Our world today depends highly on inter-connected communication systems. That is to say, communication efforts now takes place in complex interconnected platforms that now helps to create the narrative that guides and shape public perception. Consequently, every government endeavors to take control of the communication system within its environment and ensure harmonization of information between relevant institutions; socio-cultural structure, history and customs of the target audience.
The story of Malala Yusufzai in Pakistan is instructive in this regard. The government of Pakistan featured her work on national television as a counter-narrative to the Taliban ban on girl-child education. Her unfortunate shooting subsequently raised her to the status of a world icon and has proved a major image setback for the Taliban in Pakistan.
The control of communication is referred to as “strategic communication”. It means a systematic series of sustained and coherent activities, conducted across the strategic, operational and tactical levels that enable the understanding of target audiences, identify effective conduits, and develop and promote ideas and opinions through those conduits to promote and sustain particular forms of behavior. It is a tool that have proved highly potent in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism in the United States of America (USA), Britain, France, and Germany among others.
In Nigeria, strategic communication is considered as a veritable tool required to win the fight against insurgency in the northeast. The Nigerian military is the lead agency in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism in the country. It has highly trained officers and soldiers that are mainly trained for conventional engagements.
They also engage in some sort of strategic communication at all levels of the operations. However, their focus is mainly conventional reporting of operational engagements. There is no evidence of sustained, comprehensive and high profile communications offensive that challenges the narrative of the terrorists in the northeast of Nigeria. For instance, the Boko Haram narrative “Western Education is forbidden” has continued to flourish and fly unchallenged as the group demonstrates the potency of this narrative by continually attacking schools and kidnapping students almost unchallenged.
Moreover, there is serious education deficit in the northern part of the country which helps to scale-up socio-economic dislocation, social despair, distrust in government and alienation among the civilian population in the northeast especially young men.
Boko Haram provides an emotional home, a reason for living, an outlet for rage and frustration, a sense of empowerment, and a license to operate. Where these factors make Boko Haram an object of desire, there is need to transform that emotion and make Boko Haram an object of disgust. This can only be done by men who are highly trained in strategic communication.
The military and other security agencies must move away from the traditional system of appointing a media spokesman/woman who comes routinely to the screen to defend their respective operations. They must begin to train officers and men who can win hearts and minds of the people and local communities.
– Mamud wrote from Abuja