The Role Of The Media In Democratic Sustenance In Nigeria (A Case Study Of The 2015 General Election)

Project and Seminar material for Public Administration

The Role Of The Media In Democratic Sustenance In Nigeria (A Case Study Of The 2015 General Election)


The media has always played a role in the sustenance of the type of government being operated in any nation. This is why it is synonymously referred to as ‘The fourth estate of the realm’. It’s expected to be not only to be the voice of the citizens but a platform where both government and the governed interact and ensure the continuous existence and growth of such a nation.

Development in technology and subsequently the creation of the new media forms due to the financial status of the citizens has not stopped those in government who are connected to these social media forms from being criticized and abused by their follower and political enemies without any means of bringing such individuals to book as there is no structure to gate keep the content on different social media. This project looks at how the social media can be used to sustain and promote the democratic governance in Nigeria. It is hinged on the governed can use the social media for the betterment of the nation and not just to pass wrong information or promote propaganda.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Of the different organs that make up any modern day society, one organ whose importance can never be over emphasized is the mass media. Little wonder the mass media has been described as the fourth estate of the realm that is after the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government in any democratic society. In the contemporary world, one form of government that continues to enjoy widespread support and acceptance is democracy.

In Nigeria where attempts is still being made to properly entrench the norms of democracy, the mass media no doubt have played varying roles and is still playing it in this noble area of strengthening the democratic process. As McQuail (2000) rightly noted, the basic role of the mass media in any society is to inform, educate and entertain. Suarez (1978) went a step further by stating that in a democratic environment, the role of the press (mass media) extends beyond these basic functions. The media in addition to these basic roles have the responsibility of sustaining and nourishing the ideas of democratic ethos, and to constantly assure and guaranty the protection of freedom of individuals and that of the media themselves, which is the heart of the popular participation in liberal democracies (quoted in Isola, 2008).

Siebert, Palterson and Schramm (1963) also assert that the mass media across the nations therefore saddle themselves with the responsibility of monitoring governance, protecting the interests and rights of the weak in the society and advocating for the issues and causes that enhances the growth and development of the society within which they operate (quoted in Isola, 2008). Within the Nigerian context, various attempts have often been made to clarify what exactly the role of the mass media is in the process of consolidating democratic values. The question is that to what extent has the mass media been able to live up to this noble responsibility?.

As Oseni (2005) puts it ‘’Democracy and journalism (mass media) are soul mates’’. You really cannot have one without the other. It is only a democratic environment that can foster the best journalism (mass media). Just as democracy itself can never take root nor be nurtured in an atmosphere inimical to the provision of alternative choice which journalism (mass media) promotes ‘. The morning of Saturday 29th May 1999 saw Nigeria return to another experiment at democratic norms and institutions with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo sworn in as President and Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s armed forces. Ever since, the polity has been awash as different policies, strategies and programmes aimed at consolidating the process, entrench the values of democracy into the system and laying a solid foundation for its sustainability.

It is now seventeen years into Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, it then becomes imperative to consider how the mass media have lived up to the billing in the task of the evolving a sustainable democratic process. Section 22 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria specifically assigns a noble role to the mass media within the democratic arena. The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government of the (Constitution, 1999) The essence of this therefore is to again revisit the issues of the roles that mass media are expected to play in the strive to attain a more stable and matured level in the democratic process with the emphasis on the fourth attempt at democratic form of governance in Nigeria. Emphasis is laid on the challenges the mass media have had to battle with in asserting the roles and how these challenges can be completely dealt with.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In Nigeria, there have been tales of government officials and elected representatives of the people deliberately embarking on actions that serve as obstacles to the mass media from being able to play its role effectively. They have made attempts at ensuring that the mass media dance to their tune. The polity has been awash with cases of threats, dubious legislation, intense regulation and censorship as well as unmitigated records of records of violation of press freedom.

1.3 Hypothesis / Research Questions

  1. To what extent has the mass media played its role of sustaining the democratic values into the Nigeria democratic system?
  2. What challenges have the mass media had to battle with in the course of carrying out its responsibility within the polity?
  3. How conducive has the political climate as a whole been for the mass media to effectively play its part in the democratizing process?
  4. What better ways/methods are there for the mass media to carry out its tasks and responsibilities more effectively?
  5. To what extent has the mass media been autonomous enough to be able to carry out its tasks effectively?
  6. To what extent has the mass media facilitated the strengthening of Nigeria’s fourth attempt at democratic governance?

