Assessment of the Role of the Media in Anti Corruption Campaign




1.1 Background to the Study

Corruption indicates weak institutions and structures within a nation-state and is a bane in many developing countries such as Nigeria. For instance, corrupt practices such as bribery and criminal embezzlement deplete a country’s wealth, impacting peace, stability, and national development. The consequences accruing from these circumstances are far-reaching since loyal citizens perceive exploitation and social imbalance. Similarly, corruption can harm the social framework of the nation, if not nipped, since it deprives people of the necessities of life, thus further engendering economic hardship.

This situation is evident in the misappropriation of funds meant to provide basic amenities and the subsequent outcomes. Ayeni & Nwaorgu (2018) emphasized the ubiquity of corruption in Nigeria, implicating the quest for survival and austere economic conditions as underlying influences.

Arguably, the military regime is particularly implicated in the history of corruption in Nigeria since it seems to have engendered looting of the civic assets at an exponential rate and established a culture of clandestineness in governance. Furthermore, Ribadu (2009) argues that this era saw the obliteration of all the noble things inherent within the country. Surprisingly, the supposed rationale for the emergence of the military regime was to forestall the perceived corruption among politicians and democratic leadership. Notwithstanding, several attempts have been made by previous governments to combat corruption through policy-making and the enacting of laws. Notably, Obasanjo’s regime saw the establishment of agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) geared towards fighting corruption. However, these regimes were not spared from the malaise of corruption (Odalonu, 2021).

It is noteworthy that efficient media is a vital stimulus for driving the anti-corruption campaign. The media is necessary for facilitating a culture that is averse to corrupt practices through influencing, reporting, agenda-setting, etc., without intervention by the government, especially in a multi-ethnic state like Nigeria. Among other roles, the media sets an agenda around corruption, bringing its foundations, influences, and probable alleviation to the fore. However, the Nigerian media are not exempt from corrupt practices. Odionye et al. (2016) argued that the press, which is expected to beam is searchlight on corruption, is hampered. This is evident in the “brown envelope” syndrome in which several journalists are somewhat implicated. These practices place an obstacle on objective media coverage.

Arguably, the persistence of Transparency International (2018) in ranking Nigeria among the bottom forty nations in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) signals the underperformance of the media in the anti-corruption campaign. Arguably, Nigeria has not performed very well in matters of corruption. In nearly two decades of uninterrupted democracy, Nigeria has continued the fight against corruption by leveraging EFCC and ICPC to apprehend criminals in the public and private sectors. Notably, these attempts at eradicating corruption paid off slightly since the country made progress at Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Nigeria has moved from being ranked as the most corrupt country globally in 2000 to being ranked 148 out of 180 countries surveyed (Transparency International, 2018).

The global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI) in its Corruption Perception Index (2017) ranked Nigeria as the 148thcorrupt country globally. This is against Nigeria’s 136th position in 2016, illustrating the persistent increasing incidences of corruption in Nigeria. This is despite the present administration’s anti-corruption campaigns and efforts. President Muhammadu Buhari, in consideration of the high incidences of corruption in the country on assumption of office in 2015, announced the anti-corruption crusade as one of the major pillars of his administration and has to this end, made the fight against corruption the core mantra of his administration. Apparently, the campaign against corruption seems not to be achieving the expected goals as TI (2017) statistics above indicate.

However, the mass media have been constitutionally empowered in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, to perform its social responsibility functions of helping government achieve its development objectives; monitoring government; exposing its excesses and ensuring that governments are accountable to the people through its regular news reports and coverage of issues. For as Eigen (1999) pointed out, media can play an important public accountability role by monitoring and investigating the actions of those who are granted public trust and who may be tempted to abuse their office for private gain.

Rose-Ackerman (1999) and Bello (2015) suggested two distinct and significant ways the media can do this. According to Rose-Ackerman (1999), qualitative and independent media reporting on corruption can play an important role in pressuring the government to act in the public interest: By drawing the attention to behaviour that is generally perceived as acceptable and exposing such behaviour as corrupt, media can raise public awareness, activate anti-corruption values, and generate outside pressure from the public against corruption.

