US shows how to restore confidence in Nigeria’s democracy

· Points to fall of democracies in Africa in recent years

Embassy officials of the United States of America (USA) have pointed to ways of restoring confidence in Nigeria’s democracy which is believed to be fast dwindling.

This is as mild fears were raised over the fate of democracy in Africa during the opening of day one of a three-day Town Hall Meeting series going on in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, organised by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) with support from the US Embassy due to a rash of overthrow or attempted coups in many African countries in past one year.

Jeanne Clark, a representative of the US Embassy in Nigeria, who delivered a paper at Juanita Hotel in Port Harcourt, named free and fair election as one way to restore confidence in the nation’s democracy.

Warning that the eye of the world is on Nigeria ahead 2023, Clark said Nigerian journalists have crucial roles to play and that now is the time to wake up all Nigerians of voting age to get their voter cards.

The official said: “Your actions and decisions level the playing field. You determine whose voices are heard, and what news topics receive in-depth coverage. You help weed out the trivial (matters) to focus on the essential.

“You interview citizens and potential voters whose voices are not always amplified or heard. You may not always realize it, but when you give voice to the governed and the under-represented, you help reduce voter apathy. We encourage you to take positive steps in favour of transparency.”

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Clark said access to accurate, unbiased information is critical to any democracy in the world. She harped on fact-checking and need to reduce or identify bias to stop the spread of misinformation in its tracks.

Clark also gave insight into how brown envelop journalism erodes the profession and urged Nigerian practitioners to press for good salaries and other tax reliefs for media houses.

The bottom line, she stated, is to enthrone a democracy that is accountable to the people. This is by promoting transparency and accountability, inclusivity and equity, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms.

“When you uncover evidence that unscrupulous individuals have tried to hide or deny, you empower law enforcement and the judicial system.” Journalists however wondered if cases uncovered do get action from other arms.

On democracy, she said headlines in Nigerian newspapers show that there is threat to Nigerian democracy. She said democracy has already crashed in Sudan, Chad, Mali, among others.

She identified factors that according to her erode faith in democracy such as patronage politics, corruption and inequality.

The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, warned that journalism in Nigeria has come under threat and that most journalists practise under very difficult conditions. He however, said this should not warrant the sale of the soul of journalism.

The president of the NGE, Mustafa Isa, and Tony Iyare, an international journalist and development expert, showed how journalists can set agenda. Iyare warned against crash of Nigeria, saying it would destabilise Africa with huge refugee explosion.

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