The upsurge in the rate at which ethno-religious conflicts do break out across Nigerian cities especially in northern part is worrisome. It has put the unity and harmonious co-existence among the various ethnic and religious groups under serious threat. Nigerian press as the watch-dog of the society has covered this endemics deficiently. The inadequacy in the coverage pattern has compounded the challenges faced by the federal government in attempting to arrest the incessant crises. The objectives of the study are: to know the level of prominence Nigerian Newspapers gave to coverage of ethno-religious conflicts; the extent at which they ensure balance, if they have been responsible in their reportage of the conflicts and if ownership interests do influence coverage of conflict stories. Employing the mixed method of data gathering, the study content analysed the daily and weekend editions of Tribune, Sun and Daily Trust Newspapers on the coverage of Jos crisis and Boko Haram Insurgence (Ethno-Religious conflicts) for a period of twenty months (April, 2010- December 31, 2012). In addition, Six conflict reporters from the three sampled Newspapers were also selected for In-depth Interview. The Framing theory of the media was employed as the theoretical framework. Findings revealed that Daily Trust was less sensational while, Sun and Tribune tended to be sensational in that, most of their stories with screaming headlines ran from front page to inside page. Daily Trust Newspaper did well at balancing its report by allotting more space for stories written in full pages while Sun and Tribune allocated less space hence, level of balance in their stories were affected. Accordingly, during the study period, the papers gave high prominence to coverage of Jos crisis and Boko Haram Insurgence by publishing (42.6%) of the stories as front page, they are responsible in that most (56%) of the stories were tucked inside and a minimal (1.2%) on back pages. More so, most (84.0%) of the stories were written as Straight News as „major‟ form with minimal feature (11.2%), letter (1.5%), editorial (1.2%), the use of evocative pictures were also de-emphasized (20.6%), the sampled papers were neutral (58.1%), negative (38.7%) minimally (3.3%) positive in their reports. The study then concludes, that contrary to the widely held view that Nigerian Media indulge in unethical conduct in its reportage of ethno-religious crisis, and that ownership pattern do influence to some extent media content the Media, still do strive to ensure ethical reporting, and they also practice responsible journalism. It then recommends among others that Journalists should be properly trained on media ethics so as to ensure that they write balanced and objective stories and, strive to be responsible when presenting information on conflicts to the general public.
Nigeria’s socio-political and economic landscape has been blighted by the endemic twin, religious and ethnic violence. The widespread frustration and deep sense of insecurity to life and property, occasioned by this epidemic, has become a matter of grave concern to government, security agencies and the Nigerian citizenry at large (Nwosu, 2003). Neither the urban nor rural is immune to civil, ethnic, political and religious violence which, in the last decade, have plagued Nigeria and currently threaten to tear communities and ethnic groups apart. The state of insecurity in Nigeria today is such that it is not an overstatement to conclude that the Nigerian nation is under heavy siege. In Kaduna, Kano and Jos, Plateau State for example, the spirit of oneness, peace and unity among the various group that have been living together for decade has varnished as the residential patterns now took the form of „we‟ versus „them‟. The situation has become most critical, consequent upon the apparent helplessness of the security agencies to stem the tide of the crisis. Falola (1998) asserts that when the country won its independence in 1960, the most destabilizing factor was ethnicity. Religion has also been identified as another factor. As Soola (2009) opines, the current spate of crime and violence in Nigeria dates back to the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970 when arms began to filter through into unauthorised hands. Egwu (2013) asserts that Ethnicity and religion are real and are identities that people are willing to die for. Though meant to draw man closer to his creator as well as serve as channel for communication, the role of religion as a way of communing with God has been greatly abused in Nigeria. It is exploited and manipulated by those who can use them to cause problem meanwhile, religion is a double-edged sword that can create, acquiesce or fuel fights against injustice. Soola (2009) posits that:
The violent ethno-religious conflict situation was exacerbated by prolonged military interregnum, its brute force and the violence that characterised it. The sacredness, with which human life used to be held until the early 1970s, was soon thrown to the winds by miscreants and other criminals. The situation was further compounded by Nigerian media‟s romance with foreign films which were generously laced with crime, violence and sex. The Nigerian home video, currently in vogue, is not better in that it thrives on similar themes – crimes, violence and sex.
