Revered Fr. Gerald Musa, a keynote Speaker at the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace Workshop on the “Role of the Public and the Press Towards Peaceful General Election” eloquently articulated the incursion of political extremists into politics and the dangers they pose to the system.
Fr. Musa said these political extremists use social media platforms to propagate their dangerous political views hinting that they use them to share messages that were loaded with ethnoreligious bigotry.
Hear him: “These social media platforms are increasingly becoming the means for recruiting, supporting, spreading and funding extremist political content. The propagation of extremism via social media is made even easier as users of these media share content without any obligation to disclose their identity”.
Defining political extremism as an intolerant, disrespectful and angry attitude towards other differing political views and opinions, the well respected minister of God averred that political extremism is guided by extreme theories, doctrines and ideologies.
According o him, extremism could be violent or non-violent, but hardly without the use of, uncivil, inflammatory, or belligerent language, hateful narratives, dehumanizing discourses, as well as aggressive and divisive rhetoric. Extremism, he said, could be motivated by many factors such as politics, religion, ethnicity, racism and anti-immigration.
Musa linked the post election riots of 2011 to the reactions of political extremists who framed the victory of Jonathan as a triumph of the South and a loss to the North, stressing that others interpreted the election as a battle between religions, with Jonathan representing Christians and Muhammadu Buhari representing Muslims.
Disclosing that political extremism in Nigeria was inextricably tied to ethno-religious sentiment, Fr. Musa claimed that the religious and ethnic extremism demonstrated by Boko Haram and the Indigenous People Od Biafra (IPOB) had political undertone.
According to him: “Boko Haram’s extremism is predicated on the unrealistic dream of establishing an Islamic Government in a pluralistic country, while IPOB calls for secession from a country where they have experienced decades of marginalization and injustice”.
On elections in Nigeria, Fr. Musa asserted that tension heightens every season whenever the general elections approach because of the fear of political extremists who are prone to violence, stressing that 2023 elections were not going to be different.
The situation he said was made worst by political parties and politicians who pay little or no attention to ideologies, and their inability to present clear cut manifestoes that were discernable to the electorates. He also alluded to the issues of money politics and vote buying saying they were impediments to free, fair and credible elections in the country.
To mitigate political extremism that had hampered electoral progress Nigeria, Fr. Musa recommended that dangerous and violent political extremism could be countered by every citizen who had a portable device, saying counter messaging meant producing messages that counteract extremist ideologies.
Patriotic citizens who had access to social media, he said, could cultivate the habit of debunking false information and messages that exacerbate identity politics and ethno-religious hatred. He also recommended that group platforms could establish rules and regulations that prohibit the sharing of messages that promote political extremism, adding that social media users could cross-check the veracity of the information before sharing.
Social media users, he further recommended, could exercise some restraints by not sharing negative and dangerous information that was not verified, especially about political opponents.
In his paper, the Guest Speaker, Ogbonna Nwuke who was represented by Opaka Dokubo, National Vice Chairman, NUJ South South, said free and fair election was the only way to keep Nigeria together and one, stressing that it had become imperative to ensure that the 2023 general election was free and peaceful.
Pointing out that it was the politicians who make election do, or die affair, Nwuke advised journalists not to allow politicians to use them to manipulate the people.
According to him, politicians could use the press to magnify conflicts, stressing that journalists should see themselves as stakeholders in the march to institutionize democracy in Nigeria.
He thanked Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace and Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) for putting the workshop together which was aimed at engendering peace in the political process, especially against the 2023 general election.
The address by the Executive Director Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace, Sis. Agatha Chikelue was presented by Nicholas Dike, Programmer Officer of the Foundation where he said the foundation was committed to ensure good governance by preaching peace to Nigerians.
He lamented the escalating crisis, rising instability, forced migration that have enveloped the country, stressing that achieving peace, especially as the 2023 general election approaches was uppermost in the mind of the foundation.
He also stated that the workshop was organized to strengthen the capacity of journalists to carry out their roles, stressing that journalists were expected to play significant role in the election.
The Rector of Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Very Rev. Fr. Prof. Jude A. Asanbe in his address, advised journalists to maintain independence from those they serve, especially politicians. He also urged them to shun inflammatory comments, saying their obligation should be to stand for the truth. The Rector said nobody should stay aloof in politics if the plan was to bring about a wholesome society.
Earlier, Miebaka Inyeinengi, Busines Manager South-South Silverbird communication, had in his opening remarks said those in powers had tended to tailor reporting to their advantage, adding that they equally use their power to bend the outcome of election.
He advocated for a system that would reduce the porousness of the electoral system, even as he urged journalists to bring pressure to bear on the politicians to subject themselves to the electoral law and do the right things, especially during elections.
Despite the clogs placed on their way, Inyeinengi still argued that journalists could still do investigative journalism and report issues impartially.
As part of the organizers, NUJ chairman, Rivers State, Stanley Job Stanley presented an address where he emphasized the importance of the workshop and the need for journalists to take it seriously.