Seun Okinbaloye hosts Channels TV's 'Sunday Politics' and 'Politics Today,' two of Nigeria’s most-watched political programmes and has interviewed some of Nigeria’s most prominent leaders including serving governors, federal lawmakers, and former leaders.
Foreign Policy has described Nigeria’s vote on 25 February as 2023’s most important election.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country, with an estimated 93.4 million voters registered to cast ballots for presidential and national assembly candidates.
Political parties appear to be employing influencers who spread disinformation, according to a report by the BBC Disinformation Unit.
Five takeaways from Seun’s talk
Beware of over-focusing on big cities. Seun spoke about the media's focus on Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, and how this can sometimes draw attention away from what’s happening in the rest of the country. “There is that tendency that you deploy almost every resource that you have into the city of Lagos. Because of its numbers, Lagos can give you a false sense of presence. But this is something that as journalists, we need to be aware of so that we can make the necessary adjustments,” Seun said.
Social media is important. Social media and digital platforms are valuable tools to both observe the political debate taking place and also as a way to reach younger audiences with journalism. “You will see that most of the candidates are very active on social media. It tells you one thing: they are cautious about what young people are saying because take it or leave it, social media is young people's tool … especially Twitter. Twitter is abuzz about every topic in Nigeria's election,” Seun said. He added that this is one of the reasons why he has started a podcast in addition to his TV programmes: to reach young audiences where they already are.
Lean on expertise. Covering elections is always complicated, especially so in a country as large and as populated as Nigeria. “This is where the expertise comes in, the experience of newsroom managers and field reporters who have done elections in the past and who understand how elections operate,” Seun said. This experience is needed to tackle the challenges of coverage, such as zeroing in on communities that are representative of larger swathes of the population, diversifying the images that are televised, and more.
Ask the tough questions. Speaking about the topic of corruption, an important issue in the election, Seun recalls how he confronted a politician on his TV show, tackling the issue head-on. “I had a very fierce programme with the spokesperson of a political party over the issue of the allegations levelled against the candidate of their party, basically doing my job as a journalist, asking the question … It was a big deal. We were reported to a [media] regulator just because of that. I don't mind being reported on, and I don't think my boss minds me being reported to the regulator for doing the right thing, it is for the regulator to decide whether we did the wrong or the right thing, but this is a very major issue,” Seun said.
Prepare for possible outages around the election dates. In light of outages during past elections, Channels TV has prepared a backup plan to make sure their coverage can continue, Seun said, adding that he couldn’t share exactly what these plans are. “We've made adequate plans should there be a shutdown on election day… There is a possibility, there was a scare yesterday; one of the major networks went offline for about two hours. And that is my telephone network provider. And for two hours, you're not able to make calls. That is a test of what will happen on election day,” Seun said.
The bottom line
Covering the election in Nigeria will be a challenge for journalists. Not only in the run-up but also on polling day and in the days and weeks that follow. Reporters play an important role in the democratic process, so it is essential to ensure that coverage is representative, addresses key issues by asking tough questions when necessary, and reaches as wide an audience as possible, including young people who may not follow traditional channels. It’s also a good idea to prepare a contingency plan in case things go wrong on election day. For all of these actions, it can be useful to rely on the expertise of experienced journalists and newsroom managers who have faced this situation before.