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PROJECT TOPIC – MEASURING PUBLIC OPINION ON BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY THROUGH EDITORIAL MATTERS IN SELECTED NEWSPAPERS: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE PUNCH, THIS DAY, DAILY SUN AND DAILY TRUST

MEASURING PUBLIC OPINION ON BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY THROUGH EDITORIAL MATTERS IN SELECTED NEWSPAPERS: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE PUNCH, THIS DAY, DAILY SUN AND DAILY TRUST

 

 

ABSTRACT

 

In an investigation into soft news public opinion on Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, the study content analyzed 520 issues of four newspapers (The Punch, This Day, Daily Sun and Daily Trust) over a six-month period from October, 2011 to March, 2012. With five units of analysis (including editorials, features, letters to the editor, opinion articles and press interviews) and four content categories (including editorial framing, agenda focus, frequency and editorial reaction) the study employed a coding sheet to collect relevant data for analysis and presentation. Findings revealed that political undertone that drove the Boko Haram violence was far more than the religious motive popularly associated with it. Findings also showed that the government and the elite class got less criticism in newspaper editorial reactions than the Boko Haram insurgents. The study concluded that the newspapers did not fully utilize the potency of editorials to hold the ruling class accountable for their contribution to the worsening case of violence brought about by Boko Haram insurgency. The study recommended that more critical editorials be done by newspapers on the shortcomings of the government and the elite class in order to foster national interest and curtail violence.

 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background of Study

 

The study was informed by the need to explore what kind of public opinion was disseminated in Nigerian press through their opinionated contents, such as editorials, features, letters to the editor, columnist‟s opinion articles and media interviews on the protracted Boko Haram insurgency from October, 2011 to March, 2012. In its core essence, this research study was inspired by the escalating modes of operation of Boko Haram militants, who initially were fighting government forces with swords, bows and arrows, home-made hunting riffles and petrol bombs. But now, they have developed their warfare into devastating acts of terrorism which include suicide bombings, shellings, assassinations and hostage takings. Similarly, Boko Harram targets have moved beyond government security operatives and the ruling class.

They now include Christians, opposing Muslims and media establishments. The situation is so grossly alarming that hardly does any day pass by without a reported case of violence orchestrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria, especially in the northern region. From July 2009 when the insurgency began up till this present time, the violence has claimed hundreds of innocent lives and properties worth several billions of naira. Beyond this, it has unleashed an alarming internal insecurity on the country across board, subsequent to which the nation suffers huge international disrepute. The current period in the nation‟s history offers a similitude of bitter experience of spites and antics that characterized the build-up to the Nigerian civil war in the late sixties and the socio-political disenchantment which set the tone for outburst of public disorder that portrayed the June 12 national crisis of the early 1990s. What, other than Boko Haram insurgency, has been setting the tone of national debate in Nigeria? The federal government has found it a very hard nut to crack, and the citizenry have acknowledged it as a devastating terror.
In the media environment, newspaper reporters have had a field day on happenings pertaining to Boko Haram, going by the volumes of news reports they turn in to their media houses on daily basis.

Apart from these conventional straight news stories which are ethically written without bias or personal sentiments, newspapers also explore an array of organized avenues to put opinionated messages across to people. Such include feature articles and personalized columns of in-depth news analyses and interpretations, with which volumes of viewpoints have been written on Boko Haram mayhem in different newspapers all over the country. However, there exists a very unique thing in a newspaper called editorial page. This page contains the corporate view of every newspaper industry on a topical issue that affects the public and on which necessary action should be taken for better situation to exist. Editorials have been noted as an effective tool for bringing about change in the governance and society. They are the only mouthpiece with which newspaper establishments can plainly express their views and opinions on a given issue, take a position on such issue and make an appeal for action (Chilton 2004). To investigate how well the Nigerian press set public agenda on the Boko Haram insurgency, the proposed study finds the newspaper editorial opinions and other opinionated write-ups as a relevant ground. Thus the pivot around which the focus of this research shall revolve is the editorial and soft news pages which, as a matter of fact, form the only avenue to discover the official and corporate stand taken by newspapers on the Boko Haram issue. A good background for an enquiry into media agenda on Boko Haram insurgency in the press cannot be complete without shedding light on certain issues. In a bid to fully comprehend what this study intends to unravel, therefore, a review of how, when, where and why the entire Boko Haram trouble was hatched is provided in the following chronicle.

