Onyima, ex-The Sun MD tasks media on deepening democracy, national unity

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From Magnus Eze, Enugu 

Former managing director/editor-in-chief of The Sun Publishing Limited and former commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in Anambra State, Tony Onyima, has tasked the media, especially editors to do more in deepening democratic culture in Nigeria.

He described the media as the force for progressive social change and urged them to make democracy work just as they promote national cohesion.

To achieve these, Onyima said journalists must first make journalism work optimally.

In a paper he delivered at a professional capacity building workshop organised for editors and senior journalists in Enugu by the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), with support from the United State of America Embassy in Nigeria, Onyima said: “As editors, let’s go and make the media work better.” 

Speaking on the topic, ‘The Media, 2023 General Elections and Nigeria’s Democracy’, Onyima said the theme of the training, ‘Agenda Setting for Sustainable Democratic Culture’, could not have come at a better time than now. Onyima said the social responsibility theory had conferred responsibility on the media to inform and educate the society while also serving as the watchdog, pointing out that they must play these all-important roles responsibly.

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He commended the Nigerian media for being in the vanguard of democracy but lamented that citizens’ trust in the political process and in the media have been waning overtime. Aware that the quality of representative democracy was diminished when fewer people participated in the political process, Onyima said an informed opinion about the health of Nigeria’s democracy could be made from the level of participation by Nigerians.

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According to him, the health of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 has not been good, going by the number of people who participate in each election cycle.

He said: “Since independence, Nigeria has had 11 general elections with six of them held between 1999 and 2019.

“Former president Olusegun Obasanjo won the 1999 presidential election with 18,738,154 votes and in 2003, he won re-election with 24,456,140 votes. In 2011, former president Goodluck Jonathan won with 22,495,187 votes. In 2015 President Muhammadu Buhari won with 15,424,921 votes and in 2019, he won a re-election with 15,191,847 votes. The combined total votes recorded in all the presidential elections between 1999 and 2019 is 96,306,249 votes. This is less than the 1.3 billion votes recorded by the 2021 edition of BBNaija. This tells an interesting story of the level of participation by the citizens in the electoral process.   We must realise that it is through quality engagement with the electoral process that transformational leadership emerges. Quality engagement with the electoral process is facilitated through a robust political communication in the media.”  He further said effective deployment of the Freedom of Information Act (2011), which is aimed at strengthening good governance by making public records more freely available and accessible, was expected to expand the democratic space.

Regardless of the disruptions caused by social media, Onyima submitted that a socially responsible media is needed to sustain a democratic culture; a media that knows that public information is very important not only for citizens to make rational decisions but that it is needed also to spur economic and social development.