The ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) has called for trust, openness and cooperation between election management bodies and the media to ensure the delivery of credible, transparent and peaceful elections in West Africa.
“The media remains the most reliable instrument through which electoral issues involving participation and inclusivity are encouraged,” Prof Mahmood Yakubu, president of the ECONEC governing board and Chair of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said in Abuja, on Monday, 29th October, in a welcome address to the opening of a two-day regional media training workshop on professional reporting of elections in the ECOWAS region.
Represented by the INEC Acting Chair, Dr Mustapha Lecky, the ECONEC boss said election administrators looked up to the media, to assist in sensitising and mobilising citizens, adding that as the Fourth Estate of the Realm “the media is the gatekeeper in ensuring transparency and accountability in the electoral process.”
He said the workshop organised by ECONEC with the support of the German agency for International Cooperation, GIZ, is coming several months before major elections in the region, with campaigns by political parties for the 2019 general elections in Nigeria starting in less than three weeks.
“There is no doubt that the media is an important stakeholder and partner,” he added.
The INEC boss noted that the workshop will address issues such as social media, which benefits he described as “enormous and challenging,” an also address the menace of fake news.
“Another challenge worthy of consideration is the issue of foreign interference with domestic elections through the internet,” Prof Yakubu.
He urged election administrators and journalists to carry out their responsibilities with a high sense of duty and professionalism, to avoid a repeat of the “havoc poorly conducted elections and provocative reportage have caused in our region.”
In his remarks, the Head of ECOWAS Electoral Assistance Division, Mr Francis Oke, acknowledged the support which ECONEC has received from the ECOWAS Commission and development partners, including GIZ and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), since its formation in 2008.
He stressed that such collaborative partnership should be sustained to enable ECONEC, which is a technical arm of ECOWAS, to delivery on its mandate of promoting credible elections and consolidation of democracy in the region.
GIZ representative, Mrs Phidelia Amey explained that the training workshop comes under the agency’s ECOWAS Support Programme, focusing on trade and customs and peace and security, which also cover electoral issues.
She said that since the media plays a key role in shaping the narrative of political conversation, the workshop will encourage media professionals to be more informative and educative of the electorate on electoral matters.
She urged the participants to come up with recommendations that would assist ECOWAS and ECONEC in the promotion of democracy and good governance in the region.
INEC senior officials, including National Commissioners, were among dignitaries that graced the opening ceremony of the workshop, which is being attended by journalists from the 15 ECOWAS member States, as part activities under the ECONEC’s 2016-18 Action Plan.
Earlier this month, ECONEC, also with the support of GIZ, organised a workshop in Abuja, where regional experts validated the findings of the Network’s commissioned study on the cost of elections in the ECOWAS region, sponsored by OSIWA as part of efforts at addressing the high cost of election management in West Africa.