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ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of newspaper structure and direction on the coverage of the Niger Delta Crises by newspapers in Nigeria.

The study adopted the Agenda-Setting Theory and the Gate-Keeping Theory for its theoretical framework. Overall, the review of literatures showed that ownership and direction exerts a considerable influence on news coverage.

Content analysis was used as the research method to investigate the activities of four selected national daily newspapers, namely:- Financial Standards, Business Day, The Guardian and This Day. The Coding sheet was used as the measuring instrument to generate data.

The analysis of the study showed that the conventional newspapers reported more news items on the Niger-Delta crises than the financial newspapers.

The study also established that conventional newspapers devoted more space to the coverage of the event than the financial newspapers.

Nevertheless, adequate prominence was given to the mayhem as these national, daily newspapers in large cases featured the event as their front page lead stories for several days.

CHAPTER ONE

BACKGROUND

The Niger Delta is an unstable area of Nigeria, and inter-ethnic clashes are common - often access to oil revenue is the trigger for the violence. Pipelines are regularly vandalized by impoverished residents, who risk their lives to siphon off fuel. Vandalism is estimated to result in thousands of barrels of crude oil wastage every day - a loss to the Nigerian economy of millions of dollars each year. Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil-producing nation. However, mismanagement and successive military governments have left the country poverty-stricken.

Although many observers of the South-South think primarily of youths invading oil company properties when they think of conflict there, in fact the roots of South-South conflicts lie deeper in history and in the contemporary social circumstances of the area. Contemporary history of the Delta can be summarized as economic decline and broken promises. Historically, Delta communities prospered as “middlemen” controlling trade with the interior, particularly palm oil products and slaves. But with the development of the colonial state and independence, the region experienced a steady decline and stagnation, for no new sources of wealth developed there to replace these activities.

More recently, the failure of the early independent Nigerian government to follow through on a promise to treat the Delta as a special development area, the steady reduction in the share of oil royalties that states in the Delta have received, and, finally, the habitual disregard of state needs by non-indigenous military state governors, continued and worsened Delta problems. The Federal Government of Nigeria’s neglect of the Delta’s development (roads, schools, electricity, and health services all ended well inland before reaching coastal communities), Nigeria’s overall economic decline since the mid-1980s, and the tendency of educated Delta youths to leave the area, have confirmed its status as an economic backwater. The people who remained behind simply lacked prospects elsewhere.

The complexity of issues and number of stakeholders involved exacerbate South-South problems. The Delta, in part because of its riverine/swamp topography, has historically been politically extremely fragmented, and subject to frequent and at times violent disputes over land and fishing rights, as well as over traditional leaders’ political jurisdictions. These all lead to cycles of “revenge violence.” As more powerful weapons became available in the Delta in the mid- and late-1990s, disputes became more violent. Youth gangs became more powerful who were willing and able to protect their villages and elders. As democratic competition returned in 1998–1999, some of these same youths took up a new line of activity, paid disruption of campaign events, and/or provided candidates protection from such unwanted attentions. Finally, traditional leaders have lost much credibility and respect as they have been corrupted by payments from the military government and the oil companies. There is an inevitable and serious conflict of interest between Delta communities that bear the environmental damage of oil extraction and the rest of the nation for which oil money is essentially a free good.

The violent crises in the oil producing region of the Niger-Delta have a long history. It could be traced to the British colonial rule in that part of Nigeria when the principle of ethnic and national autonomy was preserved through the doctrine of indirect Rule introduced by Lord Frederick Lugard. During this period, Warri and other towns were established in the 1890’s which gave birth to other systems of local administration. This followed as much as possible, the principle of ethnic autonomy. In other words, the various ethnic groups in the region attained a level of independence that made it possible for them to administer their councils directly.  In all the Niger-Delta provinces, Local Councils were established for the Urhobos, Isokos, Ijaws, Itsekiris and Ukwanis after which the same system was extended to other minority groups in the region. This arrangement continued into the 1940’s when Sir Arthur Richard’s Federal Constitution came into effect. With the introduction of this constitution, more impetus was added to the powers wielded by the local councils in all the constituent ethnic groups and in order that the autonomy of the people of the region is preserved, the British colonial administration adhered to the idea of unity in diversity. For example, the Western Regional Government in the Old Warri province created the Gbaramatu, Egbema, Ogbe-Ijoh, Warri Divisional and later the Warri Urban District Councils. The same thing was then replicated in other places in the region which engendered peaceful co-existence and gave a sense of belonging to the people.

