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Political cartoons readership among Uyo residents of Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria.


The press as a medium of mass communication for many years, has undertaken the role of helping the citizenry to discover the truth. It has undertaken to educate the public on public issues, present all manner of evidence and expose wrong doings in the society in the hope of making society a better place to live in (Udoakah, 2001). This role is one which always exposes the print media to a strained relationship with high-handed governments in the developing countries. It is one which has led to the beating up of journalists publicly, their arrest and detention, seizures of critical editions of newspapers and magazines, and closures of some newspaper and magazine houses for months. (Udoakah, 1996). These are peculiar forms of control which the Nigerian press had been passing through. Yet, it has to continue to pass on information about politics and other issues to the public. To maintain the circulation of critical and independent views under this condition, the Nigerian press adopted other communicative forms such as cartoons as tactics of resistance. Cartoons have a "tradition of satire and caricature, and concealment of aggression with humour," as Kotlarz (1983:22) notes in her article in the Screen. Cartoons are constructed and created images which may be influenced by ideology, stereotypes, and religious considerations.

Indeed, photographs and illustrations are attention getters. Many are attracted by photographs in the press because as Turnbull and Baird (1975:98) observe:
   They are true-to-life duplicates of images that the
   human eyes see in the world about them ... (and
   the) emotions or reactions that are aroused as we
   view life about us can be aroused and catered for
   by photographs better than by other means.

Similar claims have been made about cartoons. Both editors and cartoonists consider cartoons as very effective channel of communication in a predominantly illiterate society such as Nigeria. This views needed to be tested considering the fact that cartoons are of types. For instance, comic strips are not the same thing as political cartoons, the concern of this study. Political cartoons are satirical representations in graphic form, of political actors and actions, and even socio-economic, religious or cultural issues with political undertones.

According to Goldberg (1992), cartoons generally tell stories or express messages. They may "entertain, teach or comment about a person, event or state of affairs" and may be with or without words. To him, political cartoons "do in pictures what editorials, do in words. They encourage the reader to develop an opinion about somebody or something prominent in the news" (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1992:216-7).

Similarly, Szabo (1993), believes that political cartoons, with their use of humour and contrast, can explain and make messages "even more digestible, thus becoming a perfect means of quick and effective education ... Reading a political cartoon is hardly different from turning the lights on in a dark room, or finding the right glasses for one's blurry vision" (p.9).

But, Akpan (1987:54) holds a contrary opinion. He sees cartoon reading as something which poses a problem to readers, and brings the problem into focus as follows: "Most of us are familiar with the problems we often encounter when trying to interpret cartoons. The meanings are not usually easy to come by because we have no formal interpretation rules for cartoons. In most cases cartoons have esoteric meanings, only the insiders can interpret the insiders' message of a cartoon". He contends that, unlike linguistic representation which has established rules for joining symbols into meaningful patterns, pictorial representation has none, and so can be given various meanings.

The Problem

There is no doubt that political cartoons are a genre of political reporting. They are a pictorial figuration of condensed and reconstructed past political events or situations. Criticisms in political cartoons are in ironic concealment whereas, news, features or editorials about politics tell parallel stories without disguising the message. In fact, political cartoons are to political audience what parables are to the Christian world. Given that they aim to transfer messages about politics in a humorous manner to the readers, its increasing use in the Nigerian press, and the fact that many political cartoons tax the intellect before their messages can be decoded, it became necessary to look for empirical evidence of whether or not cartoons enjoyed a wide readership. In other words, are political cartoons well received among Nigerians? Secondly, is education a major factor in the readership of political cartoon in Nigeria?


The objectives of the study were:

1. To find out whether political cartoons were well received as a major alternative communicative art form.

2. To determine how often political cartoons were read.

3. To ascertain whether political cartoon readers could decode the message from them.

4. To examine the level of political interest shown by political cartoon readers.


The significance of this study can be appreciated from the point of view of trying to find out possible alternative communication forms, for a democratic mobilization of a much wider audience. The result might help to establish, empirically, the extent to which political cartoons are regarded by Nigerians as a necessary alternative communication form. It might also provide and index for the evaluation of information flow in Nigeria to the citizenry.