Bello (2015) on the other hand argued that the media play pivotal roles in the campaign against corruption; they act as the eyes, ears and voices of the public. The media not only raise public awareness about corruption, its causes, consequences and possible remedies but also investigate and report incidences of corruption (Stapenhurst, 2000). Consequently, it becomes pertinent to examine how the media have been performing this oversight function of adequately keeping the public informed of this government’s anti- corruption crusade. The question is, what is the nature of coverage given to the anti-corruption crusade by the Nigerian print media and how are they framed?

In essence, what is the prominence, depth, and frequency of coverage? Are the corruption stories reported issue-based or personality-based? It is in attempt to find answers to these questions that this research examined how the Nigerian print media have kept the Nigerian audience informed about developments in the Buhari’s fight against corruption as it unfolds. This is because media coverage of cases such as corruption is no doubt, an important part of media function, and the salience given to such issues could help in reducing the practices of corruption by exposing those responsible in such a way as to serve as a deterrent to others.

Historical records show that while corruption – an abuse of entrusted power for private gain is deep rooted in Nigeria, successive governments have made concerted efforts to eradicate the scourge in the country. Corruption has been recognised as a major cause of political instability in Nigeria as the first military coup in the country which took place on January 15, 1966 was attributed to the corrupt nature of the then government. Subsequent administrations have hinged their change of government or administration on the ground of fight against corruption as evident in coup and inaugural speeches of past heads of governments.

Even the country’s second republic (1979-1983) was truncated by the military for reasons of corruption. Since then, it has been a blame game between the military and the civilians until the birth of the fourth republic in 1999 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This period witnessed the establishment of anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). Subsequent administrations have strengthened these agencies until the coming of the present administration, which promised to tackle corruption head on, and this was largely perceived by Nigerians as the high point in the fight against corruption. In all these efforts the media have been identified as a major component in this fight.

The emergence and development of mass media in Nigeria and Africa at large is widely described by many scholars as a product of colonialism as well as a reflection of the continent‟s political development (Oso, 2012; Barratt & Berger, 2007; Bello, 2015). This justifies Barrat & Berger’s (2007) assertion that the ownership systems of African media, Their character, strengths and weaknesses, their political and social outlooks and their outputs and impacts, are all products of the societies that have formed and shaped them.‟ For instance, Nigerian media emerged as a colonial product that turned into an ideological and political apparatus for the

Nigerian nationalists in the fight against slavery, colonialism and the struggle for the nation‟s political independence.The Nigerian post-independent civil rule experience, military regimes experience and the current democratic governance as well as the plurality of the media in the country have impacted on the development of mass media in Nigeria so much so that it became one of the most vibrant and robust media landscape on the Africa scene (Nwagbara, 2010; Oso, Odunlami & Adaja, 2011; African Media Barometer, 2011).

A review of the historical development of Nigerian mass media shows that the print media was first introduced in 1859, followed by the establishment of the first radio and television in 1932 and 1959 respectively (Nwagbara, 2010; Oloruntola, 2008; Oso 2012; Nigeria Community Radio Coalition, 2012; Bello, 2010). While the newspaper industry started and is still dominated by the private individuals, broadcast media were pioneered and are still dominated by the state and federal government (Oso, 2012). For instance, while the over 150 newspapers (regional and community-based including over 20 national daily newspapers) (Dragomir & Thompson, 2012), are mostly owned and controlled by private individuals, available evidence suggests a reverse experience with the broadcast media. Out of about 82 television stations in the country, the Federal Government own and control 41, the State Government own and control 29 while only 12 are owned and controlled by private individuals. In the same vein, out of about 121 radio stations operating in Nigeria currently, the Federal Government own and control 43, the State Government own and control 54 and only 24 of them are owned and controlled by private individuals (Oso, 2012).