Boko Haram in Hausa language literally means “Western education is forbidden”. The word boko originally means “fake”, but it has become the name with which Western education is generally called by Hausa people. Haram is an Arabic word for “forbidden”. Boko Haram is a label with which Jama‟atul Ahlis Sunna Lidda‟wati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet‟s Teachings and Jihad) was dubbed by residents of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, where the Islamic group was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf. Residents gave it the name because of its strong opposition to Western education and Western culture, which it sees as corrupting Muslims. For almost three years now (since July, 2009 specifically) the radical organization has notoriously remained on the centre stage of bloody conflict with the government, security operatives and civilian targets in Nigeria. Widely known as a group of armed and dangerous Muslim dissidents, Boko Haram now seeks to abolish the secular system of government and establish sharia law in the country through terror and aggression

. The group is also infamous for attacking Christian churches, opposing Muslim clerics and media establishments. As regards the circumstances under which the group was established ten years ago, it is obvious that it came into being to fulfill both religious and political agenda. For instance, the group worked in partnership with the government under former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State. In a statement attributed to the People‟s Democratic Party (PDP) chairman of Borno State, Alhaji Baba Basharu, Daily Trust (2011) reported that Boko Haram came to prominence in Borno State when it helped to bring Governor Ali Modu Sheriff to power in 2003. However, troubles began when Ali Modu Sheriff of All Nigeria People‟s Party (ANPP) was working to win the state from his predecessor Mala Kachallah (who became governor under ANPP but defected to Alliance for Democracy [AD] in order to seek second tenure) in the wake of 2003 gubernatorial election. Sheriff entered into a pact with Boko Haram (then popularly known as Yusufiyyah Movement) with a promise to implement shariah rule in Borno State. After becoming governor, Sheriff created a Ministry of Religious Affairs and appointed Alhaji Buji Foi, who was then Boko Haram‟s national secretary, as its first commissioner. The amity between the two camps lasted for a while until they fell out when Sheriff did not fulfill his promise to implement shariah law. At that point Muhammed Yusuf ordered Foi to resign from Sheriff‟s cabinet. Foi resigned, and most staff of the Religious Affairs Ministry whom he had brought there also left along with him.

Subsequently, Boko Haram began working to achieve shariah rule through preaching. Soon, there was growing tension between Boko Haram members and the ruling class in Borno State. At a point there was a major clash between them and the police at Maidokiri, near the GRA in Maiduguri, and some of their members were killed. When Boko Haram members staged a procession to the cementry to bury their dead members, another clash took place with the police. The police accused some of them of riding their motorbikes without crash helmets and in the ensuing clash, 19 people died. Muhammed Yusuf then went to a number of security agency offices demanding for justice for the two incidents. Soon after, Boko Haram members were attacking police stations and prisons. This ultimately led to gruesome events of July 2009 in which confrontations between federal forces and Boko Haram led to the death of over 700 members of the group, including its leader Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody. A number of reasons have been attributed to the enormous followers mustered by Boko Haram group in northern Nigeria. Prominent among them is that Yusuf successfully attracted loyalists from unemployed youths by speaking out against police and political corruption (Eric Guttschuss, 2010).

It has also been established that Boko Haram violent uprising in Nigeria is ultimately due to the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty, unemployment and low rate of formal education in the mostly affected states of northern Nigeria (Abdulkarim, 2011). Beyond this, the manner in which Boko Haram was founded is another factor that endeared it to its followers. Set up in Maiduguri with an Islamic centre which included a mosque and a school, the group attracted many poor families in northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries of Chad and Niger to enroll their children. The centre also comprised a sprawling compound with an area of land covering about 2.5 miles. Thus the centre was used both as school and recruiting ground for jihadis to fight the state government in the confrontations that would follow Boko Haram‟s severed relation with Governor Ali Modu Sheriff (Johnson, 2010). From its inception, Boko Haram conducted its operations more or less peacefully, especially during its first seven years of existence. However, that changed in 2009 when the Nigerian government launched an investigation into the group‟s activities following reports that its members were arming themselves.

Prior to that, the government had reportedly ignored – in repeated manners – warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organization, including that of a military officer colonel Ben Ahanotu, who was then in charge of a local anti-crime operation in Borno State (Associated Press, 2009). Eventually, with the July 26 (2009) Boko Haram attack on a police station in Bauchi at the end of which 39 militants and a soldier were killed, and clashes between militants and the Nigerian Police Force spread to kano, Yobe and Borno states, the Nigerian government swung into action. Federal forces launched a deadly attack on Boko Haram stronghold in Maiduguri where members of the group had barricaded themselves. From July 28 to 30 when the federal offensive was carried out, more than 700 people were killed in the city of Maiduguri alone, according to the Red Cross (Press TV, 2009).

Documentary sources gleaned from press reportage between July 2009 and June 2012 reveals a vicious string of bloody violence ranging from Boko Haram bomb blasts to assassinations of prominent political and religious leaders, prison breaks, kidnappings and killings of expatriates, bank robberies, arsons, etc. It has also led to declaration of a state of emergency in the violence-ridden local government areas of Borno, Plateau, Niger and Yobe states as well as temporary closure of Nigeria‟s border with Chad and Cameroon. In addition to this, several offensives and raids have been unleashed by government‟s Joint Task Force (JTF) on Boko Haram hideouts, many of which resulted in gun battles and occasional shellings that brought about scores of casualities. After three days of intense gun battles and mortal shellings, the federal forces succeeded in capturing Mohammed Yusuf, founder of Boko Haram. However, less than 24 hours of Yusuf‟s stay in custody, he was killed by the police for allegedly trying to escape. His mutilated and bullet-poked body was publicly displayed with his hands still handcuffed to his back. This raised the question as to whether he was actually trying to escape when killed by the police or he was summarily executed in the interest of the ruling class to hide certain things about Boko Haram sponsors and operations which might be indicting. Subsequently, there was an outburst of suspicion and foul play as some segments of the media, the general public and international human rights organizations believed some conspiracy lay beneath Yusuf‟s death (Council on Foreign Relations, 2010).