Theoretical Framework

The Uses and Gratifications Theory (Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch, 1974) was chosen as the theoretical framework for this study. According to West and Turner (2000), the theory holds that people actively seek out specific media and specific content to generate specific gratification (or result). The theory was seen as the most appropriate since its founders were political scientists and sociologists and their focus was on political and informational campaigns. And, this study tried to find out whether people exposed themselves to political cartoons as well as if they were affected by the cartoons.


The survey research design was used for this study. The residents of Uyo urban who registered during the February 1997 voter's registration exercise constituted the universe. The instruments employed were the questionnaire and interview schedule. The questionnaire was self-administered on those who went out to be registered while the indepth interview was for the cartoonists and editors of the newspapers chosen for the study. The indepth interview was used to find out what the cartoonists meant their cartoons to communicate and whether they had a way of knowing that their audience understood them that way. Generally, the questionnaire items sought to identify readers/nonreaders of political cartoons, find out whether they were seen as a major communicative art form, the political awareness of their readers, and their frequency of reading. Three cartoons were appended to the questionnaire and respondents asked to interpret them.

From the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria's office (now INEC), a list of registration centres in Uyo urban, numbering 54, was obtained for a case study of the political cartoon readership. Ten registration centres were selected using the systematic sampling technique with one fifth as the sampling ratio. Additional five centres were kept as reserves in the event of encountering problems at any of the chosen ten centres.

Each registration centre, was approved by NECON, to register 500 voters. Informed by the total number of voters registered in the area in 1992 which was 34, 142, and Meyer's (1979) guideline for sample size, a decision was made to draw 370 persons as the sample for the survey, from the ten centres. According to Meyer, this sample size allows for a five percent error margin and 95 percent confidence level for populations between 10,000 and 49,999. This meant that each of the ten centres chosen was to contribute 37 persons to the total sample. However, to prevent having less than the desired sample size, it was increased to 400, thus raising the quota for each centre to 40.

In order to have as representative a sample as possible, one twelfth was adopted as the sampling ratio for the selection of the respondents for the study. The sample for indepth interviewing was an editor on the Daily Times, his cartoonist, and the cartoonists on the Punch, National Concord and Guardian newspapers. They represented the privately-owned and government newspapers, which featured cartoons regularly and were widely circulated in the country. The federal government had a controlling share in the Daily Times while the others belonged to the private sector publishing. Moreover, the cartoonists on these papers are well known names in Nigerian press circles. The items of the questionnaire and interview schedule were subjected to content, construct, and face validation and reliability testing. This helped in finding out whether or not the questions were understood, and in modifying them where necessary.

The questionnaire was administered by research assistants of the Department of Communication Arts during the voters registration between February 10 and 19, 1997, to those who came out for the registration.


(i) Interview Report

Personal interviews were carried out with an editor on one of the newspapers studied, and four cartoonists from four newspapers. They were asked the same questions bordering on why political cartoons were published, readership, whether political cartoons were a better alternative art form for communication, among others. In his reply, the deputy editor of the Daily Times said political cartoons enabled newspapers to make political comments without stepping on the toes of the "powers that be". A cartoonist on the same newspaper said cartoons help tell stories that could not be written in ordinary language or could not be expressed by ordinary writers. A cartoonist on the Punch newspaper said cartoons were a special way of condensing ideas into a form of illustration and made it easier to tell a story pictorially than it could be told in words or writing. To the cartoonist on the National Concord newspaper, political cartoons help people to know in a subtle way the shortcomings of the government. And his colleague on the Guardian newspaper said political cartoons expressed in a very short and sharp manner what newspapers may not be able to say in words, particularly in African dictatorial regimes.

To the question whether there was a readership for their cartoons, the editor and all the cartoonists interviewed replied in the affirmative. An editor on the Daily Times, his cartoonist, and the cartoonists on the Punch, National Concord and Guardian newspapers said they knew their cartoon readers through the letters to the editor/personal visits to their offices by readers to commend or criticize them, or through reviews of cartoons in the broadcast media. Also, they shared the view that cartoons were an alternative communicative form directed at the lowly educated and illiterates in a country like Nigeria, with a low literacy rate. The three cartoonists, whose cartoons were chosen and appended to the questionnaire to test respondents' understanding of those representations, provided their meanings. These were used to compare what the respondents said they meant to them.

