Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi has expressed the readiness of the commission to conduct safe and credible governorship elections in Ondo and Edo States.
Oyekanmi gave the assurance during a webinar tagged, “Edo/Ondo Elections: The imperative of Safety Consciousness and Conflict Sensitivity in Media Coverage and Reportage” organised by the International Press Centre (IPC), in conjunction with the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) for journalists.
The training which had over 90 participants in attendance including journalists, university lecturers and the civil society was a learning platform for journalists ahead of the elections.
According to Oyekanmi, INEC is employing latest Code of Conduct and its new policy to conduct credible and safe elections in the two neighboring states in compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
“We will make use of latest code of conduct, we will make use of our new policy of conducting election in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic including our guidelines and regulation to ensure we have election on the election days,” he said.
Oyekanmi added that the commission has met with political actors as well as the Oba of Benin and made clarifications regarding the election.
“Just last week, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu led a powerful committee to inspect our facilities in Edo State and also visited the Oba of Benin who promised to call the political actors to the palace and address them on the issues we talked about.
“As reported in the media, the Oba has called the political actors, talked with them and a peace accord would be signed,” Oyekanmi explained.
Continuing, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman said, “Journalists are also part of our concerns. I want to assure my colleagues here that the experience this time around will be a very good one because we have taken care of different areas that will be of concern to journalists and we don’t expect any problem on that day.”
Earlier in his goodwill message, Executive Director, International Media Society (IMS), Dr. Akin Akingbulu, urged journalists to be professional on their duties.
Also at the training, a medical officer at Caleb University, Dr. Clinton Okonye who spoke on Elections Coverage under COVID-19 Rules: Addressing Issues of Personal Safety, enjoined journalists to follow health protocols while covering the elections.
In her presentation, Programme Officer of the IPC, Mrs. Melody Akinjiyan-Lawal said safety of journalists has become a major concern while a lot of efforts are ongoing to ensure journalists work in safe environment.
“Journalists have been having problem working in safe environment. In the last eight months (January – August 2020) we have had nothing less than 41 cases of attacks on journalists. We are faced with this recently that on a daily basis journalists are being attacked around the country,” she expressed, adding that, “These attacks range from unlawful arrests, detention, assault, harassment to life, even loss and damages of gadgets.
“There have been cases where journalists have been attacked by security agents and even members of the public. Attacks of journalists are in various forms by various actors across the country. It is very unfortunate that some of these actors are security operatives or duty bearers,” she said.
She however enjoined journalists to take cognizance of the way and manner politicians operate. “As we move towards these elections it is very important for journalists to take cognizance of the fact that nothing has really changed in the manner our politicians handle things during elections
“We have seen it in the past and it is possible it is going to occur again because politicians see election as a do or die affair, so we need to take that into consideration. We would be looking at how journalists can report effectively on the dangerous terrain they operate in,” she said.
Advising journalists covering election, Akinjiyan-Lawal gave some safety tips. “There are measures you can take if you are covering elections. I’ll advise you find the nearest hospital peradventure you get injured by attackers. You can report to state council of NUJ, you can also report to INEC representatives in your state and more importantly, call us at IPC so that we can promptly assist you,” she said, concluding that journalists must be alive if they need to report elections.
“You need to also know that you need to be alive to tell your story so don’t put yourself in the situation because you want to tell the story. If you are not alive, you cannot tell a story. We need you alive to tell your story,” she said.
In her own presentation, Ruqqayah Aliyu, a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano noted that journalists must be professional in their reportage because members of the society depend on them.
“Citizens rely on the media to make informed decision. The uniqueness of Edo and Ondo election is because the atmosphere is already tense and saturated with hate speeches, attacks on personalities and violence.
“If things are not managed properly what will come out of it is that innocent people will suffer and governance will be interrupted. If we do not manage the present situation, at the end of it what we are going to experience is violence,” she said.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Executive Director of the International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade said the training was one in a series for journalists across the country being run under the European Union support for democratic governance in Nigeria.
According to Arogundade, safety of journalists is paramount in the Edo and Ondo States elections.