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Free, Critical Media Essential For Survival Of Democracy, Says NGE President Isah

As Nigeria grapple with efforts to enhance democratic ethos, the National President of Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE Mr. Mr. Mustapha Isah has said a free and critical media is essential to ensure that democracy thrives.

According to Mr. Isah, the media owes it a duty to hold the government accountable to the masses in line with section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, adding that a robust media ensures that elected and appointed officials of the government account to the people who elected them.

Mr. Isah spoke on Thursday in Abuja at a town hall meeting titled, “Agenda Setting for Sustainable Democratic Culture,’’ organised by the NGE, with support from the US Embassy in Nigeria, also said good governance cannot be entrenched in an atmosphere where the leaders are not held accountable, urging journalists to live up to their Constitutional roles. 

While insisting that democracy is the best system of governance around the world, the NGE President cautioned that the Nigerian democracy should not be taken for granted but guided jealously with good governance and openness to citizens participation. 

He warned that the recent coups around the West African sub-region is a warning to leaders across the country to ensure effective leadership that will promote the security and welfare of the masses. 

"The media as a watchdog of society owes it as a duty to monitor governance and hold public office holders accountable to the people who elected them.

"Good governance is simply an essential framework which serves as a means of achieving wider goals , including security of life and property ( which is the primary goal of government , according to the 1999 constitution), prosperity and the general well-being of the citizenry.

"Journalists are part of the society and stand to also benefit from good governance if provided. So, it won't be misplaced priority if our profession devotes more time and energy  to promoting good governance.

"On  no account should Nigerians take its democracy for granted. In the last one year , there have been four coups in West Africa alone in which the military truncated democracy in those countries.

"A democratic government was toppled in Chad on April 20, 2021. We've had two coups  in Mali in less than one year. On September 5, 2021, the military struck in Guinea and on January 24, 2022, the  Burkina Faso military followed the dangerous trend and negative trend" he stated.

In her remarks, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard charged the NGE and members of civil society organisations to live up to the task of promoting democracy as the country prepares for the 2023 general elections.

While underlining that Nigeria’s commitment to democracy and opposition to authoritarianism remains sound, the Ambassador noted that Nigerian leaders have been consistent in calling for the respect of presidential term limits, as well as being quick to condemn military coups in West Africa and the rest of the continent. 

She, however, said that beyond public pledges supporting freedom and democracy, the editors and members of the civil society groups have a responsibility to delve deeper into the underlying factors that erode faith in democracy.

Tasking editors on their professional duty, Leonard explained that access to accurate and unbiased information was critical to any democracy in the world.

She urged editors to serve as catalysts to build a democracy that is accountable to its people, saying that when the citizens believe in democracy, good governance, and elections are restored, invariably; they would want to be a part of that system and would defend it. 

The Managing Director, Daar Communications PLC, Tony Akiotu in his speech said the media played a critical role and the anti-colonial struggle and entrenchment of democracy. 

He expressed dissatisfaction that the Nigerian society has not been fair to editors some of whom he said paid the supreme price in the struggle for restoration of democracy. 

He said, "The Nigerian media has a vast history of performance and we cannot forget in a hurry the front-line role the media played in the anti-colonial struggles and the battle to upstage the military and enthrone democracy. 

"Some of the Editors paid the supreme price during those struggles. I do not think the Nigerian society has been fair to the Nigerian Editors in the failure or negligence to acknowledge their roles and sacrifices."

Also speaking, a National Commissioner and chairman Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Barr. Festus Okoye charged the media to at all times uphold, defend and expand the frontiers of the sovereign rights of the people to free and unimpeded voting choice. 

Also, the Senior Editor, Washington Examiner, Mr David Mark stressed that the freedom of the media was guaranteed in both the American and Nigerian constitutions.

Mark called on the Nigerian media to be professional in ensuring that news sources were jealously guarded.

He however commended the media for peaceful transition of power during the former President Goodluck Jonathan to the present administration.

No fewer than 50 media practitioners drawn from the North Central, participated at the town hall meeting.

The latest was the fourth  in the series with the first three held in Lagos , Kano and Yola,  under the NGE/US Embassy capacity building programme for editors  in the Southwest,  Northwest and Northeast  zones .

Personalities such as Ene Obi, Country Director ActionAid, Prof. Abiodun Adeniyi, Head of Department, BAZE University,  Mr Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA, and Comrade Owei Lakenfa, a Labour Writer, among others, were speakers at the event.

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