Rule Of Law, Press Freedom, Transparency: Lessons for Nigeria from the United States

FROM June 3 to 13, 2018, seven Nigerian journalists were guests of the government of the United States, US, under the International Visitor Leadership Programme, IVLP. The visit was put together by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Abuja Council under the leadership of Paul Abechi. The IVLP, launched in 1940, affords over 4,500 IVLP participants from all over the world, each year, to travel to the US to meet and interact with their professional counterparts. Through these encounters, the visitors gain a greater understanding of the cultural and political influences in the U.S. society and enjoy a firsthand experience of the US, its people and its culture. Visitors represent government, politics, the media, education, nongovernmental organizations, the arts, public health, international security, business and trade, and other fields. The topic for IVLP 2018 was Promoting Good Governance and Accountability in the United States: The Role of Journalists, A Project for Nigeria and the Department of State. The event took place in three states of Washington DC from June 3- 6; TravelCleveland, Ohio, June 6-9 and Tampa, Florida, June 9-13 and we were accompanied to the venues by the International Visitor Liaison, Ms. France’s Hoffmann. A very interesting woman, she tolerated our good, the bad and the ugly. Hoffmann taught us how to walk long distances. She would always say “next building”, but the next building may not be near after all. Besides me, other participants were Abechi; Victorson Agbenson, Radio Nigeria; Emeka Nze, Blueprint; Aroluke Ogundele- Arokoyo, AIT; Omotola Omojola, NTA and Rafatu Salami, VON. While in Washington DC, the following themes were taken: Federal Structure of the U.S. Government, Role and activities of Non- governmental “watchdog” Organisation and tools for Investigative Journalists. At Cleveland, Ohio, the following themes were addressed: Accountability at state level: a case study; Government and private- sector Institutions that reinforce transparency and Role of the Media in Encouraging Accountability. In Tampa, Florida, the issues were Professional development for Journalists; Challenges of Contemporary news operations and Public affairs programming in community- based radio. The team, at the end of the day in Washington DC against the backdrop of what we were exposed to, discovered that Nigeria, which also practices federalism and democracy, has a lot to learn from America. There are checks and balances and the roles of the Executive and the Legislature are completely spelt out. There is vertical Separation of Power (Executive, Judiciary and Legislature). The US government is not a national central government, it is an entity created and managed by States. The 50 states govern together the US agencies and departments, just as the 50 states must come together to defend the budget, monetary policy, foreign affairs, defence, diplomatic relations , tariff duties, etc. In America, the Constitution of Florida as a state is different from that of Ohio; there is no national, central legal system; there is no national parliament; its Congress is a conference of states and each congress is sovereign and the independence of the Judiciary is very important. One lesson is that there are 89, 000 local governments in the US, there is National Police, no national interior, each state has its own independent police, there is no national public education policy, it is a policy of the state , there is no national educational curriculum. A county in the US is the equivalent of local government in Nigeria. We have in America true federalism that gives more power to the states and citizens’ consciousness to always demand for accountability. The American democracy works because it is anchored on the rule of law, the federalism is one where all the tiers of government are independent, just as the citizens expect government to address issues and they are addressed and Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, are very vibrant and strong as they partner government and take the initiatives of government. Each CSO is expected to design its own communication strategies to educate the people as there are two million CSOs in the US helping to build correlation and no law governs the CSOs and it takes only two hours to register a CSO.

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