(II) Survey Report

Those sampled comprised 114 male and 38 female public servants; 56 male and 10 female traders; eight male and four female farmers; and 90 male and 50 female students (Table 1). Further analysis showed that 133 (36%) had a university level of education; 194 (52%) had intermediate level of education; and 37 (10) had primary school education (Tabled II). Since the sample for this study was drawn from those who went out to register for an election, the difference between the number of males and females suggests that women are less interested in politics than men.

In the Uyo survey, 370 people were sampled, comprising public servants, traders, farmers and students. Majority of them were found to have a university level, and secondary school education. Only 37 had primary school education. Of the 370 people sampled, 124 (34%) were in the 18-24 years age-bracket; the 25-30 years age bracket was made up of 111 (30) subjects; 39 (11%) were in the 40-49 years age-bracket; 13 (4%) were in the 50 years age-bracket; while two were in the 60 years and above bracket.

* Intermediate level of education includes West African School Certificate/General Certificate of Education and Ordinary National Diploma

In order to find out whether cartoons were well received as a major communicative art form, four newspapers contents were listed and respondents asked to indicate which one of them attracted their attention to newspapers most. From Table III it can be seen that among the 354 respondents who held opinion on the question, only 102 (28.8%)- below one third of both the sampled population and those who held opinion--said cartoons attracted their attention to newspapers most. One hundred and eighty-one (51%) said news was the content which attracted their attention to newspapers most; fifty-one (14%) said it was editorial while twenty (6%) indicated features.

The distribution of the 102 respondents to whom cartoons appealed most showed that 71 (70%) were males while 31 (31%) were females. All together, eight had primary education, 52 had intermediate level of education, and 42 had a university level of education (Table III).

Table IV provides information on the age variations among readers of political cartoons. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution allows citizens to participate in politics from the age of eighteen. But a cursory look at the country's political scene reveals a preponderance of much older people as principal actors. Hence it was thought pertinent to enquire into the age variation of political cartoons readership to see whether there were readers from the age range within which those who constitute the political class at the moment may be said to belong.

As could be seen from this Table, the majority of the political cartoons readership (316) came from the 18-39 years age-bracket. Those in the 40-60 years age bracket were only 54. Looking at the Nigerian political class today, it is dominated by people who are in the 40-60 years age bracket. And if so few from this range made up the political cartoons readership, it is probable that not a significant number of the key political players in Nigeria read their foibles in the political cartoons.

To confirm the political awareness of respondents, the question was asked as to whether or not they supported a political party, read or listened to news about politics. Three hundred and sixty-six out of the 370 people sampled, responded to this question. They comprised 268 males and 98 females. Those who indicated that they supported one political party or another, were 281 (77%) including 72 women. Eighty-two, (22%) among them 26 women said they did not support any political party. On whether they read or listened to news about politics, 341 (93%) including 87 women said they did while only 25 (7%), made up of 14 males and 11 females said they did not.

Of those who said they supported one political party or another, 118 were public servants, 47 traders, five farmers, and 111 students, those who did not support any political party were made up of 34 public servants, 18 traders, six farmers, and 27 students.

One hundred and forty-three public servants were among the 341 who agreed that they read or listened to news about politics. Others were 60 traders, seven farmers, and 131 students. Those who admitted that they did not read or listen to political news comprised nine public servants, six traders, four farmers, and six students.

To help in assessing the extent to which political cartoons have been accepted as a major alternative art form for meeting political information needs, the frequency of their readership was tested (Table V). A four-category scale containing always, sometimes, rarely and never was included in the questionnaire for this purpose. All the 370 persons sampled, held an opinion on the question. Fewer than one half of the respondents 155 or (42%) said they read political cartoons always; 140(38%) agreed they read them sometimes; 49 (13%) rarely read them; and 26 (7%) never read them.

