|Title||The press, national elections, and the politics of belonging in Nigeria|
Nigeria, today, more or less operates under an intricate web of antagonistic ethnic colonies engaged in all-against-all, low-burning feuds everywhere across the land, nurturing puzzling existential questions. This study seeks to validate the notion that the press may have played a significant role in the promotion of the ethno-regional culture that has dominated Nigeria’s post-colonial politics. Studies on the effects of newspaper press have long established the significant role of the press in statecraft; however this study seeks to understand how the newspaper-press became complicit in the forging of a dysfunctional post-colonial political culture that makes identity politics a central electoral feature. In order to provide a historic understanding of ethnicised politics, the study deploys content analysis of nine newspapers over six federal elections from 1959 to 2011. But to unlock the present day construct of belonging, the study uses in-depth elite interviews with leading academics, politicians, and press owners and managers. The study finds that the press did indeed help to construct ethnicised political culture and identities. It directly links strong elite ethno-regional exclusionist politics with the press. However, the press neither acted alone nor was it always a willing accomplice. Press owners sold the soul of the press to service their own political interests, being often in cohort with political elites through common ethnic interests and power pursuit. Data from the study have forced fresh attention on the newspaper-press as an instrumentalised, predominantly urban-based elite-to-elite medium, and not in any measurable way a mass medium. The study proves that, in reality, Nigeria does not have a populist press. The study concludes with a proposition that the forum function of the press could still be deployed, from an agonistic perspective, to counter antagonism and re-imagine a more democratically productive ethno-federalist nation.