The recent advancement in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) which necessitated the emergence of the internet has equally widened the Nigerians‟ access to the media and media landscape (African Practice, 2014; Dragomir & Thompson, 2012; Anyira, 2011). Nevertheless, research evidence suggests that almost all of the media are relatively popular among the citizenry with radio topping the chart followed by the television, the internet and lastly the newspaper (Oso, 2003; British Broadcasting Corporation World Service Trust, 2006; Dragomir & Thompson, 2012; mediaReach OMD Nigeria, 2005; Broadcasting Board of Governors, 2012; Broadcasting Board of Governors, 2014; Bello, 2015). Looking at such data as seen above, one can rightly infer that Nigerians are relatively active in their media consumption habit as they are largely connected with different forms of media which may further imply that mass media in Nigeria may likely have some degree of effects on media audiences in general (Bello, 2015).

Although, newspaper is not the medium with the highest patronage among Nigerians, its archival quality, comprehensive nature of its contents and its enduring nature, makes it the focus of this dissertation with the view to examining the degree to which Nigerian newspapers report and frame corruption related issues under President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration. With the recent improvement in printing technology including other gamut information and communication Technologies (ICTs), newspaper production in Nigeria is becoming a lot easier and faster and as well, easily accessible. These days, it is no longer uncommon to see Nigerian newspapers‟ titles like The Guardian. The Punch, The Sun, The Vanguard and The Thisday and so on circulating online and competing favourably in international standard (Nwodu, 2009).

The choice of newspaper for this study is also premised on the fact that available research evidence has attested to the enduring watchdog role of newspaper in Nigeria socio-political history. Right from the time of the Iwe Irohin, to the present day Nigeria, newspapers have been deployed at different degrees and magnitude as a tool for social change ranging from the propagation of the Christian faith to nationalization and the fight for Nigerian independence, mobilization against the military rule, promotion of economic recovery, national integration and unity, health related behavioural change as well as the anti-corruption war under the different regimes. For instance, the Iwe Irohin was used for the successful propagation of Christianity and fight against slavery and the Portuguese-led slave trade (Ugboajah, 1980). In the same vein, the emergence of other early Nigerian newspapers like the Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot added greater impetus to the fight against colonialism and the push for self-rule.

Following the military intrusion into the nation’s politics, newspaper again became handy in the fight for the Nigerian’s return to democracy. It is a widely shared view among politicians and actively promoted by the press itself that the Nigerian press has played a significant role in advancing Nigeria’s political transition from military dictatorship to democratic governance. As Thompson (1997) points out, the Nigeria press challenged the military rulers through various methods, especially through producing and publishing investigative news stories exposing corruption and other brazen acts of recklessness and abuse of power among the ruling military elite (also see Adejare, 2004; Adeniyi, 2010). The fight against the military dictatorship continued until May 1999 when General Abdulsalami Abubakar relinquished power to a democratically elected President Olusegun Obasanjo to mark the end of the military rule in the country.

Many years into the democratic rule however, the nation continued to face other challenges that had kept the newspaper houses busy all the same. Prominent among them is the unending war against corruption that has been threatening the very foundation of the nation‟s existence. As part of the watchdog function of the nation‟s newspapers and other mass media, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, provided a clear and unambiguous role for the media to hold public office holders accountable to the citizens of the country and this aptly justifies the media’s crusade against corruption. Specifically, Section 22 of the Constitution, under the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy,” has a provision on the “obligations of the mass media”. This section provides that: “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people” (The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended). How the newspapers in Nigeria had fared in the coverage and framing of corruption related issues in relation to their mandate to hold government and private officials accountable therefore forms the crux of this dissertation.

Fundamentally, the media as the fourth estate of the realm are saddled with the responsibility of serving as the watch dog of the society. By this, it is expected to mount surveillance on both public and private figures in their daily activities thereby bringing to the public domain any breach of public trust or a deviation from the social contract guiding the leaders and the led. Interestingly, the media have been reported to be active in performing this duty in relation to the exposition of corrupt practices in the country over the years. While they have been praised for their positive contribution to the fight against corruption in some instances, they have also fallen under intense criticism for being complicit in the fight over the years.