Baran (2004) posits that the media holds a selective mirror of the society where images are not portrayed equally because some things may appear bigger than they truly are; some may appear smaller while, some may disappear altogether. By referring to mirror as being selective, Baran (2004) actually meant the biases and irresponsibility in Media reportage of various societal issues of which ethnic and religion are part of. However, no matter how selective media‟s image could be, one way of keeping in touch with our contemporary world is still through the media. It constitutes a major pillar that shapes, nurtures and builds the society. Its traditional roles to inform, educate and entertain the public are so crucial that societies can hardly progress meaningfully without the media. This is why it is said that the media is the “watchdog of the society” meaning that the media exist as organ of information sourcing and dissemination, educational promotion, surveillance, social enlightenment and mobilization (Ekeanyanwu, 2007). Thomas Jefferson, the third American President while, underscoring the importance of the Press in the society in one of his speeches cited by Nwabueze and Ebeze (2013:862) asserts that “…. Were it left for me to choose whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I shall not hesitate a moment to choose the latter”. In a similar view De-Gaulle, the President of France as cited by Orhewere and Kur (2004: 58) once asked President John F. Kennedy of US; “How can you control your country if you do not control television?” De-Gaulle here referred to Television likewise the Newspaper as mass medium. In over one hundred and fifty years of its existence in Nigeria the Press has become an integral part of the history, evolution and management of peaceful coexistence among the various groups.
Described as one of the most vibrant in Africa, the Press in Nigeria contributed to the decolonization process and the promotion of nationalism (Coleman, 1971: 133–187; Omu, 1974: 521–539; Olukotun, 2003: 229–246) and politics (Sklar & Whitaker, 1964: 597–654; Agbaje, 1992). Nonetheless, the media in Nigeria have since independence formed a pattern of ethnic affiliations, reflecting the ethno-religious politics of the country (Akintayo and Isola, 2012). While most of them at their inception professed laudable editorial policies and ideologies which often gave the impression that the collective good of the country and the well-beings of its citizens were the primary purposes for their establishment unfortunately, this was not so because soon after the attainment of Nigeria‟s Independence in 1960, the political interests of each political zone permeated the vision and activities of media organizations. This is a tendency often dictated by the geographical location (South-Western and Northern Press) of media organisations or the ethnic origins of media owners. As Akintayo and Isola ((2012) posited, that this socio-historical context of the mass media in Nigeria appears to have a large influence on media representation of the ethnic and politics, and their armed groups. Thus, the origin of each of the non-state armed groups such as MEND, MOSSOP, OPC, EGBESU etc, and Boko Haram sect tend to determine how each medium report, reflect and frame their activities. Hence, the argument that the Nigerian Newspaper influences opinion about other people‟s ethnic and religion by carefully selecting issues and events that fit into their frames and leaving out those that do not.
Conflict, by its nature, holds a forceful attraction for the mass media. According to Owens-Ibie (2002:32) “the media are naturally attracted to conflict.” Conflict is also hard to talk about without engaging the emotions of the discussants. This is due largely to the humanitarian implications, especially when conflict gets violent; presenting an objective and balanced report therefore becomes a tortuous, almost impossible task (Eti, 2009). The principles of reporting are put to sever test when your nation goes to war (Kate Adie as cited by Allan & Zelizer, 2004). Often, journalism is in a fix, caught between staying true to the principles of reporting and responding adequately to the urgent realities of conflict or war. Allan and Zelizer (2004:3) aptly stated thus: “confronted with the often horrific realities of conflict, any belief that the journalist can remain distant, remote, or unaffected by what is happening „tends to go out the window‟ in a hurry”. By its very constitution, proprietorship, mode of operation and sustenance, Nigerian Newspaper is akin to being a little sensational, gossipy, and manipulative in the treatment of stories, just for them to stay in the market. This is evidenced by their screaming headlines, scandal and gossip stories, and in some cases, pedestrian use of language (Eti, 2009). Since it is unfashionable in the journalistic turf to report events and issues in such a manner as may be seen to be expressly biased, imbalance and irresponsible, there is the need to develop measures by which to raise the credibility of Nigerian Newspapers, define a mode of operation for her and position her to effectively articulate the issues inherent in the Nigerian ethno-religious crises. Among the roles of the mass media in society – surveillance, interpretation, linkage, transmission of values and entertainment (Dominick, 2002), the first two are critical to conflict reporting in Nigeria. In its surveillance function, the Press plays the role