It took most Nigerians by surprise when the newspaper headlines of 7 January 2019 beamed searchlight on the Nigerian military for the coordinated raids of the Daily Trust Newspaper offices in Abuja, Kaduna and Maiduguri.
The military’s explanation was that the Daily Trust newspaper publication of 6 January 2019 was a violation of the Official Secret Act which inadvertently gave prior notice of military strategy and tactics to Boko Haram insurgents.
At this point, the question must be asked; was the Daily Trust newspaper publication a responsible communication on matters of public interest? It is important to answer the foregoing question because our military, by virtue of their reaction to the publication, has been placed on the spotlight unnecessarily and the military has become a subject of public analysis. Though the Presidency was swift to intervene by calling off the military action, as a damage control measure, however, the damage had been done and at a huge cost.
Our country is at war in the northeast. Enormous instrument of national power has been deployed. Yet, there seem not to be a headway in this fight against the insurgent. These supposedly rag-tag army (Boko Haram), has managed to sustain the war for almost a decade. Every responsible Army including the Nigerian military will feel concerned with a situation of this nature. It is this concern that prompted the Governor Shettima’s recent emergency security meeting. The meeting was not a coincidence but a well thought action aimed at re-strategizing.
The beauty of the Shettima emergency security meeting was the communication skills deployed to ensure that no stakeholder was irked and all actors in the Nigeria security sector participated. Strategic communication caused the meeting to be well attended and the objective achieved.
It is important to apply strategic communication in any war situation, because it bears on national security. The reason is because we operate in a world with 24/7 television, radio, and Internet news cycle and social media explosion. In this regard, responsible journalism is highly required while efficient civil-military relations becomes the medium for achievement of strategic communication.
Strategic communication means a systematic series of sustained and coherent activities, conducted across the strategic, operational and tactical levels to sustain particular forms of behavior. It is a tool that has proved highly potent in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism in the United States of America (USA), Britain, France, and Germany among others where their journalists exhibit high level responsible journalism due to the fact that the reportage entails matters of public interest.
The kind of cordial relationship between journalist and the military that exists in developed climes is perhaps absent in Nigeria. The reason is perhaps because our military is fond of tagging every of its activity to be secret and denies the public access to its operations all in the name of protecting national security. But we know that militaries have in the past used the cover of national security to perpetuate corruption and other clandestine acts that ultimately undermine national security.
This therefore makes the journalist a critical component in every democracy. Our military must appreciate that journalists are trained to tell the truth even in times of war and insecurity. They are shaped not to allow a narrow patriotism to undermine their commitment to truth telling. In this regard, there is need for the Nigerian military to engage in embedded journalism in order to control its communications. This is particularly essential in this war against Boko Haram.
The Nigerian military should go beyond mere press briefings or conventional reporting of operational engagements. They have to pally with journalists to convince the public about the operations while bearing in mind that there are multiple ways of accessing information today. Therefore responsible journalism is paramount.
The Nigeria military and the journalists need to take control of the public perception about this war against the insurgents very intelligently. For instance, the Daily Trust raid has been interpreted in diverse negative ways against the Nigerian military, most especially at this time when the military needs the public support most. The raid has once again resonated the Amnesty International claims of several cases of human rights abuses at the theatre of operation in the northeast.
Pundits are now claiming that if the Nigerian military can bring such brutal raid to the urban centres, they can only imagine what happens at the theatre of operations where there is no one to challenge their action. This kind of narrative is not healthy for our counter-terrorism efforts. We must appreciate that the fight against the insurgents is a collective endeavor, everyone has a role to play. The military should not see themselves as the only actors in this operation while journalists should also appreciate the fact that the military success in its campaigns against Boko Haram partly depends on responsible journalism.
– Mamud is an expert on security issues
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