1.4 Purpose of the Study

The objectives of the study are to;

  1. Critically asses the roles the mass media have played in entrenching democratic values into the Nigeria political System.
  2. Asses’ democratization especially with regards to the Nigerian political system.
  3. Consider how conducive the political atmosphere has been for the mass media especially in the Fourth Republic.
  4. Make attempts to consider, through a policy prescription, a more plausible and objective way for the mass media to assert its responsibility in the democratic process.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This study focuses on the Fourth Republic in Nigeria which spans from May 29, 1999 till date. It takes care of the first seventeen years period which spans from 1999 to 2016. The main area of focus is the print (representing newspapers and magazines) and electronic media (radio and television). And since it is nearly impossible to cover the whole of the country because of some limitations, Osun, one of the thirty six states that make up the country is focused upon.

1.6 Research Methods

The study area of this research work was carried out in Nigeria and some selected media houses in Nigeria.

The questionnaires were used to collect data on some data such as ; Do you think that in Nigeria the media should have more freedom, less freedom, or the same amount of freedom?

The target population of the study was all the registered media houses in Nigeria, Anambra state for the sake of proximity.

A stratified purposive sampling technique was adopted for the study to enhance objectivity and ensure sample taken actually replicates the characteristics of the population.

To ensure that the respondents had the freedom to respond truthfully and responsively, they were given the option to either respond immediately or later which gives them the opportunity to reflect on the questionnaires and respond at their most convenient time and conviction. Those who had problems in filling the questionnaires were carefully guided to ensure that whatever they filled would correspond to their true perception of the issues raised.

All these efforts were made to ensure the correctness and authenticity of the responses and also to guarantee consistency and completeness in the responses as well as to ensure that the inferences to be drawn were based on the facts on ground and not mere speculations or hearsay.

In the course of gathering data, we went to a media house for an interview with some media practitioner on issues relating to the project topic. Other sources include newspaper, magazines and journal publications.

1.7 Definition of Terms

Below constitutes the conceptual frame work for the conduct of this research:-

Mass Media

Mass Media, according to the African Leadership Forum through their publication, Farm House Dialogue; The Media in Democracy (1991) refers to any agency, modern or international that operates for the articulation and dissemination of ideas and information, generally with intent to influence or control an audience or the institutions that constitute legalized power or authority.

The Special Price Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines Mass Media as the means of communicating with the large number of people, e.g newspaper, television and radio.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in a publication titled ‘’Behavior Change through Mass Communication’’ also describe mass media as methods of communications that reach large groups of people quickly and effectively. Such methods of communication can include radio, television, newspaper, magazines, music, traditional theatre, advertising, marketing and publicity.

Although they don’t necessary translate to exactly the same thing in that mass media is more encompassing, mass media is used interchangeably with ‘’PRESS’’ and ‘’JOURNALISM’’ in the course of this work, Svetlozar Andreev (2002) talks about two varieties of media: two of the basic distinctions between the various kinds of the media system are between (a) Public and Private and between (b) Printed and Broadcast media.


The meaning of the word democracy is best captured in the thoughts of Idowu A.A (2008)

–In the world of today, democracy has become a popular concept in every contemporary discourse. It is now a word that resonates in the people’s mind and springs from their lips as they struggle for freedom and for a better way of life. In its Greek understanding, the term democracy originally referred to the right of the citizens of the Greek City states to participate directly in the act of governance. The word ‘’DEMOCRACY’’ is known to have been coined from two Greek words: demos (people) kratos (rule) which simply means people’s rule. It is an institution of governance which envisages a popular government as practiced in ancient Greece. Although the conditions in a modern state make direct participation of all the people in the Government of the state impossible, the concept of democracy still emphasizes the rule of the people, in that, sovereign is exercised exercised by the people but now indirectly through a system of representation. The people choose their representatives who then govern in their name. In a democracy, power resides in the people and belongs to the people. In a democracy, the people own the government, and not government owning the people. A democracy is thus distinguished from a Monarchy (the rule of a Monarch) or Aristocracy (the rule of the privileged class) or an Oligarchy (the rule of a Junta).

