Six months after the last general election and consequent inauguration of a fresh tenure for elected officials in Nigeria’s democracy, the ripples of the election have continued to attract comments. Lessons from the elections was among the issues discussed when the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Rivers State chapter held their 2019 conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Lasien Pavilion Royal in Port Harcourt recently.
Governor of Rivers State, Chief (Barr) Nyesom Wike who was represented by the Secretary to the Rivers State Government Dr. Tammy Danagogo at the event pointed out that despite the attempt by some politicians to steal the mandate of Rivers people in the 2019 General elections, the will of the people prevailed.
According to him, peace can only be achieved when all parties work together, look beyond party lines and put the interest of the state first.
He said, “The dream of having a peaceful and progressive society cannot come until every well meaning Nigerian put their hands on deck to achieve it. Until a majority of Nigerians rise up to demand progress, it cannot come”
Governor Wike a fellow of the Institute noted the role played by the NIPR before, during and after the general elections, stating that the NIPR acted in an exemplary manner by standing against every form of intimidation and molestation by selfish politicians and some “misguided” military men.
In a lecture on, ‘Post-Election Peace Building: The Role of Public Relations, Professor Godwin Bassey Okon, a Professor of Development Communication/Media Advocacy at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt drew attention of Public Relations fellows, members and the general public to the 2019 general elections in Nigeria that was judged by both local and international observers as one of the most violent elections in the country.
Professor Okon noted that the democratic process is typified by three phases; pre-election, election and post election phases. Adding that, the political sagacity of a nation determines the peculiar underpinnings of the phases.
Okon stated that, the pre-election phase is always characterized by inflammatory rhetoric, while election proper often witnessed violence. Post-election, Okon pointed out was a period when violence and tension threaten corporate existence, adding that, the theme of the conference was timely based on outcomes of the nations electioneering process.
Okon who noted that elections in Nigeria leaves scars that could take long time to heal, mentioned some elements which he described as the post election sights and sounds in the nation. The elements include; (1) violence and vandalism (2) Tribal Polarisms (3) Litigations (4) Cracks and divisions along party lines.
He said, “public Relations’ role in peace building cannot be over-emphasized as a state of disenchantment, apathy and despondence often accompanies post-election dissonance in Nigeria.
“In such scenarios, many disciplines and professions fall flat in the face of building bridges across pluralistic divides on the one hand and mending fences of broken promises on the other hand. Public Relations, in principle and practice, is endowed with propensities to fill the void engendered by post-election dissonance while creating a pathway for sustainable peace and harmony”, the Professor said.
In ensuring sustainable peace in post-election in Nigeria, Okon outlined what he termed, “Quadrant Recipe” for public Relations experts to effectively carryout their duties. They include; (1) Research (2) advocacy (3) Lobbying (4) Special events/festivals/convocations.
He said, “What this invariably means is that the quadrant recipe as outlined is a win-win strategy that ensures fairness, equity and harmony in organic entities with dismembered constituents”.
Okon added that the task of peace-building in Nigeria will only be possible when adequate manpower are deployed for the task at hand.
In his remark, chairman of the conference and a fellow of the institute, Bro. Emmanuel Ogidi, thanked the leadership of the institute for not just putting up a timely conference, but also finding him worthy to chair the conference and AGM.
Ogidi noted that the theme of the conference was selected to open the windows for peace and unity in Nigeria after the horrible experiences of the 2019 general elections.
He said, “It is my belief that after the trauma experienced by Nigerians in the recently concluded elections; the theme of this conference is not only appropriate but hopefully would open windows for peace and unity in our country Nigeria”.
Lamenting of the poor conduct of political contenders especially the use of “violence inciting” languages during campaigns, Ogidi pointed out that political contenders can do more in promoting national unity by refraining from expressions and, acts that suggest violence.
He said, “I believe that the public conduct of political office contenders should serve as a model for peace and good relationship building across the various parties, religion and ethnicity. If contenders exhibit a gentle and not fire brand oratory speeches and actions, the violence experienced recently across the country would not have occurred.
“Nigerian elections campaigns especially, the Presidential Campaigns were violence driven but never issue-based discussions. This is often loaded with ethno-religious hate speeches and over personalization, making people to forecast electoral violence in the circumstances while others predict violent outcomes at their conclusions”, he added.
Ogidi noted that Public Relations tools remain critical in the quest for peace building, mediation between aggrieved parties and proper communication, adding that, Public relations can weaken violence motifs and promote peace and order in any nation.
Ogidi said, “Public Relations tools remain critical for engaging the public in the electioneering process. The discussions today, therefore, must identify the role of public relations communication for political peace-building, recommending that political activists, agents, parties, candidates, electorates and citizens follow pathways of peace and not violence for national developments”.
In his welcome address, chairman of NIPR, Rivers state and Permanent secretary, Ministry of information and Communication, Rivers State, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim pointed out that the conference was organized to set the agenda for a more peaceful and accommodating society that would uphold democratic principles, peaceful co-existence, cordiality, harmony and tolerance.
Recounting the achievements of the state chapter of the NIPR under his leadership, Nsirim noted that the chapters, through various programs and activities have shown professionalism and distinction not only in Rivers state but across the country, adding that more will be done in ensuring the standard is maintained.
He said, “On assumption of office, we began the rebuilding of the chapter. Through various programs and activities, NIPR Rivers State has shown professionalism not just in Rivers state but across the country. We chose the theme because we want to set an agenda for peace building, co-existence and cordiality”.
Nsirim appreciated Governor Nyesom Eziwho Wike for supporting the state chapter of the NIPR and also appreciated the organizing committee for putting up a conference of such magnitude.
In his speech, National President, NIPR, Mallam Muktar Sirajo FNIPR noted that diversity is one of the greatest endowments of Nigeria that must be respected by all. He added that, for peace to be sustained, Nigerians must look beyond sectionalism and embrace unity.
In her remark, chairman of the conference’/AGM planning committee, Ms. Ayeowueke Soye Opuiyo appreciated all those who honored the occasion with their presence and prayed God to blessed them.
She called on all participants to be ambassadors of peace at all times and not join to end acts that promote violence and societal unrest.
A joyous rendition from the New Jerusalem choir Rivers State and an electrifying dance presentation by students of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port Harcourt charged the atmosphere.
The conference had in attendance top government officials, captains of industries, heads of Military and Paramilitary bodies, Union Leaders, traditional rulers, students and men of the press.