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Security Reporting Amid Military Crackdown On Bandits

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In this report, George Agba examines the role of media reporting of ongoing military operations against bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements in the country within the background of a capacity-building workshop for practicing journalists held in Katsina recently

At least 20 armed bandits were said to have been killed and others arrested in specially coordinated military and security crackdowns against banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and general criminality in the North West part of the country, according to the Nigerian Army at the weekend.

Colonel Mohammed Dole, spokesman for the special operation said that troops in Zamfara State had several encounters with the bandits across the three major districts of Maradun, Tsafe and Zurmi, resulting in the death of several criminals in the attacks.

“Some bandits escaped with gunshot wounds and several motorcycles were burned. In one of the encounters with the bandits, two notorious bandits-Bello Danboko and Sani Maza-were eliminated in Yanwari ward near Yankuzzo and the village of Mai Tukunya near Dansadau’’, Col. Dole, who also disclosed that there had been rounds of 24-hour fighting patrols around the Kyaranke and Giwabawa villages in the Kanoma District of Manu LGA following a tip on the imposition of $2,777 levy on each of the villages.

Apparently not done with claims of the military successes, the army spokesman said that another tip led to the rescue and recovery of kidnapped victims and the sum of $1, 388 ransom from kidnappers in Subulu forest.

In the face of increased successful crackdown by the military and other security agencies on suspected bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers and dare-devil criminals, there had been questions about the critical role of media reporting of the events in a manner capable of promoting public security and safety of Nigerians.

This has been the question on many agitated minds in the recent weeks as the reports of alleged kidnappings and attacks by unknown gunmen in other parts of the country gripped the nation such as the gory killing of the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti in the South West.

It is a common claim that success is a burden. The serial successes being recorded across the country by the Armed Forces of Nigeria under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; the Inspector-General of Police, Abdullahi Adamu and other security agencies in decisively quelling several severe threats to national security and stability seem to validate this claim against the backdrop of opinions in some quarters that media maintains a crucial position in the public evaluation of events in the country.

And so it emerged that on Saturday, July 27 in the ancient city of Katsina, the NonViolent Peace Institute which is the training arm of the NonViolent Peace Initiative, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) operating in the IDPs camps of the North East organised a capacity-building workshop for practicing journalists with the theme: ‘News Reporting for National Stability’. It was organised in collaboration with Absolute Press, an Abuja-based firm of media practitioners.

The event was jointly facilitated by the Director of Press to the Secretary to Government of the State (SGS), Alhaji Abdullahi Yar’Adua and the chairman, Katsina State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Alhaji Mamman Buhari Daura. It was adjudged by observers as not only topical and timely but as the first to be organised in the state. This, it was learnt, explained why the SGS, Dr. Mustapha Muhammad Inuwa who was re-appointed weeks ago, immediately accepted to attend, deliver a keynote address and declare the workshop open.

The event which was held at the Banquet Hall of the old Government House in G.R.A pulled over sixty journalists from newspapers, radio and television stations cutting across the print and electronic media. Also, journalists attached to the Government House, Ministries, Departments and Agencies attended.

Welcoming the participants, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Absolute Press, Mr. Emeka Nwankpa acknowledged the sincerity, understanding and doggedness of the President of the Nonviolent and Peace Institute, Mr. Mohammed Shawun Idris to enter into what he described as a strategic collaboration to organise the workshop.

He said, “It is the first in the series of strategic engagement by our organisations working in synergy to build capacity of the media in responding professionally and adequately to the security challenges of the present time in parts of our dear nation.

Your participation in this workshop is a clear demonstration of your commitment to professional integrity and excellence in our collective aspiration of building a peaceful, progressive and successful nation”.

Nwankpa also praised the Katsina State Government for appreciating the need for such a workshop. “Let me also place on record what we have observed as the sincerity, steadfastness and commitment of the Government of Katsina State to a building and sustaining a peaceful State where all citizens and residents are live freely without fear. Nothing best illustrates this commitment as the distinguished presence of the Secretary of the Government of Katsina State, Dr. Mustapha Inuwa at this workshop’’, he noted.

