Multi-tracking Nigeria, a compelling project

For the first time in the history of the country, and also acutely contrasting with simple logic and commonsense, a second runner up in the presidential election February 25, 2023, is making a most laughable claim of having won the election. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of All Peoples Congress, APC, had won the election with no fewer than two million votes ahead of the Labour Party’s Peter Obi who came third with Abubakar Atiku of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, coming second.

In a most convincing reconfirmation of the previous rating of the three during the presidential election, Peter Obi’s Labour Party, LP, won the governorship seat in only one state out of the 33 available for bid. But neither Obi, the presidential candidate of LP nor his VP candidate has demonstrated the universally known genuine spirit of sportsmanship. In spite of the unmistakable statistical data, they have been insistent that they won, as against the official declaration of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. It’s been messy to the extent that the narrative, especially online, of the opposition in the camp of the second runner in the presidential election, is extremely befuddling, having thrown all caution to the wind. If this was never sufficiently envisaged, one organization did, apparently projecting scientifically and taking advantage of intellectual efforts well cultivated and nurtured on elections.

Dr Babatunde Afolabi, Africa Regional Director of the Geneva headquartered Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, HD, oozed so much excitement in 2019 over a book project he had superintended as the Nigeria Director of his organization. The book is titled “Post-Election Assessment of Conflict Management Mechanisms in Nigeria, 2019 and Beyond”. Such was the excitement that even before the production was concluded he had programmed the public launch session that was to feature two reviewers namely, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, renowned fellow of Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, and yours sincerely. Incidentally, COVID-19 happened and ensure global shutdown for the better part of 2020. Though painful, the book launch from which so much was expected had to be postponed indefinitely. But HD kept having the feeling that the launch still had to happen and so it finally did on December 1, 2022.

The launch attracted the best of the sober stakeholders in the moulds of high ranking and veteran diplomats, high profile civil society players and academics featured, among others, His Excellency Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General/Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel; the immediate past INEC Chair, Prof Attahiru Jega;former Special Representative of the ECOWAS in Liberia, Ambassador Tunde Ajisomo; former Nigerian Ambassador to France and former AU Special Rep in Liberia, Ambassador Akin Fayomi; Dr Hussein Abdul, one of the two non-media professionals recently appointed to serve on the National Media Commission.

Beyond the impactful speeches at the launch are the more enduring recommendations of the publication played up by your’s sincerely as the reviewer. What are these? They include:

· Formal and informal conflict management structures and initiatives should work more closely in preparation for election processes.

· Traditional and religious leaders should be mindful of the implications of publicly showing sympathy or support for any political party or candidate.

· Development partners, donor organizations and other stakeholders should support the sustained training of journalists and social media influencers on conflict-sensitive reporting.

· The signing of Peace Accords should be promoted at all tiers of government, including the federal level with enough resources and incentives to ensure that all stakeholders comply with their provisions.

The inadequacy of attention and resources allocated to the last two suggestions listed above have since been haunting Nigeria since February 25. The conduct of the media, especially the so-called Fifth Estate, has been unimaginably irritating. Outright misinformation and disinformation competing incessantly and compelling the concerned to do rebuttals to the discomfort of the world. Incidentally, unmistakable as the manifestations are, even core stakeholders appear dismissive. Otherwise, how do we explain the insensitivity to diversity manifest in the composition of the recently inaugurated National Media Commission with the inclusion of the spokesperson of only one of the presidential candidates, Prof Stella Okunna? How can the promoters of the commission convince the world against bias with the religious insensitivity burden with the only two muslims included in the 10-member body, being neither media scholars nor media professionals? The commission has since been inaugurated and expected to command our respect. How?

The centrality of the media to Multi-Track Diplomacy is such that cannot be over-emphasised with the other tracks feeding it and even feeding on it to enable proper functioning in mitigation of conflicts. The media connect with the people as collectives and individuals and therefore bear a lot of responsibility helping to stabilize social imbalance. This is the very basis of the rigorous transformation effected by media and conflict resolution experts and scholars as manifest in the trajectory of, at first, Peace Journalism and much later till date, Conflict-sensitive Journalism.

Such is the reckoning that conflict-sensitive reporting enjoys that UNESCO has had to invest heavily on it with trainers and researchers being relentless globally to entrench the principles. But what has our own newly inaugurated commission to do with all the global efforts? The world waits!

Compounding the situation further is the disregard for HD’s submission on Peace Accord. Since its inception, it has always been a one-off, pre-election routine. But post-election engagement as scientifically foreseen by HD has turned out to be hugely important. This is to the extent that if care is not taken, whatever is envisaged to be dividends of democracy may get recklessly frittered away.

The Peace Accord, as envisioned by HD with the wish for robust funding should be all-encompassing to accommodate the rest seven tracks of diplomacy as conceptualized in 1991. And Nigeria is well endowed enough to drive the integration of the rest seven tracks to work for the desired peace for our dear country. For instance, not a few Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies programme in different universities in Africa and even beyond have had to rely on the University of Ibadan professors for take-off and sustenance. Such also is the respect that the world has for the relevant experts from Nigeria that there is hardly any of the global associations that does not have a Nigerian on its leadership team. Interestingly, Dr Afolabi who conceptualized the book mentioned in this article is the current Africa Director of HD whereas he was Nigeria Director of HD when the idea of the book took root. Perhaps more important are the renowned efforts of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the recent time in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.

It is absolutely indispensable to ensure adequate sensitivity to diversity in the workings of democratic processes, say at the level of political parties as well as at the level of formulating solutionist agendas such as may involve constituting membership for an all-important organ like the National Media Commission whose relevance transcends election and related complications. Most concerning perhaps is the sky high intolerance of the so-called Obidients one of who is Prof Okunna, who, self-respecting, should have honourably declined the membership of the commission, on the ground of equity, even if she was erroneously offered. Wouldn’t his fellow Obidients not have pulled down the sky on and offline? Is the Nigerian media sector so Obidient- biased to ignore this to the detriment of other political parties and indeed the nation’s peace?

Tunde Akanni, a media and conflict expert, is an associate professor of journalism at the Lagos State University, Nigeria.