In writing on the media fight against corruption in Nigeria, Afolayan (2012) commended the media for exposing and pursuing corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, many of whom have been forced to resign or have been impeached and prosecuted. For instance, the media followed up the forgery and perjury cases against former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salishu Buhari and investigated the questionable past of the old senate President, Evan Enwerem. Other cases have been brought against former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo (for financial recklessness) and against former national vice-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, Bode George (for contract splitting).

More recently, the media brought to the public domain the falsification of assets declaration involving the sitting Senate President Bukola Saraki, the ongoing trial of the former National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, Col Dasuki for the $2.1 billion arms deal, the contract inflation saga of the former Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Babachir Lawal to mention but a few. These personalities were either convicted, removed from offices, or are still under trial or discharged, as a result of the relentless interest and follow-up generated by the stories and pressure mounted by the media on the executive and the judiciary to bring them to justice (Oyebode, n.d).

The above examples suggest that the Nigerian media seem to be reporting corruption stories efficiently especially in terms of the volume of attention given to the menace. However, a review of the actual contents of the stories left much to be desired as available literature suggests that most of the stories only relay or repeat news releases of allegations by anti-corruption agencies and contained incomplete investigative activities of these organizations with sensational headlines. The stories also contained court proceedings and public vituperation on the crimes (Oyebode, n.d).

To this end, existing scholarship suggests that the Nigerian media practitioners rarely follow up corruption related stories for a long time thereby giving room for the public accusing the media of complicity with the political class in sweeping issues that require aggressive and sustained media attention and prominence under the carpet (Isola, 2010; Oso & Pate, 2010; Akinfeleye, 2003). This assertion according to Oyebode, n.d) suggests that agenda-setting role of the press has often been used to create a sort of cultural hegemony with basic principles of capitalism, which emphasize exploitation by the economic and political ruling classes. In some instances, media go silent immediately after the publication of serious corruption allegation without necessary follow-up. This tendency denies the audience critical information that may otherwise have prompted judicial action and set positive deterrence in the country.

In some instances, the media‟s disposition toward some issues of corruption has equally called to question their commitment to the fight as they often abandon such stories shortly after it is brought to the public attention (Oyebode, n.d). Meanwhile, when viewpoints about an issue are ignored, marginalized, or trivialized by media reportage, people become reluctant to talk about it again and in time, those views cease to be heard in the public domain (Baran & Davies, 2003). In this instance, the media play a vital role in Down’s issue–attention cycle theory on corruption related stories.

The Down’s issueattention cycle explains the media’s role in making issues rise into prominence through emphasis, priming, and repetition of stories. They likewise inadvertently or deliberately contribute to the fading of issues from public attention by redirecting attention to new problems that will make the previous ones less attractive. It is inadvertent when media attention shifts to a more important issue but deliberate when the story is given less prominence as a result of the intervention of the political and economic class. Motives for news judgment vary from one media establishment to another, and these are largely determined by ownership philosophy, social imperatives and practitioners‟ perspectives (Oyebode, n.d).

Ojo (2006) opines that the mass media often mislead the public by engaging in deliberate distortion of the information they disseminate to their audience; knowingly excluding some vital information, or simply remaining quiet over some important issues where the people deserve further clarification, or; seeking to divert the people’s attention from very important issues by crowding the people’s mind with trivialities. In the recent past, some of the corruption cases that have been swept under the carpet for different reasons best known to practitioners of the Nigerian media include the country‟s pension fund scam; the “eight all” African Games Scam (COJA); the Farouk Lawan bribery scandal; the Patricia Etegate; the petroleum subsidy scam of 2012; the scandal involving Allison Madueke, Minister of Aviation and the hiring of a 10 billion naira private jet; the scam involving the purchase of two “bullet proof cars” for N$225 million by the former Minister of Aviation, Stella Odua; the seizure of 96.1 million dollars in South Africa in a cash for arms deal; and the Halliburton bribery scam (even though the foreigners who paid bribes to Nigerian officials have since been punished and penalized by the United States of America and German authorities). The preceding list of scams and scandals validates Down‟s issue attention cycle, in which issues rise and fall on the public agenda, leaping to prominence when they first arise and remaining there for a short while before gradually fading from public attention despite remaining largely unresolved.