It became apparent from the data that more males took interest in political cartoons than females. Of the 155 respondents who admitted reading political cartoons always, only 33 (21%) were females. Similarly, among the 140 who said they read political cartoons sometimes only 40 (29%) were females. Those who rarely read political cartoons were made up of 31 males and 18 females.

In terms of education, those who said they read political cartoons always were made up of 64 persons (41%) with a university level education, 82 (53%) intermediate qualification holders and nine persons (6%) with primary education. The sometimes category comprised 54 (39%) with a university level education, 72 (51%) intermediate qualifications holders, and 14 (10%) primary school certificate holders. Those who rarely read political cartoons were made up of 18 (37%) persons with a university level education, 72 (51%) intermediate qualifications holders, and 14 (10%) primary school certificate holders. Those who rarely read political cartoons were made up of 18 (37%) persons with a university level education, 25(51%) with intermediate level education, and six (12%) with primary school education. Respondents who never read political cartoons comprised four (15%) persons with a university level education, 14 (54%) with intermediate education, and eight (31%) persons with primary school education.

Table V shows the occupational status of the respondents to the questions on frequency of political cartoons readership. Among the four occupations identified in the questionnaire, public servants and students came tops with 65 (42%) respondents each, among those who said they read political cartoons always, traders were 23 (15%) while farmers were 2(1%). Among those who said they read them sometimes, public servants were 62(44%); traders were 27(19%) farmers 2 (1%); and students 49 (35%). Those who said that they rarely read political cartoons were made up of 19(39%) public servants; 6(12%) traders; 4(8%); farmers; and 20 (41%) students.

All together, 26 persons admitted they never read political cartoons for reasons which ranged from not being able to make sense of them, not having interest in them, preferring news to them, to seeing them as distorting events. The idea that cartoons constitute an easier way to reach the lowly educated or illiterates seems to dominate the thinking of Nigerian newspaper managers. Another view, though not widespread, is that cartoons are used to convey certain messages which cannot be expressed in words without being penalized by government (Interviews with editors and cartoonists between November 1996 and September, 1997). However, demographically, no detailed information about these lowly educated or illiterate readers is available to the newspaper managers, nor do the cartoon readers themselves have adequate knowledge of each other.

Even when an editor and the cartoonists interviewed during this research said that they knew their cartoon readers through letters to the editor/personal visits to their offices, none of them said there were any statistics of such letters and visits. For instance, none of them could determine the volume of such letters or visits in a month or year. This could have given a clue as to whether or not the readership is significant. They also shared the view that cartoons were an alternative communicative form directed at the lowly educated and illiterates in a country like Nigeria, with a low literacy rate. Their position suggests inadequate analysis of their (political) cartoons readership.


Regarding the first and second objectives, which sought to find out whether or not political cartoons in the Nigerian press had a readership, and how frequently they were read Tables III and V provide an answer. Table III shows that of the 354 persons who held opinion on the question, 299 were attracted most, to newspapers by political cartoons. In Table V, it can be observed that between 17 and 21 percent of those who were not attracted to newspapers most, by political cartoons also read them. This is reflected in the number of persons (155 or 44%) who said they read political cartoons always and those who said they read them sometimes (140 or 38%). Besides, Table IV reveals that the readership of political cartoons cut across different occupations with the majority coming from students (13%) followed by public servants (11%). Also, it shows the age variations of the political cartoons readership with the largest percentage (85.4%) coming from people between 18 and 39 years. All these confirm that there is a wide readership for the political cartoons in the Nigerian press.

Also, it can be concluded from Table III that education is a major factor in the readership of political cartoons in Nigeria. The eight (8) lowly educated who said they were attracted by the cartoons, may have been so attracted only by the visual appearances of the cartoons, but not by their messages.

The third objective sought to find out whether political cartoon readers were able to decode the messages embedded in them. For an answer to this, three cartoons were selected and the messages they meant to communicate got from the cartoonists who created them. These cartoons were appended to the questionnaire for respondents' interpretation. When the respondents' interpretations were compared with those of the cartoonists, it was found out that 29% of the 344 respondents to this question had the correct meaning of the first cartoon; 24% had an interpretation which was close to the cartoonist's meaning, while 47% did not know what the cartoon meant. For the second cartoon, 8% decoded the message intended by the cartoonist, another 8% gave a meaning that was close to the cartoonists, while 84% did not know what the cartoon was meant to communicate. And, for the third cartoon, 17% decoded the message rightly; 24% had a meaning which was close to the cartoonist's message; while 58% could not decode the intended message.

