The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, on Thursday, said the eyes of the world would be on Nigeria this year and early next year, as the country prepares to choose a new president and transition to a new government.
She, however, noted that the Nigerian Guild of Editors and members of civil society groups, have a role and responsibility in promoting democracy.
The Ambassador, who spoke at a Town Hall Meeting titled, “Agenda Setting for Sustainable Democratic Culture” organised by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), with support from US Embassy in Nigeria, said Nigeria’s commitment to democracy and opposition to authoritarianism remained sound.
“Your leaders have been consistent in calling for the respect of presidential term limits, for example, and they have been quick to condemn military coups in West Africa and the rest of the continent,” she said
According to her, beyond public pledges supporting freedom and democracy, the editors and members of the civil society groups have a responsibility to delve deeper into underlying factors that erode faith in democracy.
She explained that patronage politics, corruption, inequality, and the failure of many democratic governments to deliver for their citizens, fuelled public and media doubts about the democratic model, causing them to lose hope and cynically accept the status quo as inevitable and normal.
“One way to restore public confidence in democracy is through free and fair elections. The eyes of the world will, therefore, be on Nigeria this year and early next year as you prepare to choose a new president and transition to a new government.
“We were pleased that, last week, President Muhammadu Buhari signed Nigeria’s long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, ensuring adoption of a number of long sought-after reforms to the electoral process, including the electronic transmission of election results from polling places.
“Editors like yourselves are in fact critical gatekeepers. Your actions and decisions level the playing field. You determine whose voices are heard, and what news topics receive in-depth coverage. In a digital age, when the 24/7 news cycle is unrelenting and often bewildering, you help weed out the trivial to focus on the essential,” she said.
While tasking editors on their professional duty, Leonard explained that access to accurate, unbiased information was critical to any democracy in the world.
“There is a significant positive multiplier effect whenever journalists do the right thing or take a well-documented, pioneering approach. When free and independent media publish previously unknown facts, write principled editorials or take a stand to defend and protect other courageous journalists, the public takes note and trust is built and re-built.
“On the other hand, we know that not everyone is principled and well-meaning in your field or any other field. Trust cannot be nurtured, when media houses play favourites and charge varying rates, for example, to politicians and candidates for the same level of broadcast time or publicity.
“Trust is diminished, when media accept money from self-interested players or malign actors to publish favourable or unfavourable stories. Brown envelope journalism undermines the public’s trust in the media, erodes journalistic integrity, and defeats the media’s ability to play a transparent oversight role over government actions,” she added.
She, therefore, urged editors to serve as catalysts to build a democracy that was accountable to people, saying when the citizenry’s belief in democracy, good governance, and elections were restored, invariably they would want to be a part of that system and would defend it.
Her words: “Right now, the world is at an inflection point between those, who tolerate autocracy and those who know democracy can deliver for the people. Democracy, as President Biden said, doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.
“Let’s start today with renewed vigour and optimism to defend democratic ideals and practices at every turn. As civil society representatives, academicians, youth leaders, editors, and journalists, you stand at the frontlines, and you will undoubtedly be remembered and judged by the Nigerian people based on how well you perform for them.”