According to him, the initiative was part of efforts to encourage journalists to strike a balance between reportage of conflict situations in the country and security matters, without compromising national stability, adding that it was also to add to current moves at different levels at meeting the challenges posed by the security threats to the media as a critical stakeholder in the search for national peace and stability.

Noting that Nigeria had historically survived severe crises triggered by existential issues resulting in current security challenges, he maintained that the current security challenges in parts of the country, including Katsina State, and how they are reported in the media was a major concern.

‘’Security is certainly a major concern in the country today. The concept of NIGERIA FIRST should concern all Nigerians and Governments. The security of ONE is the responsibility of ALL. The insecurity of one is the insecurity of all’’, he said, stressing that how the media discharged its responsibility especially in the face of current successful engagements of the Military and other security agencies with non-state actors required sustained confidence and capacity building for journalists to enable them appreciate that reporting the engagements of security forces was not the same as reporting soccer tournaments.

He described the efforts by the organisers at deepening the journalists’ understanding towards upgrading their capacity in the reporting of security matters without hampering the collective safety of Nigerians and compromising national security as part of its goals to drive the advocacy and reinforce the current reportage of security matters in conflict situations in parts of the country including the North West.

The other objectives, he said, were to appraise a shared understanding of the challenges of the present times vis-a-vis the collective safety of Nigerians, evaluate media capacity to appreciate the non-salutary outcomes of the security challenges and the media reportage thereof, and evolve pragmatic ways of deepening understanding and enhancing the use of the tools of professionalism in a manner that promotes collective security, national stability and protection of the vital interests of the nation.

In his keynote address, Dr. Mustapha Muhammad Inuwa told the participants that the topic of the workshop was proper and germane to the current circumstances in the State. He commended the media, especially journalists covering the state, for showing understanding in their reportage of security threats.

Lauding them for what he described as the maturity with which they had continued to handle the prevailing wave of armed banditry in parts of the State, he said that the precarious security situation in the State had tended to attract much publicity in the local and national media.

He noted: “The State has had its negative share of criminal activities comprising armed banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping for ransom, especially in the eight local government areas bordering the Rugu forest which include Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Dan-Musa, Kankara, Faskari, Danduma and Sabuwa.

‘’We appreciate the maturity with which journalists in the state handle these issues and appeal to them to discharge their civic responsibility within the boundaries of reason and moderation as the media remain critical stakeholders in national development’’.

The technical session that followed immediately after the formal flag-off of the workshop was frank, thrilling and breath-taking bringing to the fore the core under-belly of the media vis-a-vis its capacity and readiness to synergise and collaborate with other critical sectors of the Nigerian state to halt further escalation of tension without compromising the integrity and ethics of the profession, public safety and national stability.

The CEO of Absolute Press, Nwankpa, who took the first paper to set the tone of the talk-shop presented a paper which the late highly-respected media mogul and former group managing director of the once-influential Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN), Dr. Isma’il Babatunde Jose, OFR, delivered on August 11, 2001 at the first Presidential Retreat on National Security at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

The 12-page technical paper, which was titled: Mass Media and National Security, defined mass media as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and drums, as means of communicating, informing, educating and entertaining masses of the people. It also explained national security as a state of the nation which is stable, not threatened by internal or external aggression or might take the form of inter-ethnic and religious conflicts threatening a breach of the peace or a breakdown of law and order, or even organised crime or trade union activities of essential workers capable of destabilising or endanger lives and properties.

Nwamkpa added: “The history of mass media in Nigeria is the history of nationalism against the slave trade and for freedom from British colonial rule. The vanguard of these media practitioners were mostly British-trained professionals: engineers, lawyers, doctors, who founded newspapers to articulate public opinion to support self-government for Nigeria. The reading population was small and the geographical areas for the circulation of newspapers were restricted to the coastal areas of Lagos, Warri, Calabar and Port Harcourt.