The fourth objective aimed at finding out whether political cartoons readers were interested in political issues. The result was a pleasant surprise. Out of the 366 respondents who held opinion on the question, 341 (90%) said they read or listened to news about politics. On whether they ever supported a political party, 281 (77%) said they had done so at one time or another. Among those who read or listened to political news, 313 (86%) had a secondary school or university level education. This same category of respondents made up the 260 (71%) who had supported one political party or another.


The logic of the social class of comic cartoons readership has led to the labeling of political cartoons readers as lowly educated or illiterates. But if cartoons would be particularly useful to illiterates in Nigeria, what functions do they really serve in societies with high literacy rate where they are still used?

Again, if the reference to illiterates or slowly educated by the Nigerian newspaper managers suggests that this category of people cannot read or comprehend the ideas expressed in words, how could they be better off with even more complex symbols such as cartoons? In other words, if the illiterates cannot understand the newspaper language which is written to meet the needs of the average educated reader by virtue of mass circulation, to the resentment of elites, how would they follow the political cartoons sequence and understand the message? Surely, literacy is needed before political cartoons can be read and understood.

In fact, more than literacy is needed for one to understand political cartoons better. According to a National Concord cartoonist, Gabriel Erapi, in an interview, September, 1997 a better understanding of political cartoons is likely to come about if the reader is abreast of current issues, and has a sense of humour. Obviously, one may be literate but not abreast of current issues, and has no sense of humour, and therefore, may still have a problem understanding political cartoons!

Going by the assumption by newspaper producers, that cartoons simplify communication with the slowly educated or illiterates, one would have expected all the 37 persons with primary school education to be readers of political cartoons. Also, the test of frequency of political cartoon readership (Table V) revealed that the heavy and medium (always and sometimes) users came from among people with education above primary school level.

This makes the purported relationship between illiteracy and cartoon readership spurious, and suggests literacy as stronger explanatory variable for exposure to political cartoons.

Although more respondents 295 (or 80%) in Table V made up the heavy and medium users of political cartoons, only 102 (or 28%) of those with opinions on the question of content preference (Table III), said that they were attracted to newspapers most by cartoons. A uses and gratification explanation is that even though most people in the sample read political cartoons, they did not find them to be most gratifying, when compared with other contents. Those who admitted they were attracted to newspaper most by news were 181 (51%), suggesting news to be most gratifying of the content of the newspaper. For according to Windahl and Signitzer (1992:159), "the more individuals perceive that the actual content is need fulfilling, the greater the chance that they will choose it."

Also, from Table V, it is evident that political cartoons address a population which constitutes an active work force in the economy, and hence possess a potential which if sufficiently roused, could bring about a beneficial political change.

It is a fact that majority of Nigeria's population is found in the rural areas, and they constitute the bulk of the nation's electorate. Generally, there are poor air, rail, and road transport systems in Nigeria. The cost of distributing newspapers by air is prohibitive and the airports are few and inadequately equipped for night landing. The rail transport is inefficient and inadequate to depend on for newspaper distribution. The nature of Nigerian roads, which facilitate the wear and tear of vehicles adversely, affects newspaper circulation.

Moreover, there are no newspaper and magazine distribution companies in Nigeria, which perhaps would have worked out a distribution network to cover rural areas. So, newspapers are sent by their publishers to state capitals and commercial/industrial towns, from where they find their ways to local government headquarters, which are semi-urban centres.

From these pieces of information, it can be seen that newspapers in Nigeria, like in many countries are almost entirely urban-based. It therefore suggests that most of those who read political cartoons in the Nigerian press reside in urban centres where illiterates, who are meant to benefit more from them, are not in significant number.

From all this, one thing seems certain and contradicts the notion that cartoons are principally serving illiterate and lowly educated populations. When one sifts through the data assembled from Uyo survey, a contrary view of political cartoons readership emerges--that they are read by the educated and politically conscious class.