Larry Diamond (2008) offers a similar meaning to the concept of democracy, at a minimum, democracy is a system of government in which all (or virtually all) adult citizens can choose their leaders and replace their leaders in regular, free, fair, and competitive (multiparty) elections. The Special Price Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary however sees democracy as a system of government by all the people of a country, usually through representatives, whom they elect, thought of as allowing freedom of speech, religion and political opinion.


Democratization on the other hand is said to be a process of making a country or an institution more democratic. That is, moving the ladder in entrenching democratic norms and values in the polity or system. Ifeanacho and Nwagwu (2009) offer a more explanation of what democratization entails, ‘’Democratization is more appropriately viewed as the institutionalization of democratic principles as part of everyday culture in a society. It finds expression in the channeling of behavioral patterns towards democratic ideals. It permeates all facets of community life from religion through economy, marriage, family to politics. These institutions legitimize the activities of those who exercise authority. If these institutions are absent, militarism might be misconstrued for democratization.

Press Freedom

The freedom of the press according to Ogunsiji (quoted in Owolabi, 2008) means allowing the press to perform its traditional role of keeping the masses informed about events taking place within or outside their immediate community without any hindrance, harassment or legal or social constraints. Oloyede (1996) puts it this way, regardless of the ideological differences in the various socio-political systems of the world, press freedom – a logical extension of man’s inalienable freedom of expression – is today a universal phenomenon. Globally and ideally guaranteed by Article 19nof the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is enshrined in the constitution of almost all countries with written constitution and customarily observed by societies, exemplified by Britain, which have no written constitution.

Chapter Five

Summary of Findings, Recommendation and Conclusion

This chapter discusses the findings of the research as analyzed in the previous chapter. Also included in this chapter is a comparison of the result obtained with other empirical studies and the literature review. Other items highlighted are recommendation, summary and conclusion

5.1 Summary of Findings

The study revealed that the mass media is an essential, indispensable part of the democratic governance. It also revealed that democratization in Nigeria, generally has been rather show compared with the expectations of the people, and among the factors that account for this is the less than conducive political climate under which the mass media have had to carry out their responsibilities.

The research equally brought to the fore the need for autonomy of the mass media as very instrumental to the stability of the democratic process. While it is admitted that 100% autonomy of mass media may be utopian in actual sense, the situation where government at all levels gag the media through different censorship policies, intimidation and even physical assault on mass media workers are worrisome and should be condemned in strong terms. There is equally a need for state-owned mass media to be allowed to do their work without undue interference from their owners – the government as the research reveals that the public prefer the privately-owned electronic to the state-owned ones as a result of their near independence and critical appraisal of issues in some cases.

Attached to the need for greater autonomy for the mass media as revealed by the research is the need for increase in the level of access the media enjoys when it comes to information. The research revealed that most information that is crucial to the public and the policy process are forbidden from getting to the public through the media as they are clouded under official secrecy. Public officers and elected leaders of the people are made to swear to or sign secrecy oaths which forbid them from revealing information related to their work – issues of public concern in most cases – to the conveyers of information and prevent such information from getting to places where they may be of importance to the democratic process.

The hypotheses tested (hypothesis 1), further buttresses the fact that there is a significant relationship between the activities of the mass media and democratization. In other words, the activities of the mass media have telling effects on the democratization process. The extent to which the mass media live up to their responsibilities impacts on the democratic process as a whole. Equally observed from the hypotheses (two) is that greater autonomy for the mass media enhances the democratization process while hypothesis three reveals that the passage into law of the Freedom of Information Bill portends good tidings for democratization in Nigeria.

The introductory aspect of the research laid the foundation for the work by expatiating on the statement of the research problem, the methodology, the research objectives, questions, hypotheses, outline of chapters and other critical features important to the work. We were able to examine and scrutinize works of different scholars from different countries, across different continents as it relates to the research topic and related terms and concepts. The scholars generally discussed the roles the media are expected to play in the democratic process while also dwelling on what democratization itself entails and why democracy in its ideal form, represents the best form of administering the people.

