The Press In Nigerian Politics: Analysis Of Issues And Patterns Of News Coverage

The Press In Nigerian Politics: Analysis Of Issues And Patterns Of News Coverage

The Press In Nigerian Politics: Analysis Of Issues And Patterns Of News Coverage



The literature for this study was largely drawn from existing theories and empirical studies that are related to the subject matter. The press in Nigeria politics: a historical analysis of issues, and pattern of news coverage.

The literature relied more on the existing theories and empirical studies in the areas of mass-communication, psychology, political, advertising as well as political communication. In this regard, relevant texts, well researched papers presented at seminars, and symposia, articles in professional journals, pamphlets on political advertising and communication as well as unpublished works were extensively reviewed in this study.


The press has played vital role in Nigerian politics and development in most cases. It tremendously played the catalytic and watching roles. In other instances, it was accused of derailing in playing these noble roles and toeing the line of prevarication. Umechukwu (2001:85) seem thinking when he says … “The Nigerian press have often been accused of aggravating the ugly situation through sinister prevarication in their reportage of events, (politics, riots, religions conflicts) etc.

Inspite of this, controversy and dust raising, the press in Nigeria are known to have performed creditably in the reproduction of intangibles such as consciousness which are crucial to the development process. Agbaje (1989:295) said this reproduction is at three levels namely media content, media evolution and media context. According to Schramm (1964:19) countries in a hurry cannot afford the luxury of an inert mass. They require the active and informed cooperation of their village people as well as their city people. Their human resources are indispensable.

Therefore, they are going to have to speed the flow of information, offer education where it has never been offered before, teach literacy and technical skills very wisely. This is the only way they can arouse and prepare their populace to climb the economic mountains and the only way they can do it and keep the time table they have in mind is to make full use of modern communication.

Going by the picture pictured above by Schramm many decades ago, it is glaringly evident that the organs of mass-communication occupy a crucial place of pride in whatever kind of goal a nation wishes to pursue be it politics, economic, technological, physical or otherwise. Whichever way one sees, communication, it is intricately intentioned with politics and political relationships. Mac Bride (1980:18) appear to be in agreement with this line of thought when he asserts politics to use the word “elevate” sense of the word, has an indissoluble relationship with communication. To ascertain and validate the veracity of the above quoted statement. Two basic, through related questions come to mind been generously provided by Mac Bride. How much, and in what ways does politics influences communication? And then how much, and in what ways can communication influence politics? According to him, the crucial relationships are those between communication and power, and between communication and freedom.

Indeed, mass media (press) have direct as well as effects on political learning. A high level of exposure to political information in the media not only leads to a higher level of political knowledge. It may also encourage discussion of political issues with the friends and family members. This does not mean that the press is the sole agent or organ that can be used to bring about attitude change and persuation. Surely, empirical studies conducted in the past amply reveal that interpersonal communication on its own part plays crucial roles in persuation attitude change, as well as in decision making.

Supporting the view, Okoye (2000:27) states that interpersonal communication and mass-communication interact in many ways, sometimes reinforcing or notifying each other.

Sean Mac Bride et al (1980) supports the above assertion in their study of the links between interpersonal and medicated communication. They found that mass media (press) can effectively change people’s perception but interpersonal communication is more likely to be effective when the goal is attitudinal change.


Akpunonu (1999:3) in putting in the right perspective the torturous journey which the press and its operators had witnessed in its struggle for freedom writes that, “from inceptions the media particularly the electronic media remained the monopoly of government”. The reason behind government easy disposition and interest in having unfettered control over radio and television in nigeria over such a long period of time is not yet known. However, Anyaegbudike (2002:40) constructively argues that Nigeria as a country is not alone in this quest and desire to exert tremendous influence on the press when he says, “it should be noted that government in various parts of the world see broadcast media as very powerful instruments for leading public opinion and mobilizing the people. Over the years, the arguments have been ranging in a bid to truly identify the positive and negative roles of governance participation and ownership of the media.

One of the consequences which can be mentioned out rightly is that government owned propaganda in the hands of successive governments.

Sills (1968), maintains that the first mass media come into being in Western Europe under authoritarian governments that were already concerned over the emergence of an ambitious middle class and justifiably worried over what printed (and later broadcast) matter might do to arouse the people against power centers.