of an observer, which is “a necessary component for enforcing economic, political, cultural and even moral stability” in the polity (Mu‟azu, 2002:47). In this role, the media highlight aspects of society – events, people and issues – which they gather as information and report as news. Eti (2009) posits that most news information are immediately consumable that are hinged on material culture as well, there are also abstract issues that pertain to „argument‟ or are „entropic‟ – complex and requiring interpretation. This according to him, demands the need for the interpretation function of the mass media, which is fulfilled by editorials, commentaries and opinion articles. In fulfilling this essential responsibility to the Nigerian society, how the journalist provide adequate, truthful, balanced, objective and socially responsible coverage of a conflict situation without escalation becomes the question to be urgently answered. This study therefore, seeks to distill the sentiments and perspectives of various scholars on the subject and suggests ways of reporting the various shades and emerging trends in Nigerian ethno-religious conflicts; and defines an effective role for the mass media, especially the Newspaper, as a critical component of interventions towards conflict prevention and resolution journalism in Nigeria. 1.2 Statement of the Problem The outbreaks of ethno-religious violence have become rampant across Nigerian cities. Hence, the different development plans being put in place by Federal government towards sustaining the nation have yielded little or no results. Since the early 1980s till date, Nigeria has witnessed series of such crises. Abdullahi and Saka (2007) observed that: after about thirty years of military dictatorship, Nigeria found herself again in the mainstream of democratic governance while this development was seen by some stakeholders as an avenue to explore the dividends and goodies of democracy others saw it as an opportunity to express grievances the outcome of which is the occurrence of ethno-religious and political conflicts.
Not less than one hundred politically, ethnically and religiously motivated conflicts have occurred in Nigeria since the re-emergence of democracy in May 1999 (Abdullahi and Saka, 2007). This figure keeps soaring at every little misunderstanding among the various ethnic and religious groups across the country. In its effort to contain this, the Nigerian National Assembly on February 17, 2011 passed the Anti-Terrorism Bill into Act. Even with this in place, long term peace has continued to elude the nation, particularly the northern part. Worth of mentioning are the Jos indigene/settler crisis, the Southern Kaduna-Fulani cattle rustlers crisis, Offa- Erinle communal dispute in Kwara State, Benue-Fulani herdsmen crisis, etc, or the Boko Haram insurgence which keeps reigning a carnival of terror, and given bitter suffering food and drink to residence of North-Eastern, North-eastern States of Borno, Yobe and, Plateau, Kano, Kogi, Niger, Kaduna, Sokoto, and Abuja (FCT). The wanton destruction of properties and killing of innocent souls, bombing of private, public, religious and government properties which have become the order of the day has increased the fear of insecurity among the residents in that part of the country. The worrisome nature of this ugly incidence has re-awakened calls by concerned Nigerians for a Sovereign National Conference implying, that the fabric of unity and harmonious relationship among the various ethnic groups has been seriously attacked.
The public has the right to know hence Nigerian consumers of media products, like their counterparts in other cultures, are insatiably interested in, and are at times shocked and fascinated by how Newspapers report ethno-religious crises. Surely, the media have to perform it‟s surveillance function by giving the people the right information needed to live, warn them about dangers to their environment and, be the watch-dogs of the society. However, the media‟s dysfunctions with regards to ethno-religious crisis make people think that the world is unsafe for living. Truth is the cornerstone of journalism as such; most people believe that what the media present to them is absolute truth. The pictures about events in the world presented by mass media are therefore seen as authentic. As the mirror of the society it is obvious, that certain sections of the media have taken sides in reporting of events in the recurring crises by subtly promoting certain ethnic and religious ideologies over others thereby; fanning the embers of misunderstanding between different ethnic and religious groups. This has the capacity to cause more harm than good. Best (1996) is of the opinion that the Nigerian Press was partially responsible for the Nigeria’s thirty month civil war that resulted into loss of lives and property, also, Yusuf (2002) observed that the manner in which the Nigerian press reported the Sharia crises was mostly responsible for exacerbating the tension and conflicts of the Sharia crises in the Northern part of the country. In the same vein Orhewere (2004), in his study of some selected Nigerian newspapers coverage of the Tiv-Jukun conflict in the middle belt found, that the newspapers were partly the causal agents of the conflict. In view of the aforementioned, it is pertinent, to know how the newspapers, have fared in their coverage of Nigerian ethno-religious crisis.
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