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEES BY OGBEMUDIA ADMINISTRATION

As recently as 1977, the principle of local administration remained popular and paramount for the sole purpose that it will aid the speedy development of the region as the diverse ethnic groups had their multi-faceted need. Even during the military era between 1966 and 1975, the governments in power at various stages adhered to this principle because of the relative peace it had caused in the region. For instance, in 1974 the Ogbemudia government of the old mid-Western Region established Development Committees for the region. In the Warri division there was; Warri Urban Development Committee, Ode-Itsekiri Development Committee, Ogbe-Ijoh Development Committee, Benin River Development Committee, Egbema Development Committee, Ugborodo Development Committee, Gbaramatu Development Committee and koko Development Committee. These committees it is widely believed was set up promote the mutual co-existence of all ethnic groups in the region and the recognition of the identity and aspirations of the various ethnic groups (Niger-Delta Peace Conference: 2005).

However, the peace that have permeated the region for sometime apart from pockets of ethnic and communal clashes seem to have come to a halt, because the federal government which has little or no knowledge about the peculiarities and needs of the region have continued to control proceeds accruable from crude oil being explored from the region. As a consequence, the system of ruling and resource sharing which the British Colonial administration and subsequent post-independent governments used in stabilizing the area was destroyed. This is one of the major causes of the current instability and violence in the region.

From what has been happening in the region, it is clear that the present arrangement lacks the necessary ingredient for achieving peace and stability in the area. To this end, it is imperative that urgent steps are taken by the Federal Government to fashion out an administrative and developmental framework that would guarantee equitable and fair distribution of wealth accruable from the natural resources been harnessed in the region. For now, the focus should be on how to build an efficient system of allowing the local administrations to have a significant control of the resources so that they can meet the yearnings of the people and speedy development of the region.

GOVERNOR JAMES O. IBORI’S ADMINISTRATION

According to the Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, in his address to the Delta State House of Assembly on the Niger-Delta Crises on Thursday, June 15, 2005, he said:

“The primary constitutional duty in our democracy is to establish order, peace and good government for our people. Therefore, in times of crises and fierce conflict as these, we are challenged. We must respond appropriately to give hope to our people and uplift the spirit and great values of democracy” (Ibori 2005:16)

For several, painful weeks, residents of the Niger-Delta especially, towns and creeks in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States have learnt never to go to bed at night with their two eyes closed. It is important to note that six states (Rivers, Cross Rivers, Edo, Bayelsa, Delta), make up the oil producing states of Niger-Delta but three of the states have remained volatile in since the return to democratic governance in 1999. Not withstanding the presence of armed military personnel and other security apparatus put in place, militants in the region have learnt to strike at will with trepidation and force, not minding the number of casualties and consequences of their actions on the image of the nation.

To the consternation of the government and peace loving people, not even the massive deployment of soldiers, mobile police and naval personnel to all the nooks and crannies of the oil rich region has made the situation any better or made the militants lessen their offensives on oil installations, gas pipelines, oil wells and foreign oil workers.

Living in the Niger-Delta these days has become a worrisome headache for residents who live in fear and danger as they don’t know what will happen the next minute. Residents now have to avoid being caught in cross fires between the military personnel’s and the heavily-armed militants. In some parts of the region, curfew is in place to checkmate the inordinate actions of militant groups. The curfew imposed last 6pm and 6am.

Temporary succour came the way of residents in some parts of the region when their state governors at different times in October of 2006, ordered that the curfew be partially lifted to ease the plight of residents whose businesses had been severely affected by the curfew.

Nevertheless, the goodwill of easing the curfew by the state governors have continued to suffer abuses by the militants who in no time launch fierce attacks on oil installations and expatriates working in the region.

As it is presently, the Niger-Delta can be considered a region under siege by different militant groups led by Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and a few other veiled militants group claiming to be fighting for the people of the region. This has been making residents adjust to a new way of life and doing business in the presence of gun-totting soldiers, naval and mobile policemen that are carefully positioned in strategic places in the region.

The foreign community and visitors are sometimes compelled to believe that the Niger-Delta region is a hot-bed of gangsterism and fierce battle because of youths who mill around town wielding deadly and sophisticated weapons. Their audacity knows no bounds as they even move close to military formations to prove that they can match the security personnel fire for fire. Almost every child, youth and adult in the Niger-Delta have become so used to the sight of guns that they have coined names for it. Guns and rifles go by such names as: “Knock-out”, “toy” or “pure water”, depending on the sophistication. Some youths even dance with elation when staccato bursts of gunshots from troops or the militants rend the calm air of Warri, Bonny, Ahoada, Buguma, Degma, Isiokpo, Nembe, Okrika, Brass, Oporoma, Igbani, Degema etc. (Joseph Evah: 2005)

Whichever way it is viewed, residents are gradually being toughened by their daily exposure to maiming of lives and destruction of property. Sometimes, the playing up of ethnic sentiments in order to unleash terror on innocent visitors and law-abiding residents going about their lawful trades or activities have caused many residents to flee to other places where relative peace can be felt. Hence, vigilance is now the watchword in the oil city.

According to the coordinator of the Niger Delta Peace Coalition, Zik Gbemre in a press interview: he said;

“The number of sophisticated weapons in the hands of youth is alarming. Government needs to do something urgently about this because it portends grave danger to the whole state and the Niger Delta region” (Gbemre: 2005)

These days, it is easy to find gun-wielding youths walking confidently in the streets, on motorcycles popularly known as Okada or in dark alleys of unlit abodes. With reckless abandon, they kill and maim, sometimes quietly and undetected by the hordes of soldiers, mobile policemen and naval personnel drafted to maintain peace across the region.

All avenues to explore peace in the region and hopes of finding a lasting solution to the violence in the city get bleak by the day. Not even the olive branch waved by the Federal and state governments have yielded much fruits. Even where incentives and motivations were offered, the peace in the region has only remained temporary. It is no wonder therefore that, the Federal Government launched a new squad tagged “Operation Restore Hope”, to tackle violence in the region.

With various traditional institutions, it is interesting to note that the leaders have not been able to bring about lasting peace in the embattled region. Rather, some have been found to have been supporting the youths in causing confusion in the region. In some cases, the leaders appear to have narrow interests that have only further deepened the crises. The failure to offer quality leadership has only translated to pain for residents, visitors and expatriates working in the region.

Nowadays, it is not a strange act to see residents in some parts of the Niger-Delta raising both hands while walking on the streets. This portrays an act of friendliness or harmlessness when approaching road-blocks mounted in strategic positions by the soldiers or the mobile policemen.

Learning how to dodge and avoid stray bullets is a practice everyone must imbibe to be able to survive in the Niger-Delta these days. The fierce fighting particularly in some parts of Bayelsa between militants and soldiers has continued to expose everyone in the state and by extension the region to grave and unfortunate danger. City life in the region is near dead and except adequate steps are taken by the Federal Government to enthrone lasting peace, the crises may snowball in to a full blown war which will consequently cause the fortunes of the nation to dwindle.

According to Governor Ibori (2006:18):

“Delta State the Big Heart of Nigeria, is historically a child of circumstance. It was conceived in ethnic agitations. Born in ethnic and sectarian agitations and it has continued to thrive in the midst of fierce agitations, mutual ethnic distrust and acrimony. I must say, however that in our ethnic diversity lays the strength of the state. The fascinating ethnic composition of the state provides us socio-economic and political advantage of unity in diversity. Democracy together with its attendant challenges is an added advantage for enhancing the strength of the state.”

PROBLEM STATEMENT

This research project is intended to examine the roles played by the Nigerian press in the coverage of violence in the Niger-Delta while considering their angle of publication. In an ideal society, communication plays a prominent role especially in the process of governance. By extension, the importance of the print medium as a communication link cannot be disputed.

According to Akinfeleye (1988:47)

“The socio-political ideology of a nation is reflected in the type of press system that operates in that society. That is to say that in a nation that operates the Democratic system of Government, it is assumed that its mass media system will be free- that is to say, they will be moving towards the basic concept of rationality, freedom, liberty, open market place of ideas and so on.”

“On the other hand, a nation that operates the authoritarian system of government, the mass media systems will be moving towards some controls, irrationality and authoritarianism.”                             

Newspaper coverage of issues of national interests is more relevant as a vehicle of development in any society. Therefore, this study is set to examine the roles played by the Nigerian press in its report of the Niger Delta oil crisis.

Based on this, an attempt will be made in drawing a comparative analysis on the following as regards the coverage of the crisis.

A        -    The number of news that was published between September and        

                October 2006. 

B        -    The amount of space that was devoted to news during the period  

                under review.

C        -    The level of prominence given to news.

PURPOSE OF STUDY

Basically, every research project is informed by some reasons. To this end therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to evaluate the performance of the press in carrying out its primary duty of surveillance of the environment and correlation of the parts of the society as regards the coverage of the Niger-Delta crises.

The extent and nature of coverage, involves whether or not the press adequately covered the crises and whether or not the coverage was executed professionally and objectively. Or whether or not the events mirrored were over-sensationalized, politicized, trivialized and badly distorted. It will also be necessary to determine in the assessment whether there were glaring cases of unethical reporting - that is cases of unverified reporting and the peddling of outright falsehood - and how such practice in a way, if any helped in fanning the embers of the crises.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

This study will be of great significance to the print media that is newspaper industry, in terms of content development in crises situations. It will help to evaluate the performance of the print media in reporting violence. It will also contribute to existing literature on the role of the media in news development.

It will also be a benchmark for governments to assess and manage the violence.

The study will help the publishers to be aware of their level of adequacy in enlightening the masses about issues in the environment, which will allow them focus more on the issues that need urgent attention.

Besides these, the Nigeria Press council (NPC) will benefit from this study, as the council will be able to assess the performance and adherence of the Nigeria press in the 4th Republic as regards journalistic standards and ethics it has laid down.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Every research, project, no doubt, intends to answer some questions in a somewhat scientific way.

The following questions have therefore been short listed for investigation in this project:

1.            Between the conventional and financial newspapers, which one gave a more in-depth report of the crises?

2.            Did the conventional newspaper dedicate more news space to the crises than the financial newspapers?

3.            Is the conventional newspaper more balanced in their reports than the financial newspapers?

4.            Do the sources from which the conventional newspaper and the financial newspaper derive their stories from differ?

5.            Did the conventional newspaper over-sensationalize its report more than the financial newspapers did?

6.            What is the predominant form of coverage? (In terms of news reports, features, letters to the editor, opinion articles, cartoons, pictures and editorials).  

DEFINITION OF TERMS

A.      Crisis: In relation to an environment, is a time of danger or suspense in politics. It could also be a situation reaching a critical phase that is an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.

B.       Newspaper: The Nigerian Press Law defines a newspaper to mean; Any paper containing public news, intelligence, or any remarks or observations…containing only or principally advertisements.

C.      Newspaper Coverage: This is the extent or degree to which an issue is observed, analyzed and reported by a print publication in terms of features, news, opinion articles, editorials, pictures etc.

D.      Direction:    Defines by Lasswell as “the attitude expressed towards any symbol by its user”. It is usually categorized as favourable, unfavourable and neutral.

E.       News Report:  Factual accounts of events or activities connected to the issue in focus.

F.       Editorials:  Collective opinion of a news medium in relation to issue under study.

G.      Picture: Photographic representation of activities, persons or events that in a way relate to the area of concern in this study.

H.      Feature, Opinion Articles:  The views, perceptions on specific events as expressed by newspaper columnists, correspondents and non-paid contributors.

I.        Slanting: Deliberate misrepresentation of facts of favour the selfish interest of the media owner and/or the journalist.

J.       Objectivity: Means the news comes to the readers untainted by any personal bias or outside influence that would make it appear anything but what it is.

K.       Prominence: This refers to the position (front page lead, front page minor, back page minor, inside page) in the newspaper that was given to the subject or issue.

L.       Ownership: This is the dominion the publisher has to control/or influence the news items published in the newspaper. It could be government or private ownership influence.

M.      Front Page Lead Story: News items published as the main story on the front page of a newspaper. It usually has the biggest headline on the front page.

N.      Front Page Minors: Other stories published on the front page apart from the main or lead story.

O.      Back Page Lead Story:  News item published as the main story on the back of a newspaper. It usually carries the biggest headline on the back page.

P.       Back Page Minors: Any other news stories published on the back page of a newspaper apart from the back page lead story   


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