It is against the Scenario painted above that led respective governments of the time to take steps to control the news media through patents, or licences to publish given only to person regarded as politically “safe” and therefore cannot rock the ship of state.

Inspite of the seeming negative implications of government ownership of the media in pheralistic Africa and other communist favoured nations, there are other factors, which tend to have impact on geo-political changes in the Nigerian Federation. It includes the following ethnicity and ethnic groups, ideological and class cleavages and religions. This may be responsible for Ugboaja (1980:36) position and contention. “That ownership may not be as strong as geo-graphical location in moulding newspaper opinion and reportage in the Nigerian circumstances.

“The newspaper’s attitude is usually a function of geographical location ethnic more than ownership and certainly guided by ethnic constituencies the paper serves.

Thus, in examining personal and the context of media management Ugboaja (1977:5) further states categorically hat “the ethnic factor is identified as the major, if not the sole force shaping press communication, especially in competition for political power. The perspective nevertheless identifies one positive element with this “ethnicization” of the press: namely that of enhancing press freedom in the liberal – plural sense.

It ensures free flow of information and maintenance of a continued critical role, and relative freedom for the Nigeria mass media.

It helps ensure ethnicity, credibility, and verification of government information and statements.

It is important for generating socio-political awareness among listeners and eliciting feedback.

Finally, it sets a climate for individual free expression of opinion and image of democracy even under a military regime.

It is thus argued that, “the press is free in Nigeria inspite of the fact they are owned by various governments and inspite of the ethnic factor which filters and beclouds its objectivity – “the press owned by on ethnic group could expose wrong doings of others from a different ethnic group”. (A Ciroma: 1981).


A British Peter Golding (1983) writes that “the Nigeria (press) journalism was born of anti-colonial protest, baptized in the flood of nationalist propaganda and matured in part politics”. The above assertion succinctly captures the summary of the evolutionary stages and development of the Nigerian press in 1859 by Rev. Henry Townsend in Egbaland of Abeokuta.

As earlier stated, the key rationale that informed missionary participation and operations of the print media in Nigeria was to increase the level of literacy among Nigerians so as to enhance their activities. Other reasons bound among which was to produce more Christian faithful (converts) who can read and write, and in the process assist in the propagation of what was generally believed to be the new faith.

The inheritance of the early press by Nigerians and other black émigré marked a turning point in the history of the country’s press system as a new role was ear-marked. This new role or objectives thus became the raising of political consciousness among fellow Nigerians and aggressively seeking for their nation.

Another major factor that influenced press participation in the politics of Nigeria has been captured by Umechukwu (2001:64) when he writes: “Other Nigerians who participated in Niger trade but were pushed out of trade by European monopolists also sought to influence trends and to realize their dreams of dignity through the press”.

Fred Omu (1978) seems to be in the same frame of mind when he said: “The early press was essentially a political press established to oppose the oppressed by the government”.

Madaki quoting Jose Babatunde (1988) in his paper on journalism and national survival affirms that, “it was a press of protest” used to confront the colonial government.

According to Babatunde, seditious and criminally libelous articles were written against colonial government in the name of nationalism. This ugly state of affairs not withstanding if it remarkable to state that the militant posture of the early press helped in bringing about constitutional quarantines and reforms upon which the sustenance of the present Nigeria revolves.

The trend continued unabated Macpherson constitution of 1951 granted responsible government to Nigeria. At this point, there was a retreat which saw national press backslide in its attack of colonial government and the use of their media to propagate and defend the politics of the parties they serve. This singular action gave rise and rent to the use of the press for sectional and ethnic politics in Nigeria. Shortly after, a quarrel arose as a result between the daily service of Earnest Okoli and S.L. Akintola and West African Pilot of the Late Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe between 1939 to 1944. This has led to antagonism, bickering and mutual suspicion till date.

Infact, it has since intensified and according to Graham Mytton (1983:34) when independence was assured, further party newspapers appeared as it became clear that owing a newspaper was a necessary part of a successful political campaign. It was in the light of the foregoing scenario that as at 1959, the Owelle of Onitsha and first Governor General of Nigeria, Late Azikiwe and NCNC party controlled 10 newspapers while their political rival, the Action Group Party led by late Chief Obefemi Awolowo, controlled 14 newspapers.

