Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Breaking Mould of Election Coverage in Nigeria

IWPR programme works with local journalists to improve credibility of political reporting.
By IWPR staff
  • A journalist from the university town of Ibadan receives her certificate from  Ivor Gaber and NENR editor, Lanre Arogundade, on completing the IWPR Fair Media, Fair Elections training workshop. (Photo: IWPR)
    A journalist from the university town of Ibadan receives her certificate from Ivor Gaber and NENR editor, Lanre Arogundade, on completing the IWPR Fair Media, Fair Elections training workshop. (Photo: IWPR)
  • The NENR production team. (Photo: IWPR)
    The NENR production team. (Photo: IWPR)
  •  NENR editor Lanre Arogundade (right) interviews a voter at a Lagos polling station. (Photo: IWPR)
    NENR editor Lanre Arogundade (right) interviews a voter at a Lagos polling station. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Veronica Oakeshott, coordinator of the IWPR Nigeria project, interviews a party agent at a polling station. (Photo: IWPR)
    Veronica Oakeshott, coordinator of the IWPR Nigeria project, interviews a party agent at a polling station. (Photo: IWPR)

IWPR has sought to tackle two of the main problems bedeviling Nigerian journalism as part of its innovative reporting project that has aimed to enhance local journalists’ coverage of Nigeria’s elections.

With so much of the news sector controlled or influenced by political interests and poorly paid reporters supplementing their income with bribes from politicians, IWPR’s Nigerian Election News Report, NENR, pursued a determinedly independent line and paid its contributors decent rates for their stories.

NENR was established by IWPR and its Nigerian partner, the International Press Centre, IPC, in March 2011 in the run up to national elections later in the year. It continues to hold elected politicians to account in the post-election period and to keep Nigerian journalists up to date with what is happening across the country. It runs up to six political stories every day - which can be accessed in both audio and print format – from contributing journalists.

Editor of the service, and IPC director, Lanre Arogundade said NENR has been breaking new ground in Nigerian election coverage, “We’re offering something quite unusual. We tell our stories without political prejudice and, because of our network of contributing journalists across the country, we can access news and report it fast – often faster than more mainstream sources, like newspapers.”

The audio versions of the news stories are delivered free of charge to the mobile phones of over 1500 subscribing journalists across Nigeria. Those with access to the internet can also view and listen to the stories online at www.nigerianelectionnewsreport.com. The website, even in post-election period, has been registering hundreds of hits each day.

Journalists say they like NENR because of its accuracy and brevity. “NENR has been useful; I access the site regularly for brief and straight-to-the-point stories on the elections… the inclusion of audio in all the reports is remarkable,” said Chinedu Echianu from the radio station Vision FM, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

The service directly addresses two of the most pressing issues in Nigerian media, ownership and journalists’ remuneration.

Media ownership in Nigeria is heavily concentrated in political hands. Broadcast media, in particular, are mostly owned by the federal or state governments.

IWPR surveyed 100 working journalists on the impact of media ownership on their journalism, with some 45 per cent saying the owners influenced editorial content a great deal.

Indeed, analysis of media coverage in past Nigerian elections has been damning. The Commonwealth Observer Group said in its report on the 2007 elections that “significant state ownership of the broadcast media negatively impacted on and influenced the coverage in favour of incumbents’ parties”.

It noted that there were also numerous official complaints from candidates who claimed to have been denied airtime or coverage because of political bias of media owners.

NENR has been politically neutral and therefore provided a much needed outlet for stories of public interest in the run-up to the recent election and now, in the post-election period.

Observer groups are yet to pronounce on this years’ election coverage but journalists who contributed to NENR and used its output for their own reports say it was a source of fair and balanced news.

NENR contributor, Bulama Yerima, who comes from the strife-torn state of Borno, where he works for the state- owned radio and TV corporation, said the stories he sent NENR would not have been aired on his station. “I can’t write these stories for my station because of censorship,” he said.

Meanwhile, journalists working for independent outlets exercise a degree of self-censorship: because their wages are so poor, many take bribes from politicians they write about in order to make ends meet.

"Many Nigerian journalists are paid very poorly." Arogundade said. "Often their only source of income is 'thank yous' for the stories they write. But journalism's role in democracy is diminished when those thank yous come from politicians.

“The Nigerian Election News Report offers an alternative income for the Nigerian journalist by rewarding good political journalism and, as a result, provides a source of reliable news for the public at this politically sensitive time."

The service has won praise from the president of the Guild of Editors, Gbenga Adefaye, who understands the day-to-day challenges faced by journalists.

“This service is not just to show your skills - it gives the platform to present your report objectively.” he told prospective contributors at the launch of NENR. “What the website will do is improve journalism generally.”

That has certainly been the case for Yerima, “The experience is rewarding… the editing skill of the news editors is such that it teaches me a lot.”

NENR is the second of a two-part programme funded by the International Republican Institute, IRI, through a grant from USAID and DFID.

The first part was a series of training workshops that prepared journalists across Nigeria to contribute to NENR.
IWPR trained over 100 working reporters and 40 trainees. The sessions gave the journalists the confidence to conduct rigorous interviews with politicians, gather views from street, write in-depth reports and cover conflict in sensitive manner.

Journalism professor, Ivor Gaber, was one of the trainers on the course, says the main challenge was to get journalists to think beyond the political horse-trading that dominates election coverage.

“Who is up and who is down within political parties may be fascinating for politics addicts, but in a country with over 50 political parties, it can become pretty tedious. What most people I talk to care about is much more practical – they want to know who will sort out the power shortages, improve roads and transport and improve job prospects for their children. Our workshops encouraged journalists to focus on issues, not political squabbles.”

Workshops also included sessions for journalists on how to stay safe – crucial in a country where elections are associated with violence. Journalist, Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, from the Daily Trust newspaper said, “The workshop helped tremendously in shaping the way I cover most of my reports especially in the areas of conflict and security threats.”

When northern Nigeria erupted into violence, these skills proved their worth and NENR was able to receive reports from the worst-affected areas.

As Nigeria settles back into post-election life and the violence recedes, IWPR hopes NENR will continue to hold Nigerians to account.

Nigeria has greater oil resources than Qatar and Libya and its geo-political influence extends far beyond its own borders. Yet, democracy has under-delivered for Nigerians. Electricity and power services are notoriously unreliable, personal security is poor and wealth disparities are extreme.

Veronica Oakeshott, who coordinates the IWPR programme in Nigeria, said, “Our mission is to hasten the day when politicians no longer feel they can promise the world and deliver a pittance. When they know their every move is being watched by skilled reporters, they will raise their game, and with it the fortunes of ordinary Nigerians.”