We also traced the historical evolution of the global mass media and then to the emergence of the Nigerian media. The exposition on the mass media in Nigeria accounts for how the mass media evolved, pre-amalgamation to the nationalist struggles of the 20th century and then to independence and the post-independence era, examining the various challenges and contributions of the media in these periods.

Mass media and the democratic process in the Fourth Republic in Nigeria was also examined thoroughly being the core of this research through the use of and administering of questionnaires to get and gather the opinion of people in relation to the mass media and its impact on democratization.

We argued that the mass media have played remarkable roles in the democratic process in Nigeria. From 1859 when the first newspaper came into being, the media contributed in campaigning against slave trade, battle for autonomy‘ when Lagos was initially administered by the colonial lords from Freetown in Sierra Leone and later Accra in Ghana until Lagos became an administrative headquarter, down to the use of the mass media in the intense nationalist struggles of the 20th century. The nationalist of the time, found in the media a perfect medium to highlight their views and argue their points, all in the process of the intellectual battle against colonialism. The mass media was used in educating the growing literate population of the time of the importance of self-government. The intense sensitization embarked among the populace practically turned the people against colonial domination and set the stage for political sovereignty of the country.

Post-independence, as divided as the media was along ethnic lines, it still played the role of providing an ‗easy landing ‘for self government and when the military struck in 1966 following a spate of crisis that ravaged the political landscape in the country, the mass media played the role of salvaging the situation and campaigning for the return of the ‗usurpers‘ to the barracks. This is one role the mass media played continuously in the successive military regimes that held sway in the country in the latter half of the 20th century.

During the democratic era, the mass media has sensitized the people, provide education and have risen up against whatever they consider as portending danger to the polity. Public outcry occasioned by media campaigns have resulted in cases such as the impeachment of senate presidents, speakers of the House of Representatives and uncovering of serious instances of corruption and abuse of office. The media have thus succeeded in putting public leaders on their toes and held them to account for their deeds.

In the course of carrying out their responsibilities in the polity since the mid-19th century, the mass media have had to confront a lot of challenges. The colonial government set the tone for such through enactment of legislation meant to curtail media freedom and when the battle for independence was eventually won, the self-inflicted problem of ethnicity crept into the media and the different leaders in the regional structure that operated at the time saw the media as a potent weapon in canvassing personal views and promoting selfish personal interests. The mass media was thus dislodged from carrying out its noble roles in the newly found independence to such devious tasks as personality attack and regional interests. The activities of the mass media contributed in exacerbating almost all the major crises of the First

Republic which culminated in the military takeover of 1966. The successive military regimes then embarked on various means of ‗putting the media‘ in its rightful place, such as promulgation of decrees, intimidation, physical assault and even imprisonment of media workers. Some lost their jobs while the unlucky ones had to pay with their lives in the course of the struggle. Media houses were closed down and some media outfits had to operate underground in a period where unmitigated cases of human right abuses in the history of the country were committed.

And even in the democratic era when the media are supposed to be heaving a sigh of relief and working selflessly in consolidating the process, cases of intimidation, harassment, assault and assassination of media workers recorded during the dark days of the military are still commonplace. The media are still being tactically maneuvered and influenced and have thus not been able to live up to what ought to be their responsibility. Some of the laws inherited from the repressive military era are still in operation and the Freedom of Information Bill which would have no doubt increased the media‘s access to information and eased their operations as well as provide a platform to hold public officers more accountable to the people have been in the National Assembly for a decade now. When the two chambers of the legislature manage to pass it, it meets with a brick wall when it comes to presidential assent. Under the excuse of having the tendency to allow foreigners access to matters of national security, the media – and the public – have been schemed time and again, in issues relating to the FOI Bill.

One of the aspects in the democratic process where the media are expected to play key roles is the electoral process. And although the Electoral Act spells out guidelines for the use of the media by all electoral competitors in a way that would mean fairness to all parties involved, most of the laws have existed only on paper as politicians, governments and other privileged members of the society continually abuse the use of the media during the electioneering period. Opposition political parties and figures are denied access to the media in most cases by the ruling party most especially at the state government level thus turning the mass media into a tool for personal use.