Available scholarship also tends to point accusing finger at the media for their lack of sincerity in their reportage of corruption in the country. To this end, issues have been raised of the media publishing sponsored “advertorials” and stories without concern for the ethical standards to which they should adhere to (i.e. that they should report only objective stories and refrain from presenting their own perspective or bias). Reporting his findings on Weak-kneed Media and Festering Corruption in Nigeria, Oyebode opines that: “The Nigerian media celebrate hierarchy, wealth, fashion, and social standing. They rarely depict elites in critical light that might draw attention to or question the source of the elites‟ money or investigate the road to their assumption of prominence. The media fail to promote a meritocratic society, in which the emphasis would be on intelligence, talent, and hard-work. On the contrary, the media support celebrity, money, and popular cultures and ignore the corrupt practices that contribute to the wealth and popularity of celebrities and public figures‟.

Cohen (2009) earlier observed the same trend in the United Kingdom mass media by stating that they engage in “trumpeting the good fortune of British capitalism and pay less attention to its casualties.” The victimized members of the society who are cheated by the capitalist class do not get enough attention. The poor are painted as being the architects of their own misfortune, while the rich are eulogized. These criticisms and allegations against mass media’s handling of corruption-related issues form the basis of the current study’s investigations especially with the current President Buhari APC-led administration’s „change agenda‟ mantra with the fight against corruption topping in the change agenda priorities. This study sought to determine to what extent the Nigerian newspapers have keyed into this government’s policies in the fight against corruption in the country.


From May 2015, the new government’s mantra for change was hinged on fighting corruption in Nigeria. Since then the crusade against corruption has been on. The media, as the fourth estate  of the realm, in their Agenda-setting function and framing are expected to concomitantly key  into government agenda in their coverage. The question however is to what extent have the Nigerian media complemented government’s efforts in the fight against corruption through reporting? In spite of the great role the media are expected to play in the fight against corruption in the society, it seems however, that there is still a marginally disproportionate coverage and reportage of corruption in developing countries like Nigeria.

The World Anti-Corruption Watchdog, the Transparency International, reported in its recent anti-corruption handbook that a free and independent media is one of the principal vehicles for informing the public about corrupt activities (AFRICAW, 2012). AFRICAW group equally stated that the Transparency International noted that by investigating and reporting on corruption, the media provide an important counterpoint to the abuse of entrusted power for private gain by beaming light on the wrongdoings of public office holders and corporate executives alike. Previous literature has raised doubts on media‟s efficient and effective coverage of corruption in Nigeria as a whole due to some factors such as partisanship, media corruption, ethnicity, commercialisation of media, ownership factors and religious affiliations.

Corruption, especially as it relates to Nigeria, is laden with ethnic, religious and sacred cow biases. Lustgorten and Debix (2005) corroborating the views expressed above, observed that the media‟s preference for flashy audience grabbing and ratings-soaring image or story makes them to be nonchalant in matters which are of interest to the public owing to their inability to peruse events in detail (Bello, 2014).

Therefore, looking at these possible biases, this work examined, how such biases reflected in media framing of corruption issues. The persistence of Transparency International (2002) in setting Nigeria among the bottom five nations in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) since 1995 is an indication that the media may not have performed this role effectively (Sowumi, et al 2012). It is against this backdrop that this study investigatedthe real situation on ground as regards  Nigerian  newspapers‟  coverage  and  framing  of  President  Buhari‟s  anti-corruption crusade. The study examined the quantity and quality of newspaper coverage and framing of the anti-corruption crusade since the period under study signifies the highest point in Nigeria‟s history in the fight against corruption, this work was further interested in finding out whether there is a correspondent coverage of anti-corruption issues compared with the realities on ground in Nigeria in the current administration.

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