Post-election Violence and the Media

Post-election Violence and the Media

In 2011, over 800 people were killed as a result of election-related and communal violence, following the April 2011 presidential election. According to the Human Rights Watch, the victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 Northern states. Cause of the violence? Supporters of the main opposition candidate, MuhammaduBuhari, then of the Congress


In 2011, over 800 people were killed as a result of election-related and communal violence, following the April 2011 presidential election. According to the Human Rights Watch, the victims were killed in three days of rioting in 12 Northern states. Cause of the violence?

Supporters of the main opposition candidate, MuhammaduBuhari, then of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), dissatisfied with the re-election of the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), President Goodluck Jonathan, had taken to violence to register their grievance, suspecting that the election was rigged in favour of the incumbent.

During the result counting, when supporters of Buhari realised that their candidate had lost, reports said that they first took to the streets to protest what they alleged to be the rigging of the results. Following that was the burning of tires, after which the protests turned into riots. Quickly the rioting degenerated into sectarian and ethnic fracas.

“Muslim rioters targeted and killed Christians and members of ethnic groups from Southern Nigeria, who were perceived to have supported the ruling party; burning their churches, shops, and homes. The rioters also attacked police stations and ruling party and electoral commission offices.

“In predominately Christian communities in Kaduna State, mobs of Christians retaliated by killing Muslims and burning their mosques and properties,” according to the Human Rights Watch. The bloodletting saw no victor no vanquish, as both Christians and Muslims suffered same fate.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), claimed that at least 170 Christians were killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced. Human Rights Watch reported CAN as also claiming that “more than 350 churches were burned or destroyed by the Muslim rioters across 10 Northern states”.

Also, according to the rights organisation, “In the predominately Christian towns and villages of southern Kaduna State, including Zonkwa, Matsirga, and Kafanchan, sectarian clashes left more than 500 dead, according to Muslim and Christian leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The vast majority of the victims in these areas were Muslim.

“Human Rights Watch estimates that in northern Kaduna State, at least 180 people, and possibly more, were killed in the cities of Kaduna and Zaria and their surrounding suburbs. According to media reports and journalists interviewed by Human Rights Watch, dozens of people were also killed during riots in the other northern states”.
Relief officials estimate that more than 65,000 people were displaced, in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara.

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor AttahiruJega, had at the signing of the Abuja Peace Accord, thrown some light to what could be said to be the underlying cause of the 2011 post-election violence. False perception leading to dashed hope.

Jega said that one of the causes of post-election violence can be tied to instances when supporters of a particular party believe that their candidate was likely to win. According to him, even when an election may have been conducted freely and transparently, this supporters will not accept the result if their choice candidate failed to get majority votes.

It did not help that the 2011 election was adjudged both by local and international observers as one of the most credible in recent times. “The April elections were heralded as among the fairest in Nigeria’s history, but they also were among the bloodiest,” according to senior West Africa researcher at the Human Rights Watch, Corinne Dufka.

Several media analysis and reports point to the many inciting statements alleged to have been made prior to and during the presidential election by Buhari to have been what misled his supporters in 2011 to believe that Buhari was tipped to win the election; and so since he did not win, then his supporters suspected INEC of rigging the election in favour of Jonathan.

The Presidential Committee on Post-Election Violence that was set up by President Jonathan to investigate the cause of the 2011 violence had indicted Buhari, stating that his provocative remarks played a role in the bloody violence that also led to the death of 10 members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Bauchi State.
Being that the electorate were already angered due to incidences of snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes, and the use of the security agencies to intimidate voters, Buhari’s charge that the masses protect their vote, was alleged to have worsened an already bad situation and led to the death of hundreds of people across 12 northern states.

The second cause was blamed on the media for failing to be discreet in their reportage of inciting comments said to have been made by Buhari, and some ethnic interest groups, including the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), who kept insisting that power must return to the North.

It is 2015, and the same scenario of 2011 is playing out again. The media has been accused of failing to apply caution in its reportage of statements by politicians and interested groups that are capable of inciting the electorates to violence should their preferred candidate fail to win.

In a recent event, ‘the Monitoring Report of Media Coverage of 2015 Elections for January 2015, conducted by the International Press Centre and the Nigerian Press Council, the media stakeholders decried the continuous publication of inciting statements by the different media houses.

During his paper presentation, Director of the IPC, Mr. LanreArogundade, listed “the reporting of hate speech”, as one of the areas where the media failed in its duty as a watchdog.

“The newspapers fell to the trap of reporting hate speech by quoting directly from interviews, press statements and sometimes from alleged ‘online sources’ credited to aides of the presidential candidates of both the APC and the PDP against whom most of the hate speeches were targeted”.

Sounding a note of warning, Arogundade said, “The newspapers are again reminded that the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage rejects the use of hate speech. They should also note that members of the public are becoming wary of continued character assassination at the expense of dissemination of issues that help them make informed choices”.

On the use of sensational headlines, Arogundade said that, “Although most of the sensational headlines were direct quotes from political actors the newspapers should have adequately weighed their possible effect and probably use alternative words”. Both the publishing of hate speech and use of sensational headlines were some of the causes of the 2011 post-election violence, to which the media has failed to learn from.

Sometime in November 2014, National Trustee of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Samuel Egbala, had delivered a paper titled ‘2015 Elections: the Responsibility of the Media and Journalists in Managing Conflicts’, wherein he opined that, “In reporting to avert conflict, the media should as much as possible try to adhere to the social responsibility theory. This places the interest of the society first”.

Egbala argued that if the media observes its agenda setting role, “It will give direction to the public on how to handle the issues of election and thus avert or help in managing electoral conflict”. It can be said that as things currently stands, the politicians are the ones presently setting the agenda.

Arogundade, during his presentation said: “The electoral law, the code of ethics of Nigerian journalists and the Nigerian media code of election coverage also impose important social obligations on the media”.

According to him, this included “the need to provide equitable access to parties and candidates, the need to project the voices of underrepresented groups including women, youths and persons living with disabilities, the need to shun hate and inciting speech, the need to reject offensive advertorials, the need to be professional and ethical at all times and the need to accord higher priority to the public interest as against narrow interests”.

If the following guidelines were observed by the media, it has been argued and proven that this would help in making the 2015 elections less violence-prone, and more peaceful. Being that the media serves as the channel of information dissemination, the argument is that without their support, the political actors will not be able to propagate their hate speeches.

Source: ThisDay

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