The Centre for Research on Development of African Media, Governance and Society (CEREDEMS-Africa) and Positive Agenda Nigeria (PAN) report on the 2023 presidential election campaign monitoring has indicated that the talking points of political actors are still largely not issue-based.
The organisations presented the summary of their findings at the weekly report discussion held online to disseminate the outcome of their monitoring of political actors and supporters between Sept. 29 and Oct. 2.
The report titled: “Intensive Information Pollution, Personality Disparagement or Informed Policy Engagement in Nigeria 2023 Presidential Election Campaign?” is the first weekly report of its 54-week project focused on presidential election campaign monitoring.
While presenting the report, the Director of the project’s Communication and Public Engagement, Jamiu Folarin said the report contains the findings of the research conducted by the CEREDEMS-PAN on the presidential election campaign in Nigeria.
“For a campaign ecosystem expected to be dominated by issue-based engagements, the dominance of non-campaign and policy issues across parties’ outings in the first week revealed a campaign that did not focus on issues that matter.
“Analysis indicates that for the first week of the campaign, issues that could not be categorized as any of the core issues of policy and campaigns had the highest percentage among the issues raised in the one-week-old campaign atmosphere stood at 65.30 per cent while Economy (10.64%), Security (7.33%) and Education (5.13%) came a distant second, third and fourth respectively on the scale of issues of priority among the contending parties,” the report stated.
It observed that across the party lines for the first week of campaigning, the campaign strategies were aimed at focusing on emphasising what the parties and their candidates could do if elected into office.
“Of the three major campaign strategies, our analysis revealed that ‘acclaims’ was majorly employed by actors across the party lines. The category, which depicted the use of messages that indicated that parties and candidates were best to win the presidency through sound personality traits, leadership qualities and competencies, accounted for 78.88 per cent of the strategies used in the first week of the campaign.
“This was followed by a paltry 19.12`per cent of ‘attacks’ which were messages that denigrated the personality traits of candidates and leadership qualities and/or competencies of the candidates to govern the country.
“This was trailed by 1.99 per cent of ‘defences’ – the messages that refuted negative elements pushed out by actors against other candidates and political parties. The Labour Party was observed to have used the attacks, acclaims and defences on almost the same scale.
“However, the People’s Democratic Party appeared to have used defences among the parties the most, recording a 40.00 per cent deployment of defences while using acclaims and attacks at 26.33 per cent and 20.00 per cent respectively.
“The APC, in its approach, employed the least of acclaims and was at par with the LP in the deployment of defences using 30.00 per cent of its campaign messages to defend its candidate.
“Parties and their supporters used attacks mostly on Twitter (47.22%) followed by newspapers (41.67%) and Facebook (11.1%). Defences were used equally on both Twitter and in the newspapers. This appearance of attack strategies is more intriguing as the medium is expected to have a strong gatekeeping mechanism.
“While AAC adopted the acclaims (12.37%) and attacks (2.22%) strategies respectively, it did not employ defences at all. The NNPP (4.74%) and the YPP (0.26%) used acclaims only.”
While discussing the findings of the report at an online event, Dr Rasaq Adisa of the University of Ilorin attributed the low level of policy engagement and strategies to a number of factors. These factors, according to Dr Adisa, include the fact that the political actors are just gaining momentum as campaign activities were lifted a few days ago.
Dr Adisa also noted that the intra-party crisis and legal tussle in some political parties as well as the decision of some of the political parties to delay the flag-off of their campaign as responsible for the results of the findings.
Personality Disparagement in Campaign Messages
The report also noted that the 2023 presidential election campaign atmosphere is largely calm in the first week of the campaign as “our analysts observed that the level of personality disparagement was not highly intensive.
“None of the 130 campaign messages analysed had a trace of personality disparagement that could be classified as highly intensive. However, there were traces of personality attacks that were moderately intensive and slightly intensive.
“Largely, our analysts noted that the campaign atmosphere for the first week of the campaign could be described as low in personality disparagement as about 50.00 per cent of the campaign messages contained non-intensive personality attacks.”
The report noted that during elections, “clear and accurate information is critical for informed decision making by the electorate which informed interest in examining the information pollution ecosystem as the campaigns began. In the six entries analysed for the first week, our analysts observed the presence of information pollution manifesting in the ecosystem with half of the data reflecting conflicting identities and construction of newsmakers and sources.
“Similarly, other categories of misinformation are also reflected in the minimal presence of inaccurate photos and photo captions.
While CEREDEMS-Africa/PAN commended political actors for a less heated campaign atmosphere, during the period under review, ‘acclaims as a campaign strategy, dominated the first week of the campaign across political parties: the report wants the effort to be sustained.
“However, that elements of attacks were highly present in messages on Twitter, Facebook and even with some traces in the newspapers is a source of concern. If it could be explained that Twitter and Facebook operate in an unregulated space, what of the newspapers that are expected to have strong gatekeeping mechanisms?”
Meanwhile, experts have called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies and the judiciary to be deliberate in ensuring that the violations of the code of conduct for election campaigns are penalised.
Dr Rasaq Adisa of the University of Ilorin and political editor of The Nation newspaper, Dr Emmanual Oladesu made this call while discussing the outcome of the first-week report of CEREDEMS-Africa and PAN on the monitoring of the 2023 presidential election campaign.
The discussion was anchored under the topic: “Political Actors and Their Campaign Trajectories: Towards Informed Choice During Presidential Election”.
The experts said the electoral act has clearly specified what constitutes these violations and any infractions must be punished to serve as a deterrent.
“Election offenders must be brought to book, apprehended and prosecuted by security agencies because we have seen violations and our law should not only be on paper”, Dr Oladesu remarked.
Dr Adisa also wants professional journalists and the mainstream media to keep alive their gatekeeping role by not allowing polluted messages to have their way as experienced on social media.
Dr Oladesu asked the media to stick to the ethics of the profession by being objective, balanced, fair and honest in the discharge of their duty.
They called for caution in the use of social media to spread toxic political campaigns asking social media platforms to do more to sanitiser the digital public sphere.
The experts also asked CEREDEMS-Africa and PAN to collaborate with other civil society and media organisations to disseminate the outcome of its research and set an agenda for the political actors and other stakeholders in the electoral process.
In their remarks, the Executive Director of CEREDEMS-Africa, Dr Mustapha Muhammad Jamiu and the team lead of PAN, Dr Rasheed Adebiyi said the organisation is committed to ensuring they continue to contribute to expanding the political space and serene campaign atmosphere through its various projects.
The organisations promised to remain consistent in the six months project in using their participatory research approach to monitor the 2023 general elections campaigns by political parties, candidates and their supporters.
The Research on Development of African Media, Governance, and Society (CEREDEMS-Africa) is a non-governmental organisation and research institute established in 2020, which focuses on using cutting-edge multi-disciplinary research methods to generate insights that improve policy initiative and implementation with regards to improving media ecosystem, governmental and societal institutions.
Positive Agenda Nigeria (PAN) is a non-governmental organisation led by a group of academics and independent researchers dedicated to adopting evidence-based approaches to strengthen good governance and democratic culture in Nigeria.