‘’The proprietors were also the editors; there were more comments than news. They did not publish to make profit; they used their incomes as lawyers, doctors and engineers to finance the publications. They were patriots representing the first generation of patriotic journalists in Nigeria: Horatio Jackson, Balize Agbebi, Egerton Shyngle and Herbert Macaulay. They were folIowed by another generation among whom were Ernest Ikoli, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, H. O. Davies, S. L. Akintola, Mobolaji Odunewu, Collins Gardener and Kofi Blankson. They worked fulltime as politicians and producing newspapers. Dr. Azikiwe was singularly outstanding among them because he had trained as a political scientist, anthropologist and journalist in America. And when he returned to Nigeria, he started a chain of newspapers: The West African Pilot and The Daily Comet, both in Lagos; The Defender in Ibadan; The Spokesman in Onitsha; and The Guardian in Port Harcourt. He thus provided training grounds for another generation of nationalist-journalists like Anthony Enahoro, Yekini Tinubu, Abiodun Aloba, M. C. K. Ajuluchukwu and Kola Balogun.

“Coming after them was my own group who left Zik’s newspaper to work for the Daily Times founded by Anglo-Nigerians including the late Sir Adeyemo Alakija and other newspapers founded by some political parties, businessmen, and Regional Governments. Such men include Laban Namme, Bisi Onabanjo, Peter Enahoro, Sam Amuka, Herbert Unegbu, Alade Odunewu, Lateef Jakande, Henry Odukomaya, Areoye-Oyebola, Segun Osoba, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, Doyin Abiola, Theresa Ogunbiyi, Udora Olasi, Tony Momoh, Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Haroun Adamu, Adamu Ciroma, Mamman Daura, Turi Muhammadu, Mohammed Haruna, Stanley Macebuh, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Tunji Oseni and Olu Adebanjo.

“In the 31 years, 1970-2001, since the end of the civil war and the scenario of conflicts between the mass media and the government, the number of newspapers, magazines, radio, and television stations has more than doubled, largely by private ownership.

“The mass media have learnt a number of lessons of their duties and responsibilities under military and constitutional rule. It is normal to have occasional mutual irritation between government and the media but certainly rubber bullet is not in the national interest. Debate, harsh words, shouting, boxing, and throwing of chairs is not new in our legislatures; it started more than 30 years ago. While we accept the culture of argument without fighting, the mass media should not dramatise such events to cause public fear and alarm.

“I believe that mass media and elected government should work, together for the stability of the nation.

The mass media played a highly commendable role against absolute rule and state-sponsored terrorism of the two military governments before the last one. I believe that the line between protection of national interest and national security is thin and delicate. I believe in press freedom within the bounds of reason and limitation of just laws.

“I believe that Mr. President should establish relationship of mutual trust with selected media practitioners to confide in them on government policies and actions. This trust worked satisfactorily under the Prime Minister of the First Republic. I believe it would work”.

In his paper titled, National Security and Responsible Journalism in Nigeria, Hussain Tukur Hassan, a former journalist and Associate Professor of Political Science at the Nasarawa State University, Lafia opined that promoting news stories that tend to celebrate the enemy of the nation and country ends up demoralising state actors such as the military and security forces thereby creating fear panic and sending wrong signals to the public and the international community.

Professor of Theoretical Politics at the New York University, Kingsley Macebuh in his paper titled: Republican Pursuit of National Interest, National Security and the Media, canvassed for what he called “a compelling need for a triad of some cooperative balancing act, as may be harmonized by the Nigerian Press, the Civil Society and the Armed Forces of Nigeria, in favour of national interest for adequate showing of national patriotism, national security and responsible free press reporting of Nigeria’s active military movements, operational engagements of Nigeria’s armed forces against enemy forces as the Boko Haram and the internecine banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, etc ravaging many of the Northern states of Nigeria’’.

Foremost journalist and 2001 Nigerian Media Merit Award winner, Isaiah Abraham in his paper, accused those he called ‘bushitters’ armed with the tools of journalism as invading the media scene thereby posing a serious challenge to practicing professional journalists in the reporting of the current fight against insurgency, banditry, militancy and terrorism or by whatever means, the enemies of the Nigerian State.

He accused them of often presenting a twisted view of the efforts of the Armed Forces and other security and intelligence agencies in the fight against the enemies of the State.

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