…Wants NASS to Ensure New Law Reflects Inputs from Women, Youth, PLWDs …Demands an Unencumbered Media in Coverage of Political Process …Deplores Slow Pace of Passing the Electoral Law A coalition of civil society groups, implementing programmes on democratic governance in Nigeria, wants media partnership to impress on the National Assembly (NASS) to ensure that
…Wants NASS to Ensure New Law Reflects Inputs from Women, Youth, PLWDs
…Demands an Unencumbered Media in Coverage of Political Process
…Deplores Slow Pace of Passing the Electoral Law
A coalition of civil society groups, implementing programmes on democratic governance in Nigeria, wants media partnership to impress on the National Assembly (NASS) to ensure that the 2021 Electoral Amendment Bill reflects citizens’ priorities and the inputs from women, youth, persons living with disabilities (PLWDs), civil society and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
While stressing that journalists should adhere to the ethical and professional imperatives of fairness, balance, accuracy, conflict sensitivity and avoidance of hate speech in its coverage of the political process, it argues that any amendments that fail to reckon with the demands of these groups will not help to strengthen the electoral processes.
“We are here gathered to further amplify these and related issues for the purpose of enlisting the support of the media, as the fourth estate of the realm, with the constitutional mandate to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people, for the citizens-driven electoral reforms that we seek.
In the above regard the underlining principle behind our call on you to play a vanguard role in the process is for the media to ensure that the National Assembly is accountable to key stakeholders in the Nigerian electoral process in making any amendments.
“Among these stakeholders are the civil society, the women, the youths, the peoples living with disability and the election management body itself – the Independent National Electoral Commission. Any amendment that fails to reckon with the demands of these groups will not help to strengthen the electoral processes” the coalition says at a press conference in Lagos on Tuesday.
Positing that since the press conference is taking place in the wake of the 2021 World Press Freedom Day, marked here in Nigeria and globally under the theme: Information As Public Good, the coalition averred that, “One important frontier at which information could serve as public good is the electoral process”
“That is why we are proposing some amendments that will ensure that the media is not encumbered in the coverage and reportage of political parties and candidates, especially as self-regulatory frameworks, including the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage require that the media should give them equitable access while also promoting the inclusive issues of women, youths and people living with disabilities.
“Indeed, all the frameworks governing media role in elections require that journalists should adhere to the ethical and professional imperatives of fairness, balance, accuracy, conflict sensitivity and avoidance of hate speech.”
The Electoral law must empower the media to do all, it contends, adding that, this and that is why we want to once again draw the attention of members of the National Assembly to the proposals contained in one of the memoranda submitted to it as follows:
- That there should be recognition of, distinction between and provision for free access and paid access for political parties and candidates to the media during election campaigns.
- That public media (broadcast and print) should provide equitable airtime/coverage to all political parties and candidates during election campaigns- under both free and paid access arrangements.
- That public media (broadcast and print) should grant the usually underserved and marginalised groups, particularly Women and People With Disabilities (PWDs), special discounted airtime/advert rates during election campaigns.
- That the media should publish airtime/space tariffs before, during and after elections.
- That the penalty for contravention of the provisions in Section 100 should be restricted to the offending entity (the media house). It should not be extended to the “principal officers” and “other officers’ of the media house.
The above demands, the coalition argues, “reflect our rejections of the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act in the Bill before the National Assembly especially in Section 100 (6 (a) of the Bill proposing that the fine for media houses be increased to N2 millon in the first instance and N5 million upon subsequent conviction and Section 100 (6) (b) proposing that:“Principal officers and other officers of the media house to a fine of N2 million or to imprisonment for a term of 12 months.”
“In the current Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the penalties for contravention of the provision in Section 100 (3) and100 (4) as stipulated in Section 100 (6) is: A maximum fine of N500,000 in the first instance, and a maximum fine of N1 million for subsequent conviction.
It says, Electoral reform remains the only way an inclusive electoral system can be achieved. “Hence, the continued call for the enabling legal instruments wherein inclusive participation of all Nigerians to participate in the electoral process (without being disenfranchised, without fear of attack by hoodlums and political hooligans, without fear of insecurity, without denials based on gender or disability, and without any restrictions in the ease to emerge as a candidate, and without any inhibition to vote and the votes to count during the election, etc) is guaranteed.
“We wish to use this opportunity to reiterate our demands for the National Assembly to give utmost consideration to the following inclusion issues:
- Protecting the voting rights of the blind and visually impaired voters;
- Regulating the cost of nomination of candidates to promote political inclusion;
- Promoting the inclusion of women, youth, and persons with disability in politics;
- The Issue of INEC and conduct of credible and acceptable elections
Explaining that “elections remain a cardinal feature of democracy,” the coalition stresses the need to ensure all conditions and instruments needed to conduct it facilitate a process that will preserve the essence of democracy, which is simply “the sovereign will of the people”. It also contends that the electoral management body should have the appropriate framework, tools and overall enabling environment for the conduct of credible and acceptable elections.
These include the following:
- Strengthening the financial and operational independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC);
- Publication of polling unit level results by INEC to promote transparency in the results process;
- Legitimising the use of technology in the electoral process through electronic accreditation of voters; electronic voting, electronic collation and transmission of results;
- Introducing stiffer sanctions for electoral offences and establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission;
- Improving election security and comprehensive regulation of the conduct of security personnel on election duty;
- Introduction of early voting for Nigerians on essential election duty and voting rights for Nigerians in the Diaspora;
- Eliminating judicial actions/proceedings that ridicule or make a mockery of citizens will and choices in electing their representatives.
“It was a welcome development when the National Assembly began a process in 2020 to amend the electoral laws. The December 2020 Public hearing by the National Assembly (NASS) on the Electoral Amendment Bill provided an opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to participate in the electoral reform process and contribute to the Bill.
“The urgent need for a new law is founded on the broad-based consensus by all Nigerians and electoral stakeholders on the need for a more credible and improved electoral process that encourages active citizens’ participation while genuinely guaranteeing their rights in choosing leaders that will provide quality representation and sustainable governance.
“There’s no doubt that over the last two decades of uninterrupted civil rule, there is still a deep yearning for reforms that can significantly inspire citizens’ trust in democracy.
“However, the silence from the National Assembly on the Electoral Amendment Bill since the public hearing in December 2020 and the retreat to consolidate citizens’ feedback into the Bill in late January 2021 is worrying.
“Nigerians deserve that the elected representatives readily respond to the needs of the people and grant the request for a new electoral law that genuinely captures the wishes of the people. This delay in concluding the process serves as a reminder of the failed process in 2018 and the lost opportunity to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy in 2019,” the coalition says.
It further added that, “This activity is amplifying the urgent call from citizens for the 9th National Assembly to rise as the fulcrum of democracy and restore confidence in Nigeria’s journey to democracy through a legislative process that will address gaps in the current electoral legal framework.
“Nigerians deserve a new Electoral Act in which citizens aspirations are prioritised and which is produced through adequate timely attention of the National Assembly.”
Organisations which endorsed the statement include Institute for Media and Society (IMS), International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), CLEEN Foundation, Inclusive Friends Association, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) and Nigeria Women’s Trust Fund.
Others are Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), The Albino Foundation (TAF), Yiaga Africa, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI) and Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA).
Last week in Abuja, the groups held a similar conference within the premises of the National Assembly to reiterate the need for the adoption of a set of citizens’ priorities for the 2021 Electoral Amendment Bill.
Photo: A cross section of CSO members during the press conference.