First, Yusuf‟s hands were still handcuffed to the back of his mutilated body. Second, some of the officers who witnessed Yusuf‟s killing told reporters that he had pleaded for mercy before he was executed. The fact that voices of officers shouting “no mercy” could be clearly heard in background of the video of public display of Yusuf‟s dead body further corroborates this allegation. Third, he was not allowed to be properly investigated and tried at law court. His killing was thus regarded as extra judicial.Sequel to the killing of Yusuf, Boko Haram members regrouped and succeeded in carrying out their first terrorist attack in Borno in January 2010, killing four people. Since then, their extremism and violence have kept escalating in terms of both frequency and intensity. In July 2010, an interesting twist was added to Boko Haram setting when Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf‟s former deputy who was hitherto believed to have been killed during July 2009 federal onslaught on the militant group, appreared in a video posted on line claiming leadership of the movement. According to Reuters, Shekau took control of the group after Yusuf‟s death in 2009. One after the other, Boko Haram has posted more than four on-line videos among which was a raw clip of how This Day Newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna were bombed on 26 of last April in suicide attacks carried out by the group. The story of Boko Haram fundamentalists and their acts of violence complicate the conventional account of religious insurgency in Nigeria; it is one religious uprising twice intertwined with political subterfuge. The group‟s flexibility in change of tactics and targets has defied all estimation of government security and intelligence services. Up north, the situation is such that for some time now it has become a challenge to get people to talk freely about the group‟s activities and modes of operation.

Families and individuals are scared to open up because they don‟t know who is Boko Haram and who is not. For the first time since he assumed office, President Jonathan recently admitted that there were Boko Haram sympathizers in his government and the security agencies, thereby pointing to how much the extremist movement might have penetrated into government and security circles (France 24, 2012). This is no gainsaying, given the fact of how Boko Haram succeeded in bombing the “heavily secured” National Police Headquarters and United Nations House last year August in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria. Boko Haram has continued to interest the reading public as a topical national issue up till date, and it may remain so for some time more.

 

MEASURING PUBLIC OPINION ON BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY THROUGH EDITORIAL MATTERS IN SELECTED NEWSPAPERS: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE PUNCH, THIS DAY, DAILY SUN AND DAILY TRUST

 

 

1.2 Statement of Problem

One of the major roles of mass media is to bring society into a system of harmonious integration. Through this correlation function, the mass media are expected (among other things) to explain, interpret and comment on the meaning of events and conditions. They are also responsible for providing guides for established authorities in their policies and procedures as well as setting agenda and conferring status. All these constitute one of the four items of roles played by the fourth estate of the realm (Ndolo, 2011 & McQuail, 2005). As the Boko Haram insurgency rages on with rising tension in Nigeria, there appears to be need for assessing how the press have played their roles in setting agenda on it through opinionated contents. There is also need to find out the press evaluation of measures taken by the government towards quelling the persisting insurgency. Going by the plethora of public outcries which trail the incessant violence occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency, there is no gainsaying that the Nigerian masses are very much concerned about the problem and government measures towards putting it to rest. Although there has been general assessment of Boko Haram violence in terms of material losses, such as Clothia (2012), Abdulkarim (2012) and Bartolotta (2011), what has not been determined is the way and level of mass opinion about Boko Haram in the context of the press. Consequently, a huge question arises from in the researcher‟s mind; what if the media contents run contrary to public agitations and yearnings about Boro Haram? This is a poser that begs for an empirical answer.

There is thus a need to investigate whether media contents are in consonance with general feelings or not, and also to make recommendations. This is the haunch that sparked off the focus of this research effort. Similarly, there seems to be some relationship existing between the escalating violence and the media role of correlation of society. Hypothetically, if the press perform their correlation function well, it is expected that their editorial contents will impact on the government and society at large. However, as the Boko Haram violence keeps mounting, can we say that the media have not discharged their editorial responsibility or that Boko Haram issue has been ignored in the editorial focus of the press? There is clear need for this study in order to carry out an objective investigation of the problem and arrive at a reliable conclusion. The most effective way of going about this is by content-analyzing newspaper‟s editorial comments on the Boko Haram issue, and this is exactly what the study intends to carry out on The Punch, This Day, Daily Sun and Daily Trust newspapers. Furthermore, given that Boko Haram has carried out suicide bombings on two offices of This Day newspaper as a “warning to deter the press from misreporting its activities to the public”, it was vital that a study of this kind be done to ascertain the level of press neutrality and grasp of the whole issue editorialwise. Hence This Day was included as one of the four newspapers whose editorial opinions were content-analyzed in the enquiry carried out.

 

MEASURING PUBLIC OPINION ON BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY THROUGH EDITORIAL MATTERS IN SELECTED NEWSPAPERS: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE PUNCH, THIS DAY, DAILY SUN AND DAILY TRUST

 

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