Umechukwu summarized the state of rivalry between the eastern and western press thus: “the suspicion and rivalry was exacerbated by the fact all the nationalist wanted to succeed the colonial government and assume leadership at independence”.


The first republic press manifested the kind of traits that characterized the pre-independence press era. The Northern, Eastern, and Western governments were used. The press during the struggle to control the central governemtn in Lagos, the parties which had ethnic colouration strongly supported their regions without brooking any qualms as to what became of the country as entity. They engaged in bitter polemics and character assassinations. A deep study of the establishment pattern of broadcasting media in Nigeria would readily reveal that it was a political creation meant to represent the views and aspirations of the zones/regions.

Fred Omu (1978:248) capitulates the activities of the first republic press thus: “in the major events of sixties, the Action Group Crises of 1962, the 1962-63 and 1963-64 census and the federal election 1964 and its aftermath. Newspaper example of over zealous and irresponsible partisanship and recklessness”.


During the second republic 1979-1983, five parties existed namely, NPN, GNPP, NPP, UN, and NAP. At the end of the transaction programme that started in earnest in 1978 Alhaji Usman Aliju Shehu Shagari emerged President and was subsequently sworn in.

Shortly after wards, politicians who lost and could not be appeased by the Shagari led NPN went back and revived their “press of protest” – a replica of the kind of press performance during the pre independence era.

Chief M.K.O. Abola, a stunch NPN stalwart was very prominent in this regard as he established the highly successful CONCORD chain of newspapers to counter the criticism mounted by the Tribune of the Tribune of the (Yoruba) UPN party and similar parties.

This was a remarkable period indeed leading to the proliferation of private and government owned newspapers, state owned television (A.T.V) channel 50, Enugu the star television, the Ogun State TV Abeokuta, Imo Broadcasting Radio and T.V. (I.B.C.). The unprecedented rise in organsing mass-communication is what Udo (1984:33) describes as, “machineries” of propaganda to political parties and vested interest whose activities shock the unity of the nation to its foundation”. There was confusion in the land and the federal government for fear that media owners could use the media to manipulate election results passed the National Assembly Electoral Act 6 1982 few months into the general election. Their fears was founded as election results being broadcast reflected only the interest of the party controlling the very media.


After the demise of Late General Sani Abacha, his successor, Retired General Abudsalanni Abubakar mounted a realistic transition programme. He was visibly convinced that the country and its people were tired of military rule. Soon after the lifting on ban on party politics, various groups began to use the press to further their political interests. This leads to the colossal spending of large sum of money voted for any electioneering campaign has substantial influence on the success or failure of a given political aspirant and his parts especially in developing countries of the world like Nigeria.

Jossy Nkwocha et al (1999) seem to be reasoning in this direction when they opined in their scholarly treatise titled: “Obasanjo Versus Falae” How the battle was won that money is very vital in electioneering campaigns and they further contended that one of the crucial factors that led to the emergence of general Olusegun Obasanjo as the winner of the February 27, 1999 Presidential election was his huge campaign fund. But stressing the overwhelming influence of money on electoral campaigns, the researcher noted that shortly after general Obasanjo was nominated as the P.D.P. Presidential flag bearer his campaign train that is adjusted or regarded as one of the most expensive in the history of democracy in Nigeria.

It is also in established fact that from the reporting of the press that over N400 million was realized at a final fund raising dinner in Abuja for Obasanjo from where he hired three aircraft to enable him prosecute his elaborate political campaign.

Stressing further, on the influence of money on electoral campaign, the researcher posits that: Obasanjo multimillion naira media campaign dominated the pages of major newspapers and magazines in the country as well as the prime air time on both radio and the television stations across the country.

His campaign secretariat in Lagos was well equipped with state of the art machines for research and communication. It is staffed with a crop of distinguished professionals who were over busy churning out press release, media advertisements campaign speeches and drawing up strategies for the general, most of the campaign staff are paid fat salaries.


In summary, it is pertinent to state that he slant was aimed at explaining the subject that is being studied which is the “the press in Nigerian politics”.