5.2 Recommendations

The nexus between the mass media and the democratic process with particular emphasis on the roles the media are expected to play in the polity has attracted and is still attracting attention from the media practitioners, advocates, researchers and other concerned scholars. The mass media have been recognized as fulcrum of any democratic experiment. To further smoothen the mass media – democratization interplay in Nigeria however, some policy measures are suggested as follows.

  1. It should be recognized by policy makers, public officers and indeed the media practitioners themselves that democratization faces a huge challenge if the mass media institutions malfunction or are malfunctioning in any way. In other words, democracy cannot work well without an effective mass media. Therefore, all laws that impede the media from effectively playing their roles without fear or favor should be abrogated. There should be a great deal of support for policy-legal reform processes, in other to ensure a healthy, fair environment in which media sector can prosper. Also some existing laws that has to do with the media needs to be enforced and not made to exist on paper only as has been the case in Nigeria overtime.
  2. All impediments to the passage into law of the freedom of information Bill should be dealt with forthwith and the Bill made to become part of the nation’s governing laws. This will increase the level of access the media has to information and will go a long way in restoring sanity into the democratic process as public officers would be held more accountable to the public as media workers and the public would have enhanced access to government information and computerized records and documents.
  3. Training, re-training and support for journalism and other media institution should be priority areas to develop the media in Nigeria for the future. However, training without requisite infrastructure – that is, facilities and equipment cannot lead to the desired stage of media development in Nigeria. Structures should be put in place to provide good training avenues for journalists and other media workers. Proprietors of media organization should devote considerable attention and resources towards the training and re-training of media staff. This will improve their knowledge of the profession and the new trends as they emerge on continuous basis and they will be able to live up to the billing as their colleagues in other liberal democracies of the world. Also media workers should be sufficiently equipped to be able to carry out their work effectively so that they will not continually lag behind their counterparts in advanced countries of the world.
  4. A situation where government-owned, especially state government-owned organization are used as instruments of propaganda and the opposition are tactically prevented from accessing such media organization to make their voices heard is condemnable in strong terms. All political parties should be guaranteed equal access to all government-owned media. The role of the government-owned electronic media organizations as public service broadcasters should be emphasized and such media organizations should operate with the fundamental tenet of putting public interest first in their operations. The overbearing influence of the state in terms of regulation and control of national broadcasting should be reduced drastically and a level playing field for the state-controlled media and the private media should be provided.
  5. A high level of corruption that has eaten deep into the media industry is ludicrous. It should be strongly campaigned against. All cases of brown envelops and Ghana must go bags that characterize the media resulting in the commercialization of news and promotion of parochial interests for monetary gains should be completely eradicated. Professional bodies such as Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors and similar bodies should make such acts serious effects amongst its members.
  6. The remuneration and other welfare packages of media workers should be enhanced. A situation where media workers are grossly unpaid and some even going to unpaid for months is an aberration that should be done away with. This has become a motivation for media workers to engage in illicit acts to meet up with their daily needs and that of their families.
  7. All cases of harassment, intimidation and assault on media workers should be outlawed forthwith in Nigeria. The safety of the media workers should become paramount as they occupy very sensitive position in the scheme of things. Anyone who willingly commits such crimes against media workers should be made to face the full wrath of the law no matter how highly placed such person is.
  8. There is a need to intensify the professionalization of the media so that only those who have what it takes can work in media establishments. All forms of quackery and impersonation should be treated as serious crimes against the state and defaulters should be made to lick their wounds.
  9. All cases where the mass media are politically influenced and denied the autonomy to carry out their roles from the neutral perspective should be done away with. Regulatory agencies such as the National Broadcasting Commission and the Nigerian Press Council should respect the need to allow the media to do their work without undue interference. The agencies should however make sure that the media do their work in accordance with stated rules as contained in documents such as National Broadcasting Code for the electronic media.

5.3 Conclusion

In view of the identified and hugely conspicuous reasons for an effective mass media sector as a driving force of a virile democracy, it is important that all stakeholders rise up to the tasks in raising the standards and potency of the mass media in Nigeria. A policy in this area, no doubt, portends good tidings, pluralism and enhancement of democratization in Nigeria.

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