Benue State, the State popularly referred to as the food basket of the nation, served as host for Journalists from seven states of the North Central geo-political zone who converged in the State capital, Makurdi, for a two-day capacity building programme under the auspices of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and the Democratic Governance for Development (DGD) project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The training programme, held on December 5 and 6, 2012, with the theme, Reporting Democracy and Governance Issues was declared open by the Benue State Commissioner of Information, Mr. Conrad Wergba, who was represented by Mr. Ona Ode, a Director in the Ministry.
In his opening speech the Hon. Commissioner applauded the initiative and support of the NPC and the UNDP for such capacity building for journalists. The Commissioner, who stated that the timing of the brain thrust was very apt, said that though it was good to have a profession but that it was better to be professionalised. He underscored the need for media professional to continue to update their knowledge through such fora and other means such as exchange of ideas; reading and self development; among others.
Speaking further, the Commissioner highlighted the efforts of the State Government to resuscitate the State owned newspaper. He said that due to operational challenges the newspaper is presently published twice or thrice weekly. He noted that the State Government had purchased valuable equipment to revamp the newspaper; mobilised contractors and that before the end of the first quarter of next year (2013) the installation of the equipment would have been completed and the newspaper would take its rightful place in prompt and effective publication.
In his remarks the Democratic Governance for Development project’s National Media Expert, Dr. Isiaka Yahaya, welcomed participants and the resource persons to the capacity building seminar and gave assurance about the readiness of DGD to partner with stakeholders. He gave a résumé of the DGD project, its support for the 2011 elections and the efforts at deepening democracy in Nigeria. He spoke on the significance of reforms in governance and the need to put in place mechanism for accountability of those in Government. He revealled the preparedness of the DGD to support the next election of 2015 and its readiness and willingness to partner with Civil liberty organisations; political Parties; National Assembly; Stakeholders and even the Nigerian women.
The DGD National Media Expert who used the demand and supply terminology to describe the relationship expected to exist between the media and the organisers of the brain thrust, said that on the supply side, the DGD would continue to make efforts at strengthening the capacity of the media and that training programmes would be on going. He stated that the capacity building programme held for Journalists in the North Central States would, hopefully, be held in other geo-political zones of the Country. According to him, the DGD was also working with the Nigeria Union of Journalists and the National Association of Women Journalists to build the media. He noted that the DGD was committed to see how it can elevate situational challenges and make the media perform its role effectively.
In the area of demand, Dr. Yahaya spoke on the need for media to effectively perform its role of providing information and also act as advocate for democratic reforms, among others.
Earlier in a welcome address, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Press Council, Mr. Bayo Atoyebi, stated that it was part of the Council’s oversight responsibility to identify areas that require the general attention of practitioners for enhancement of their professional duties.
He welcomed the distinguished resource persons and the chairmen of the NUJ state Councils of Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger and Plateau and other participants. He urged participants on the need to put into practice what was learnt at the programme.
Mr. Atoyebi, while referring to the obligation of the media to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people as contained in section 22 of the constitution, raised pertinent questions on the proviso. These include: How can practitioners ensure that the duty bestowed on the media is being carried out?; Are practitioners actually doing it?; Can they do it effectively, if provided the capacity?
He said that the workshop was the first leg of such capacity building programmes for journalists in the partnership of NPC and UNDP and that hopefully their counterparts in other geo-political zones of the country would in no distant time benefit from such training.
The workshop, adjudged to be successful, had eminent scholars and veteran media professional as facilitators and paper presenters. Leading the array of presenters was the mass communication teacher, Prof. Umaru Pate, who presented a paper titled The Role Of The Media In Evaluating Implementation Of Government’s Programme. The second paper titled The Media and the Challenges of Accountability in Governance: Critical areas of focus was delivered by Dr Sola Adeyanju of the Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Other paper presenters include the vetran journalist, Mohammed Haruna, whose presentation on Media: Reporting the Legislature as a means of Promoting Transparency in Governance was highly applauded. Dr. Kabir Mato, who was represented by Mr. Ernest Ereke, presented a paper on Media, National Security and the Imperatives of a Consensus on Access to Information and Accountability in Governance.
The workshop which rolled out 23 recommendations in a communiqué signed by Dr. Isiaka Yahaya, Mr. Bayo Atoyebi and Mr. Seyi Adekeye, was attended by 62 participatants including Mr. Sam Adzegeh, SSA to Gov. Gabriel Suswam of Benue State, who represented the NUJ National President, Mallam Garba Mohammed.
Highlights of the recommendations as contained in the Communiqué include:
- Every journalist should strive to be familiar with the Annual Report on human development indices so as to be familiar with governance issues.
- Journalists should strive for scientific journalism based on facts and in-depth investigation to enhance the standard of journalism.
- There is need for journalists to read wide, broaden their knowledge and develop techniques of critical evaluation of governance issues to be effective.
- Reporting about the legislature and other arms of government should be knowledge based and reported with simplicity of language.
- In reporting the legislature, accuracy tenets demand that facts are cross checked and be devoid of malice to enhance integrity. Issues should not be reported within ethnic, religious or partisan political prisms.
- As journalists have a social role of monitoring, their unions and chapels should have defined boundaries in relating with governments and politicians, the critical elements in governance.
- There is a need for unimpeded access to the facts and records about governance. As such, transparent access on how public funds are expended is essential for accountability in governance.
- The social necessity to protect critical information in public interest and exigencies of security must be backed with adequate transparency and accountability in the activities, actions and transactions of the security sector.
- Journalists must use the grand requirements of PUBLIC INTEREST to evaluate national security situations so as to balance the dialectic of transparency and access to information with restriction on critical information that may constitute national threat.