Efforts were made by the researcher to discuss the rationale behind Nigeria’s press participation in politics, how media ownership and control influence press performance, and an explanatory review of the press from pre-independence era, through the first, second, and third republic as well as the present political/democratic experiment under the leadership of retired General Olusegun Obasanjo.

The review and perhaps, the entire study discussed the “press” as both an obvious imperative and a social fact, which is significantly reveal that the press has been very active in changing people’s latent attitudinal dispositions or lukewarm attitudes positively, especially, on issues affecting and relating to politics, hence, the press is seen as a potent tool in sustenance of democracy.

Further more, the press has played and continued to play watchdog or crusaders role in holding the people entrusted with governance accountable to the people of Nigeria.

The review contains an in-depth analysis of previous works done on related areas and went further to stress the invaluable contributions of the press of Nigeria’s political and over all development.


This chapter deals with the analysis and presentation of raw materials collected in relation to the study. A total of 154 copies of questionnaires were distributed to the selected sample in a face to face situation. A total of 150 representing 97.4% of the questionnaire were completed and returned by the respondents. As a result, four copies of the questionnaire not returned were considered invalid. Thus, the response rate was satisfactory, highly significant and exceptionally adequate for the study.



The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the place and contributions of the press in Nigerian politics and to specifically analyse past, current issues and news coverage’s of political actives and further highlights its impacts or effect on the society. This objective was achieved by answering the four research questions and hypotheses posed and formulated for the study.

Research question one aimed at determining whether or not Nigerians think that the press is selective in its coverage of similar political issues in the country. The findings showed that a significant percentage of the respondents agree that the press is selective thus, giving vent to the belief that reporters report similar stories differently because of their individual differences and their different perceptual censes.

Research question two was aimed at determining whether or not media ownership and location, affect its pattern and tilting of news coverage’s on political events and political issues. The finding shows that nearly 70% of those location where a media organisation does its operation affects its pattern of news coverage’s on political activities and issues. When a further comparision/analysis of the respondents perception of the actual airtime devoted to political activities and stories was done, I found out that a short time (duration) was usually allocated to political stories during the military eva and that this situation has improved tremendously with the emergence of democracy.

Research questions three and hypotheses three sought to find out the implication, lack of investigative reporting and a high preponderance of views in the press hold for the media industry. The finding glaringly shows that it portends danger and is capable of stunting the growth and flourishing of a free and dynamic media system in Nigeria.

Research question four and hypotheses four sought to ascertain if sectional, ethnic and religious bias are observed in the pattern of news coverage and analysis of issues by the Nigeria press. The data collected shows that this ugly trend and unacceptable determinants of news values is in vogue today.

Some respondents cited instances where the media belonging to and located in certain geographical area of the country are used to fight for the advancement of the needs and aspirations of that ethnic group. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is still firmly seated on the saddle as the executive governor of Lagos State when allegations of perjury and falsification is hanging on his head where as TELL, TEMPO, and NEWSWATCH all western or Lagos axis press were used to unseat Salibu Buhari and Evans Enwerem, former speaker of the Federal House of representatives and president of senate respectively.

These same powerful and influential outfits chose to keep mute thus setting a wrong precedence. All in all, the contextual treatment of political stories and issues by different media organizations showed more similarly than differences. Perhaps, the major difference that exists is that the government owned ones are rarely used to criticize “persons” in power while it is used to attack people in the opposition.

Coverage of political activities, news and issues deserve a place in priority list because politics is central to the nature of society, to its development and to the functioning of economic and social institutions.

Political news coverage’s and indeed the broadcasting and analysis up political figure heads views opinion, perception, and policies is a very portent force for prompting mass mobilization, mass education, awareness, stimulating human trust and confidence and inspiring national unity. However, the findings of this study, especially the use of the press to pursue ethnic, religious and sectional interest, have made it even more imperative to review the state of news processing and dissemination of political activities in Nigeria. Thus, the need to emphasize the imbibing of core professional and ethnical consideration on the part of journalist. This position is in agreement with Onyisi (1996:136) contention that “certain structural and functional aspects of our press have to be improved on in some respects in order to make them capable of inculcating in our people the essence and spirit of democratic principles and practice.

