’s not clear at all. There is no hotline, no email no
AO: In fact that’s the point
RS: There is no whistle- blowing facility to say that your political parties cannot do X, Y or Z.
AO: So you would say that it’s vitally important that INEC should as a matter of urgency make it clear to the public where they can raise issues with the Independent National Electoral Commission.
RS: Yes. And if I may just add, the key thing with the papers, is that a lot of people don’t realise, that like the Executive, the Judiciary and Parliament, the media plays a key role in democracy. In fact it’s written into the Constitution. So while some of the media may be owned by private or by government, or … it is written into the Constitution that the media has a role to play. So if the media – or some sections of the media – seem as if they are not quite being objective, factual, truthful, then it starts to undermine the fabric of the media.
RS: And that’s when political parties and governments can come out and say Oh, they’ve been bought. Oh, they represent … because they have participated in the buying!
AO: Another point finally, on this issue of advertisement. I mean, obviously it’s, the paying for advertisements is only a small part, or maybe a large part of campaign expenses, nonetheless many voters are concerned about the way that money is being spent in the election and of course, there are limits on the amount that can be spent.
And another issue that I would have put to the INEC Director, but in his absence I put to you, is: How well equipped is INEC really to monitor? You remember last week we had Mr. Eze Onyekpere of Centre for Social Justice saying that there were attempts, or there were …,,was a hope by some NGOs to work with INEC on this issue. But I wonder whether INEC … Is it engaging ad hoc staff to help it what are the criteria to help it with this very important part of its responsibilities?
RS: To the best of my knowledge INEC is not. I would have thought INEC should have a big monitoring centre. Or if INEC is not doing the monitoring itself, that INEC is working with a group of organisations to say: Please let us know the result of your monitoring of XYZ. Because really, it’s not possible for INEC to do everything, but INEC has built strong partnerships with different organisations, say for instance, the Civil Society Situation Room which is led by Clement Nwankwo. And there are others, the Transition Monitoring Group etc. So if for instance, INEC has not, and I don’t know that they have, a monitoring room, there are several monitoring projects going on. I know that the International Press Centre, the IPC, for instance, is running something; they could agree and say: Can you make the results of your monitoring available to us?
AO: And do we know how widely spread geographically some of these monitorings are? Because there tends to be a focus on the national campaign and maybe on Lagos and some major cities like Port Harcourt or Kaduna. But it’s often in the backwaters and the sideways that the real abuses flourish and nobody talks about them.
RS: Yes, because there, there is no media to cover it, and that’s when the media itself is not involved in the …
AO: … hasn’t been compromised …
RS: … when the media hasn’t been compromised. I mean, we can remember from the last elections, the infamous documentary called “The Lion of Bourdillon”, I mean which, in fact, it just had so many inaccuracies in it that that media house actually had to pay for the inaccuracies, just to put it lightly. You know. And it’s those kind of things that the media should actually be reporting, or investigating, or saying to citizens, especially those in rural areas that are not well covered to the media: Bring this to our attention. But if sections of the media themselves are so compromised, then in those places where the media is not really present, politicians just feel that they can do …
AO: … they can do what they like…
RS: … yeah, they can do whatever they like in those places. And the citizens wouldn’t know any better, which is why I would have thought for the one week or for the one month running up to the 18th, when the campaigns kicked off, INEC would have been putting out posters, jingles, newspaper ads, social media to say: Parties can’t do this, candidates can’t do that, this is illegal, if you see this, please report!
AO: Well Rotimi, I think that with that, we have to an end. I want to remind viewers that apart from me, who you can get @naijama on Twitter, you can also get the programme itself which is @ideasradiong. We also have a website that you should check out: www.ideasradio.ng. And with that, I hand over back to you two gentlemen.
RS: Thank you so much Ayo Obe, we’re very grateful.
AgO: Thank you very much.