Akpan, Emmanuel (1987), Communication and Media Arts: A New Approach to the Basics. Uyo Modem Business Press Ltd.

Berger, Arthur Asa (1991), Media Research Techniques. London: Sage Publications.

Goldberg, Rude (1992), "Cartoon" In the Worm Book Encyclopedia, Vol.3, Pp.216-220, USA; World Book Inc.

Kotlarz, Irene (1983), "The Birth of a Notion," Screen, Vol. No.24; London, Pp.21-29.

Meyer, Philip (1979), Precision Journalism: A Reporter's Introduction To Social Science Methods (2nd Edition). Bloomington: Indian University Press.

Szabo, Joe, ed (1993), The Finest International Political Cartoons Of Our Time, Vol. 2. North Wales, USA: Witty World Publications.

Turnbull, Arthur and Russel N. Baird (1975), The Graphics or Communication (3rd Edition). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Udoakah, Nkereuwem (1996) Government and the Media in Nigeria (Second Edition), Calabar: Centaur Publisher.

Udoakah, Nkereuwem (2001), Issues In Media Practices, Calabar: Mediamark Associates.

Wimmer, Roger D. And Joseph R. Dominick (1987), Mass Media Research: An Introduction (2nd Edition). Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Windahl, Sven and Benno Signitzer (1992) Using Communication Theory. London: Sage Publications.


Dr. Nkereuwem Udoakah is a former journalist on the Nigerian Chronicle newspaper and Quest magazine published by the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation, Calabar. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Communication Arts, University of Uyo, Nigeria. His research interests include Politics and the Mass Media, Development Communication, and Media Studies.
Table 1: Gender and Occupation of Respondents


Public     Trader   Farmers   Students
114          56        8         90



Public     Trader   Farmers   Students
38           10        4         50


N = 370

Table II: Occupation and Qualification of Respondents

Occupation                             Qualification

                    Higher    Degree/     Intermediate   FSLC
                    Degree   Equivalent   Certificate

Public                2          47            59         6
Servant               --         19            17         2
Trading   M           2          9             28         19
          F           1          1             8          --
Farming   M           --         5             2          1
          F           --         --            --         4
Student   M           --         30            57         3
          F           1          22            25         2
TOTAL                 6         133           194         37

N = 370

Table III: Content Which Attracts Attention to Newspapers Most
(By Education)

Level of Education  Cartoons   News   Editorials   Features

University          22         53     10           4
M                         42   66     27                  9
F                   20         13     17           5
* Intermediate      42         66     25           7
M                   52         94     32                  9
F                   10         28     7            2
Primary             7          15     1                   2
M                          8   21              2   2
F                   1          6      1            0
N = 354             102        181    51           20

Table IV: Occupation/Age of Respondents


              18-24   25-30   31-39   409   50-59   60 & above

Public    M     9      38      40     19      7         1
Servant   F     3      19      13      3     --         --
Trading   M    10      14      20      9      3         --
          F     3       4              2     --         1
Farming   M     1      --       2      2      2         --
          F     1      --      --      3      1         --
Student   M    61      26       3     --     --         --
          F    37      10       2      1     --         --
TOTAL          124     111     81     39     13         2

N = 370

Table V: Frequency of Political Cartoons Readership by Education
and Occupation

Education          Always     Sometimes   Rarely    Never

University         47         36          10        2
M                        64         54                   4
                   17         18          18        2
F                                         8
Intermediate   M   68         51          18        7
                                    94                   14
F                  82         21               25   7
                   14                     7
Primary            7          13          3         6
M                                   14         6         8
                   9          1           3         2
F                  2
N = 370            155        140         49        26


Public             48         50          13        3
M                        65         62                   6
Servant            17         12          19        3
F                                         6
Traders            22         23          4         7
M                                   27         6         10
                   23         4           2         3
F                  1
Farmers            2          1           3         2
M                                   2          4         4
                   2          1           1         2
F                  -
Students       M   50         26          11        3
               F                               20        6
                   65         49          9         3
                   15         23
N = 370            155        140         49        26
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Author:Udoakah, Nkereuwem
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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