Academic journal article African Studies Review

Media Accountability and Democracy in Nigeria, 1999-2003

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Media Accountability and Democracy in Nigeria, 1999-2003

Article excerpt


This article discusses the role of the media in Nigeria's Fourth Republic between 1999 and 2003. Employing a case study approach, it highlights as well as analyzes the media's role in insisting on accountability and decency in Nigeria's notoriously corrupt public life. The media's crusade ran against the country's geopolitical divisions and revived the debate on the national question as well as the media's own morality. The article draws on both primary and secondary data to examine the media's role in an emergent democracy.

Résumé: Cet article discute du rôle des médias dans la IVe République du Nigeria entre 1999 et 2003. Il met en valeur et analyse, en utilisant l'approche de l'étude de cas, le rôle des médias dans la demande de responsabilisation et de décence dans la vie publique du Nigeria, réputée par ailleurs pour sa corruption. La croisade médiatique va à l'encontre des divisions géopolitiques du pays et ravive le débat sur la question d'intérêt national, ainsi que sur la moralité des médias. L'article s'appuie sur des données primaires et secondaires pour examiner le rôle des médias dans une démocratie naissante.

Nigeria made the transition to civilian rule in 1999 after several abortive transitions underlined by prolonged military rule and featuring successive dictators who increasingly were pitted against an aroused civil society. Following nationwide elections held between 1998 and early 1999, a government under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general, was constituted and was in the saddle for four years. In April 2003, a general election was held, and although its conduct was a source of much controversy, it constituted the basis for returning the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo to office for another term of four years under the American-style presidential system favored by the 1999 Constitution.

There is a general scholarly consensus that the 1999 transition, produced by transactions between the rump of the political class and the jaded military elite, was a shallow one, resulting in what some have characterized as transition without change (Ihonvbere 1999:6). As Bayo Adekanye informs us, "The authoritarian regime from which this country has just transited was not just a merely military-backed one, but specifically military in character, long entrenched in government and with a surfeit of corrupt interests hanging on to power" (1999:10). The continuing visibility of retired generals with financial muscle in the polity as well as an authoritarian hangover resulting from the long years of military kleptocracy represents one dimension of this problem. Other features of a regime, which, following Diamond (1999:2), can be characterized as a "low quality democracy," include debilitating intragovernmental conflicts; a parasitic political class with a rentier, cash-and-carry mentality; pervasive corruption at all levels of government in spite of a nominal anticorruption war; as well as the resurgence of ethnic, religious, and communal conflicts.

Documented evidence of the scale of corruption in the polity is provided in a 296-page audit of government finances for the year 2001, which was presented to the National Assembly on January 17, 2003. The report, prepared by the auditor-general, documents "violation of laid down financial procedures such as over invoicing, payment for jobs not done, non-retirement of cash advances, faking and alteration of receipts, double debiting and release of money without authorizations" ( This Day, Jan. 19, 2003). It should be recalled, in this connection, that Transparency International has rated Nigeria as one of the world's most corrupt nations for several years now.

Corruption, though pervasive, is not the only problem in Nigeria's Fourth Republic. Ethnic competition among its major ethnic groups, namely, Hausas, Ibos, and Yorubas, as well as between the major groups and the increasingly restive minorities, remain intractable problems. …

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