By C. Don Adinuba
With the nomination on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, of Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo, an internationally recognized economist, reformer and erstwhile Central Bank governor as the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) gubernatorial candidate in the November 6 election in Anambra State, the campaign for the governorship election has, for all practical purposes, started. The campaign is expected to be issues-based, free of rancor and violence, as in the last two gubernatorial elections in the state. The APGA gubernatorial nominee has always been widely regarded as the shoo-in.
The mass media have a huge part to play in the quest to make the November 6 vote exemplary. However, the reports by a section of the Nigerian media on the statutory measures towards the elections have been anything but assuring. A mainstream newspaper, for example, claimed three days ago that APGA would be disqualified from the forthcoming because, as it claimed, it did not notify the Independent National Electoral Commission of the special ward congresses held on June 15, 2021, to choose ad hoc delegates to the June 23, State Congress, at least 21 days before the event. The newspaper based the speculative report on a letter purportedly written by an INEC officer claiming that it was not notified of the congresses. The INEC officer states nowhere in the letter anything concerning disqualification. Are some journalists now campaigning for INEC to be vested with the power to disqualify candidates and parties arbitrarily long after the courts have stopped such arbitrary actions?
Even if APGA was culpable as claimed in this news report and others in the mainstream media, the penalty for the offence would be a five hundred thousand naira (N500,000) fine, and not APGA’s disqualification from participating in the governorship election. The Supreme Court has given a sound judgment on the legal issue reported by the newspapers. The truth is that INEC need not monitor ward congresses. There are 326 wards in Anambra State. The state office of the national electoral commission does not have the human resources to attend all the congresses held the same day. Imagine if all the political parties were to hold their ward congresses the same day throughout the country. The Electoral Law provides that the state congress of each political party be monitored. That’s why APGA invited INEC to observe its congress of November 23 where Professor Soludo was nominated with 93.4 per cent of the votes validly cast in a free, fair and transparent election. INEC officers were there throughout. The APGA headquarters had as early as May 26, 2021, written to INEC to inform it of the congress. The newspapers would have availed themselves of this simple fact if only they had bothered to speak to the party before rushing to print the stories, a fact which makes most people suspect strongly that the stories were planted by political interests who do not mean well for our state.
Anambra people have good reason to question the role of some mainstream newspapers in the crucial gubernatorial vote. The newspapers have kept on referring to APGA as factionalized whereas the party has no factions. INEC recognizes no factions. It has been dealing with only the leadership of Dr Victor Ikechukwu Oye, the APGA national chairman. Even the letter which the newspapers fantastically interpreted as a disqualification of the party in the forthcoming election is addressed to only Dr Oye, and no other person. INEC cannot participate in any publicity stunt by some pretenders to the throne of Pontifex Maximus, however dramatic it may appear. These pseudo claimants should know that it is only at the national convention of the party that any national officer can be removed. No such convention has been held in recent times.
It is part of the mass media social responsibility not to acquiesce to puerile antics of discredited politicians, otherwise unsuspecting citizens who rely on the media for information and, more importantly, education and guidance will be misled gravely. Fact checking has, in an era defined by photoshopping and all manner of propaganda and fake news, become a crucial part of media culture. When ex-American President Donald Trump and his supporters claimed, without evidence, that the last November 3 presidential vote in the United States was rigged and stolen by their opponents, the mainstream media wasted no time in exposing “the big lie”.
It is worrisome to the people of Anambra State that a section of the media has unabashedly been publishing what may euphemistically be referred to as controversial stories about the government party in the state as regards the impending governorship election without attempting to hear from any officers of the party. By so doing, this section of the media has profoundly violated professional ethics. A cardinal principle of journalism is “always hear the other side”. Fair hearing is one of the fundamental principles of justice. It is, indeed, ironical that some journalists would wage this kind of campaign against a party led by Dr Oye, himself a journalist with decades of experience and known for an open door policy in relating with his professional colleagues.
As Anambra people prepare to participate in the November 6 governorship vote, the mass media are reminded of what former Information Minister Tony Momoh called journalism of conscience and national commitment. Journalists recognize it is dangerous to be in cahoots with certain people because these people will end up undermining their personal and professional integrity. Ndi Anambra know the elements who are determined to undermine, through misinformation and disinformation, the peace and great progress which Anambra State has enjoyed in the last few years. Erstwhile American Vice President Spiro Agnew would describe these elements as nattering nabobs of negativism.
Anambra people are proud that their state has now become the most competitive in the country. It has received more national and international awards than any other state in the last couple of years in various areas. Having overcome the years which the locusts consumed, our people will never return to Egypt. The media have a duty to inform, educate and guide our people accordingly through authentic news reports and objective analysis of issues. The Nigerian mass media should never waver in their commitment to the public good. The Great Zik of Africa gave his famous newspaper, The West African Pilot, which was in the vanguard of the liberation campaign in Nigeria, the motto: “Show the Light, and the people will find the way”.
God bless Anambra State, the Light of the Nation.
*C. Don Adinuba, Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment.