Reporting #ENDSARS: The Media as Protesters

The #ENDSars protest which has been the bulk of the story on the news has taken a new toll as the National Broadcast Commission (NBC) sanctioned major broadcast stations for violating broadcasting code during the protest. The stations include AIT, Channels TV and Arise TV.

According to the commission, the stations contributed to the increase in violence around the nation. They were fined N3 million each based on the Nigeria Broadcasting Code which states that ‘the broadcaster shall be held liable for any breach of the Code emanating from the use of material from User Generated Sources’.

Prof. Amstrong Idachaba, the acting Director-General of the Commission referred to the handling of the protest as an ‘unprofessional conduct’. He compared the manner of approach media houses professionally conducted the challenge of the covid-19 crisis to the protest stating the media cannot be praised concerning the coverage of the #ENDSars protest.

There has been a steady follow-up of the protest by the media. The #ENDSars has become a worldwide clamor. Although the government has responded to the five-point demands and also taken the needed step in the appropriation of the reforms, the protest still persisted. Yemi Osibanjo, the Vice President publicly apologized to protesters and informed them of the Federal Government’s effort in meeting their demands. He revealed that a meeting was being held with the 36 State governors and the Minister of the FCT (NEC) in which they resolved to set up a judicial panel of inquiry.

Mohammed Adamu, the IGP disbanded SARS in response to the order made by President Muhammadu Buhari. He also instructed all Police units to report to the force headquarters for debriefing, psychological and medical examination. A new security outfit–the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) was then set up. In addition, the Presidential Panel on Police Reform endorsed the five demands of #ENDSARS protesters.

The concentration which has been more on the protesters has led to the faulting of some media houses. The issue of balance has been raised as the protesters’ voice seems to be the most heard in comparison to the government’s response in regards to the issue.

The NBC stated that the information regarding the protest and the Lekki shootings were embraced by some media houses without a verifiable source. The media houses were also accused of uploading pictures and videos that would incite violence and stimulate anger. The prolonged and constant coverage has brought about insinuations that the media vehemently promoted the protest.

The Lekki tollgate incident which reportedly involved the killings of the protesters. A viral video revealed that protesters were being shot by security operatives. This brought a lot of uproar in the nation. There were different reports regarding the number of casualties during the incident. Video footage revealed that the security operatives opened fire on peaceful protesters. An investigation reportedly revealed that 62 people were killed nationwide in the protests. Victims include protesters and thugs.

The protest was subsequently hijacked by hoodlums who took advantage of the protest to loot and steal as they please. There had been constant looting of warehouses to steal COVID-19 palliatives. The motive behind the looting is yet unknown. The looting which started from Lagos has extended to Oyo, Osun, Plateau, Ondo, Jos, Kwara, Edo, Abuja and other states. Most government offices, banks, shopping malls, media houses, toll plazas, and private offices were set ablaze by hoodlums.

The hoodlums in Calabar, in their search for COVID-19 palliatives, destroyed several private businesses and government buildings. Public and private properties were destroyed. Houses of prominent citizens were raided and vandalized like Senators Gershom Bassey and Udoma Egba.

Abuja also witnessed the activities of hoodlums as they invaded the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Orientation Camp in the Kubwa area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, carting away mattresses, utensils, electronics, and other items. The hoodlums also burnt down over 50 cars at Apo Mechanic village in Abuja. The cars, displayed for sale at a car stand, were set ablaze. Dutse Makaranta police station in Kubwa area of Abuja was also burnt down.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu gave a rough assessment of over N1 trillion to rebuild public and private property destroyed by hoodlums in Lagos. Gbenga Omotosho, the State Commissioner for Information, said 27 of the destroyed BRT vehicles cost $200,000 each, while 57 of them cost $100,000 each, all totaling about N3.9 billion. According to the police, the 25 stations were burnt down in Lagos.

Banks have begun taking stock of their losses. Preliminary assessment of the damage arising from attacks on financial institutions and their assets by hoodlums, showed that more than 67 bank branches were destroyed and many automated teller machines (ATMs) damaged. The number of branches affected could be higher than the stated figure as some of the financial institutions said they were yet to ascertain the exact number of their branches and ATMs that were affected.

Segun Awosanya, Human right activist who propelled the movement withdrew from the protest. He also noted that the movement had begun to become a threat to the integrity of the nation.

He said, ‘Jumping from social reform already in gear without consultation to the original organization that’s been on it since 2017, staging coordinated attacks on prominent reform advocates and then using a credible advocacy’s campaign to raise funds through an unregistered NGO, threatening the integrity of our nation and gunning for youth insurrection in the name of #EndSARS. Is this even sane?’ he asked in his statement.

The protest has digressed from its first intention and presently, it lacks definition. It seems like the nation is heading nowhere as major national issues are disregarded and all focus is concentrated on the happenings that concerned the #ENDSars protests. This is also as a result of daily uploads that focused on the subject. The media assisted in advancing the protest which gave an impression of their support to the #ENDSars. The approach of the media was directed towards a call for people to support the protest. It became an advertising agent embracing the protest and allowing it to fill the gap between some of their programs. Media houses gave opportunities to various personalities that were under the pretext of #ENDSars but in pursuit of their agenda of regime change.

The consequence of such acts has created differing opinions. The decisions made by the government to restore harmony in the nation have been halted. Idachaba noted in his speech that with the impact of modern technology which grants citizens participation in journalism, there’s the need for broadcasters to be more cautious of their editorial responsibility.

The #ENDSars protest and the looting that follows it calls into question what the role of the media should be in terms of promoting national equality, unity, and sovereignty of the nation. The media plays a major role in enhancing, dissipating, or aggravating the happenings, sentiments, and biases in the nation. Information needs to be passed across to the people, but it should not promote rivalry or dissention. Media Balance must be achieved and this is the responsibility of the media

Peace Omenka

Photo Credit: Businessday

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