This conclusion, it is hoped will silence those who have muted the idea that the media should not play any role in politics either as a direct force in creating awareness, shapping perceptions and educating electorate on choice of candidates and their planned programmes of action or as on interviewing variables in information dissemination. The reasons for this opposition to the apologist for press participation and reportage of political events and activities are many.

Apart from the prevalent high level of illiteracy in Nigeria on one hand and the very scant treatment given to political news stories and political activities in our press (Radio an TV) on the hand, there exists few or no viewing centers in the rural areas that habited by over 80% of the citizenry. Besides, the content of stories on political activities should be written, packaged to suit the expectations of the rural Nigerians and in the process allow them to participate in decisions making on politics and other issues that affect them generally well being.

Again, there’s need to ensure balance and objectivity in the handling of political stories. This has become even more critical and necessary now that there is a multiplicity of parties in Nigeria.


For the press to continue its relevance and perform constitutional obligations/roles of informing, educating and mobilizing members of the public on political events, issues and trends, the following recommendation are hereby made.

i. The press should stand for justice and fairness in their dealings and stead fastly uphold and adhere to the cherished concepts of objectivity, impartiality and balance in the discharge of their duties.

ii. That the press must consider society and its people first, knowing that they are the raisen d’ etre for their existence as an enterprises.

iii. That the people should embrace education while the media practitioners should see training and retraining as an on going dynamic process that is normal if they expect to live up to the credibility rating of the people.

iv. That the recent democratization and de-regulation of the media be continued but new outfits should be rural-centric.

v. The Nigerian press should embark on a kind of stock taking of its past achievements and failures in the past and consequently use the past and present as a guide to the future

vi. It is also recommended that further research be undertaken into other angles in this field of study.



Please tick “good” where appropriate example ()

1. Sex

a. Male ( )

b. Female ( )

2. Age

a. 18 yrs – 25 yrs ( )

b. 26- 31yrs ( )

3. Would you say that the mass media plays any role in politics

a. Yes ( )

b. No ( )

4. What type of role would you say it plays?

a. Educational ( )

b. Mass-awareness and enlightment ( )

c. Mass mobilization ( )

d. Guides in decision making ( )

e. All of the above ( )

5. Where do you access information that help you to know and analyse political activities and issues in Nigeria?

a. The mass media ( )

b. Interpersonal channel ( )

c. School ( )

d. Church ( )

e. All of the above ( )

6. Which of these information sources would you consider most reliable in guiding you to be properly informed?

a. Mass-media ( )

b. Interpersonal channel ( )

c. School ( )

d. Church ( )

7. Would you say that the Nigerian press is selective in dealing with similar political stories?

a. Yes ( )

b. No ( )

8. How often do you watch or listen to programmes on radio and T.V.?

a. Once a week ( )

b. Twice a week ( )

c. Daily ( )

d. No pattern ( )

9. Can one notice certain kinds of bias in news coverage’s of political activities in Nigeria?

a. Yes ( )

b. No ( )

10. How does such bias manifest itself?

a. Ethnic ( )

b. Sectional ( )

c. Religion ( )

d. All of the above ( )

11. In your opinion, do you think that lack of investigative reporting affects the quality and creditability of the Nigerian press?

a. Yes ( )

b. No ( )

12. To want degree do you think privately owned media fill the political gap left by the government owned media?

a. To a large extent [ ]

b. Minimally [ ]

13. Given the two types of media ownership, what would you consider to be the reason why the privately owned media strives towards a better gate keeping function and reliability than the government owned ones?

a. The need for audience attention [ ]

b. Need to accrue more advertising [ ]

c. None of the above [ ]

14. Would you agree that personal views, sentiments, and opinion of reporters creep into information aimed at political information audience?

a. Yes [ ]

b. No [ ]

15. Does such views meet acceptable journalistic responsibilities of reporters?

a. Yes [ ]

b. No [ ]

16. The effort of the news editor to be guided by journalistic ethics and standards for news selection often times lead to stories barely reflect the views of any interest group, what do you suggest as the remedy to the continual attack on journalists in this regards————————————————————————————————————————–

17. Press laws are aimed at checking journalistic excesses, to what degree do you advocate regulation for press?

a. Very moderate [ ]

b. Moderate [ ]

c. Very harsh [ ]

d. Harsh [ ]

e. None of the above [ ]

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