As Nigerian voters go to the field tomorrow March 18th to vote the candidate of their choice for the governorship and state houses assemblies elections, Ejiro Umukoro, ED/CEO, LightRay Media and Broadcast Specialist tasks media houses to provide protection kit and life insurance policies for their reporters, as she calls on the Federal Government, Nigeria Police and other security agencies to provide adequate training on safety measures for security personnel for a hitch-free election.
She made this call during an interview following a whatsapp interactive session with election observers, journalists, broadcasters, and CSOs in the wake of the governorship election coming up on Saturday, March 18th.
Umukoro emphasized that “There should be a lot of training for the security operatives on how to work collaboratively with the media so that they can see the media as co-collaborators whom they treat with respect and decorum and not perceive them as combative or a threat in the discharge of their constitutionally assigned responsibilities.
“Security agencies need to come to terms with the reality and accept that the media, which is the fourth estate of the realm, as enshrined in the Nigeria constitution, clearly recognise the important role of the media and journalists as their rule of engagement is inherent within the Nigeria constitution.”
The gubernatorial and state assembly elections, which were postponed from March 11 due to irregularities, technical glitches, and the recourse to the courts by the presidential candidates of both the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party respectively, alongside the confusion affecting the non-implementation of the cashless economy has within the last week noticed a spike in public discuss about the concern for the safety and welfare of voters and journalists alike.
Umukoro says “Every news organization worth their salt should have a protection policy in place for all their journalists right off the bat that reflects their corporate governance structure. The responsibility begins from within the media organizations themselves, the owners and managers of media. From the CEOs, MDs, general managers, or the publishers, editors-in-chief as the case may be to line editors, are all responsible for the welfare of their staff.”
She emphasized that journalism is a safety and security related job inherent in its discharge of its duties to serve the public good with honesty, truth, and integrity that often comes at a cost directly affecting journalists who put their lives on the line as members of the fourth estate.
“Media organizations”, she goes on to explain “must, as a matter of policy, have in place life insurance welfare options for their staffs so that the family who depend on them, who will experience loss or should the journalists suffer injuries, will also be protected and catered to.
“There are many forms or degrees of insurance policy that can be integrated in the health policy, protection and welfare of journalists in media organizations and even by the various unions and umbrella bodies journalists and broadcasters find themselves in.”
She also emphasized the need for reporters to take their personal safety seriously and take measures to protect themselves rather than depend solely on their organizations to bear the full responsibility of their personal safety and welfare. She encourages journalists to explore life insurance options and seek expert opinions before choosing the option that best suits them and their circumstances. She also encourages journalists and broadcasters to bring up matters of their safety and welfare as part of the minutes of agenda during general meetings, and not shy away from doing so.
“There is enough data online that you can explore to equip yourself with in terms of the tools that you need to carry with you, how to carry out proper reconnaissance before you go to a place, and raising your level of heightened sense of personal security in terms of how perceptive you are of your environment and your interactions with people. Perception is very important, you have to be perceptive wherever you find yourself. And you have to remember that there should be well established reporting lines during emergencies in case you find yourself in a hot spot, when you need to go dark, or in case you found something of significance and how to relay it instantly. There should be a process on how to communicate and effectively raise an alarm when it is necessary. But most importantly, journalist must always abide by the ethics of the profession wherever they find themselves and not try and get in the face of security personnel either, when it can be avoided.”
She recommended media owners and managers should as a matter of practice and policy provide in-house training and workshops for journalists on how to stay protected, rules of engagement and communication management.
Umukoro also advised voters to equally take their personal security seriously, work more collaboratively with fellow voters and security personnel while ensuring that they too do not in any form enable disagreements that tend to lead to conflict.
With no less than N27.1 billion from the N239.2 billion reportedly set aside for possible run-off elections, Umukoro explains that since the role of the police and other security agents also includes protecting the lives and properties of Nigerians, she said, “The entire security and intelligence apparatus already have a crucial responsibility in protecting the lives of all Nigerians, including journalists especially during elections, and particularly with the 2023 governorship and state assembly elections where threats to life of candidates and voters alike is now of grace concern. We need our Nigerian police and the military to as a matter of course make all Nigerians feel safer during this election and post election.”
While she commended the police and other security agencies for the much they have done thus far, she expressed concerns regarding the quality of training or lack thereof of many security agents, which needs to be addressed continuously as a consistent strategy career key performance index for the agencies to enforce. She also pointed out that gaps in payment of salaries and other emoluments as when due to civil defense, the police, and other agencies should as a matter of urgency not be taken for granted as this can make them more vulnerable or prone to compromise.
She iterated that, “When the military and the other intelligence agencies, the police as well as other paramilitary organizations and agencies imbibe the principles of accepting the media as the fourth estate and understand that the respect given to the media is inherent in the constitution and it is non-negotiable, this kind of training will help them to treat journalists not as threat but as collaborators. So there needs to be a serious mindset change in that regard.
After all, it is the media who helps the police as well as the military and other intelligence agencies tell their stories and amplify the same. When they understand that we are doing our job as assigned to us by the constitution, and come to terms that we are not antagonizing or in competition with them, this can go a long way to further smoothen the relationship between the media and the security agencies”, Umukoro recommended.