There is a broad agreement that mass media can play determinative role in the success and quality of democracy. Such role is strategic, inclusive and non-transient, and therefore requires coordinated objectives delivered to the problems faced in a democratic setting. Invariably, a discussion of media’s role in any democracy should begin with identification of the problems faced in the setting. It is my opinion that the most significant problem Nigeria’s democracy is facing today is corrupt institutions and process.
I also agree with the Economist Intelligence Unit that underdeveloped political culture is a problem in Nigeria – a significant one as well. The major institutions of democracy in Nigeria are Legislature (Senate), Executive (Presidency), Judiciary (Court), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Media. Democratic process, to modify Epic Kenyan, may be seen as the order (or disorder, when corrupted) of formulating, implementing and interpreting democratic rules and decisions, involving these institutions.
As a systemic problem, Nigeria’s corrupt democracy is rooted in lavish financial ornamentation of the political offices, and the availability of many informal opportunities therein for process crimes. Politics is ostensibly recommended in this country as a means to quick wealth and its multiplication, while politicians are encouraged to buy their way to offices as business investment, the profits of which they may loot from public treasuries. This systemic defect and its begotten crimes have often found protection in the political economy of our judiciary and media, such that even when elected Legislators and Executives are in office, they have ways of getting judicial interpretations and media contents delivered to their specifications. Obviously therefore, Nigeria has such issues with the functioning of its democratic institutions that make accountable governance and sustainable development difficult.
Underdeveloped political culture is a condition of subnormal political reasonability in which democratic processes or choices are largely guided by ethnic and religious persuasions, or personal aggrandizement rather than true merit. It is a difficult bi-dimensional problem that affects the electorates on the one hand and the politicians on the other. Arguably, underdeveloped political culture is rooted in three causal variants. One is the geo-political ethnocentrism that came with the formation of the Nigerian state, and continued after her attainment of independence. Another is the north-south structural character of the predominance of modern religion – Islam and Christianity, into which our ethnocentric character is strategically fitted. The third, and perhaps most significant, is the emergence from these structures of new generations of de-nationalized politicians with immoderate desire for acquisition of wealth. These ‘bad’ politicians breed bad electorates by constantly invoking and manipulating ethnic and religious emotions with money to create insecurity in various parts of the country. Through these, they express their internal oppositions and force the larger masses of economically deprived Nigerians to surrender their rights against poverty.
Underdeveloped political culture manifests as election thuggery, selling of vote during elections, voting on prejudice about ethnicity or religion, and accepting of material inducements to conflict, etc. This is applicable to the category of voters tagged here as bad electorates. It also manifests as rigging of elections, buying of delegates, falsification of election results, staging of strategic violence to determine election outcomes, trading of justice over election disputes, etc. This is mostly applicable to the politicians tagged here as bad politicians.
In a condition of underdeveloped political culture, a people can hardly make informed choice of leaders to govern them during elections. This is what the bad politicians want. Therefore, they facilitate the various manifestations of underdeveloped political culture and use media mechanisms to promote ignorance of it. Consequently, democratic processes, especially elections in Nigeria, are often marred by lack of public confidence, low participation, irregularities, disappointing outcomes and violent contestation of results.
The foregoing are the challenges the media have to deal with as we prepare for elections in 2019. Any keen observer would agree that the process has already started on a bad note. Political parties and their flag bearers are spending large sums of money. In fact it seems to have become a norm that primary elections are conducted, and merely reported by the media, like stock trade, where the highest buyer of delegates receives the highest vote cast. While this is happening behind closed doors, religion seems to be gaining stronger and open political expression among the masses of electorates, especially with respect to who becomes the President in 2019. Corruption that used to be seen as the most critical problem facing the institutions of government in Nigeria is no longer seen by many as such, obviously because we underestimated the sacrificial cost of fighting corruption and transiting to standard living. It seems we are getting worse with underdeveloped political culture.
In the face of these complications, it is my opinion that 2019 is at the risk of producing bad results unless the media take more decisive and urgent steps to intensify their role of informing on democratic process through critical presentation and clarification of issues of governance and provocation of public debates leading to greater public education on elections. This is very important now if we must attain not just free, fair and transparent elections but also informed one in 2019, and could start with pre-election reportage that sets a clear agenda on the character and quality of leaders Nigeria needs at all levels. This is to be done with emphatic sensitization of the citizens on the need to register for voting and make choice of leaders devoid of counterproductive religious persuasions. Voting, and doing so well, is the only way Nigerians can express their wishes, and reward or punish deserving political leaders. It is incumbent on the media to serve this way in depopulating the country of bad politicians and bad electorate..
Dr. Ozohu-Suleiman is of the Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria