A week ago, I received an email from one of the press attachés at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja. It was about the provisions the office has made to facilitate the process for media organisations in Nigeria to cover the 2016 presidential elections in the United States of America. I imagined how relieved a number of colleagues who cover politics and international affairs, who were also listed on the Embassy’s list-serve, must have felt to receive the email.
No media organisation can successfully provide in-depth and objective coverage of any international election without access. What the Embassy sought to achieve was to ensure that Nigerian journalists, who wish to attend media briefings organised by U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Centers or report on the upcoming Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention, are able to do so. Details of fees and instructions for obtaining credentials were also included in the email.
Until now, I must admit that the coverage of the US elections in Nigeria has been underwhelming. Reports about international policies and manifestos that presidential candidates base their campaigns on are left for columnists to analyse. There is no in-depth coverage about trends, events or reactions in the mainstream news. For instance, if you type in “US presidential elections” or similar words into the search buttons of the websites of the top five media organisations in Nigeria, you will be stunned by the result. Although numerous articles will come up, the ones relating to the US elections in particular are sparse.
Nigerians who are interested in the US elections turn to international media channels and websites to consume information. And trust me, Nigerian youths (age 35 and below), who make up about 70 percent of the Nigeria population, are following the elections closely. A quick search on social media profiles of some of the outspoken ones such as Chude Jidenwo, Omojuwa Japheth, Tolu Ogunlesi and Esther Agbarakwe might reveal the views and biases they share concerning the elections.
“Nigerians feel the US is crazy for allowing the Trump circus carry on for too long,” Douglas Imaralu said to me a few weeks ago. We were discussing the trend in the current presidential race and how that is affecting the way Nigerians view Americans.
Imaralu has just resigned his position as a communications manager in a non-profit organization to attempt launching a business. Like him, many young Nigerians believe whoever emerges as the next President of the US will implement policies that will affect or shape Nigeria-US relations. Unfortunately, because the poor coverage of the election campaigns has focused mostly on only one of the candidates, Donald Trump, most people have been left in the dark.
However, since Donald Trump emerged as the leading candidate for the Republican Party, memes and videos about some of the remarks he makes have been widely circulated on different social networks where young and upwardly mobile Nigerians converge. Topping the list is a three minute long YouTube video titled, “Donald Trump Warns Nigerians: “IF I WIN, YOU LEAVE”. This came on the heels of Trump’s derogatory remark about Kenyan athletes in Iowa during one of his campaigns.
“Donald Trump made a derogatory comment about the Kenyan winners of the IAAF Olympics in Beijing, China, calling them cheats and con-men,” wrote Omono Eremionkhale, on VenturesAfrica.com, a media platform based in Lagos. She went on to embellish the article with quotes and screen-shots of tweets from social media users who reacted to the news when it first broke in September, 2015.
Most of the news coverage on Trump does not focus on his manifesto or views on international policies and how it affects Nigeria or the Africa region. Instead, for the most part, the reports analyse his campaign speeches and the reactions of his supporters on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, some of these reports are often turned into skits and memes. Readers who do not fact-check them consume it all hook, line and sinker.
Very little is written about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or John Kasich or the core principles that each candidate’s views on issues affecting the world is hinged upon.
It is imperative for media organisations in Nigeria to be more proactive in leading the coverage of the US elections locally, to ensure that the public is well-informed of the election process. Like other developing countries around the world, Nigeria, will be greatly impacted by the outcome of the 58th quadrennial US presidential election.