By Patrick Obia
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Fourth Estate of the Realm – the media as well as the government have been enjoined to collaborate to save the shrinking civic space.
This was the affirmation of both state and no state actors in a 2-day Strengthening Civic Advocacy and Local Engagement (SCALE), Series Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Shrinking Civic Space and Media Engagement held at Transcorp hotels, Calabar, Cross River State capital where participants noted that misinformation and disinformation is a threat to civic space, hence, there is need to curb the virus.
The dialogue meeting is geared to bring together Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), relevant government agencies, Media, and selected stakeholders to expand opportunities for deepening partnerships toward diminishing barriers to civic engagement in Nigeria.
The USAID-funded SCALE project implemented by Palladium is in close partnership with indigenous partners and relevant stakeholders to strengthen the managerial, technical, and advocacy capacities of Civil Society Organizations and Business Membership Organizations to create a more accountable, transparent, peaceful, and democratic Nigeria with more effective and efficient public service delivery.
The event, which was majorly panel discussion, highly interactive; discussants on day one deliberating on the topic: ‘addressing barriers to civic space in the Niger Delta, said one of the barriers is when people in the Niger Delta are not understanding, knowledgeable, and maximizing the space for their benefits.
None inclusion, poor funding, gender imbalance as well as lack of need to step down knowledge sharing to the grassroots are among other barriers to the shrinking civic space.
The discussion led by Dr. Harry Udoh noted that shrinking of the space in the Niger Delta region can lead to insecurity, poverty, and antagonism among other vices.
On day two, participants x-ray the topic, ‘misinformation and disinformation: media perspective to analyzing the cause, impact, and solution.’ The panelists identified misinformation and disinformation to be information spread unintentionally without intent, and information spread intentionally with the intent to cause harm, respectively.
The media were admonished not to be a tool of propaganda from politicians as the 2023 general election gathers momentum; the electorates should be allowed to decide who represents them.
The security agencies were implored to protect journalists in the course of their duties. Similarly, training and retraining of journalists, media interference, and adequate funding was the hallmark of the discussion by both panelists and participants.
Speaking shortly after the event, the Chief of Party on the SCALE project, Mrs. Lydia Odeh, thanked participants for their rap attention and participation.
Lydia said the event is timely as the civic engagement is currently under strangulation by powers that be.
“Why we are bringing the media, Civil Society, and government together because we find out that these three sectors are really important if we want to solve the issue of civic space threat.”
She acknowledged the “watchdog” role the media play in Nigeria and the world over despite the perils.
“The media should be honest; I know they have been diplomatic in their reportage, especially in recent times and I know that there are some dangers in the media profession but at the end of the day, they are accountable to the public they represent to report the truth, fair and none partisan.
“2023 with the election is a very critical period; it is the time the issues of misinformation and disinformation will play out because everybody is looking at how they will be able to garner votes for themselves and sometimes to gather those votes you end up putting all kinds of news out there. So you do have a lot of work cut out for yourselves but as long as you stay fair in your reportage; just appreciating the fact that at the end of the day you are responsible for the citizens of the country; it is not easy but I will encourage you to just stay fair and speak the truth.”
Earlier, Policy and Governance Advisor, SCALE project, Badamasi Abdulsalam intimated participants the vision, and mission of the project and what is expected at the end.
He prayed participants to pour out their hearts especially as it pertains to suffocating the space in the course of the sessions.
The USAID SCALE Project Associate, Maxwell Ahunanyah thanked attendees for the inputs and solutions preferred to bust civic engagement.
The high point of the dialogue meeting included questions and answers sessions, and drafting action plans.