By Our Correspondents
Now more than ever, effective Information Management remains vital for the survival and success of virtually every kind of organization, in light of the rapidly evolving technological realities of the Information Age. Interestingly, the advent of “New Media” and its associated technological marvels has made the job of Information Management paradoxically both simpler and more complex. Simpler in the sense of the unprecedented ease and rapidity with which information can be transmitted across the globe, but complex because of the far-reaching ramifications of even the most apparently inane bit of information.
Unfortunately, “Fake News” and other forms of deliberate misinformation have become commonplace and are the first and last resort of unsavory elements hell-bent on anarchistic agendas, with potentially dire implications for the security and wellbeing of nations. It therefore comes as no surprise that militaries world-over have taken more than a passing interest in Information Management, to the extent that “Information Warfare” is now an emergent field of military competence.
Indeed, the central role of Information Management in assuring the efficacy of military forces and, in consequence, the effectiveness of the security architectures of the territories they exist to protect is at no time more important than in this era of the nexus of technologies with warfare. The implications of all these factors make it incumbent for military forces to generate, sustain and deploy the very acme of capabilities in strategic Information Management, and the Armed Forces of Nigeria is making giant strides in this regard, with the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on the cutting edge.
The drive to reposition the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives, has been the very Vision of the incumbent Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar. One of the Key Drivers of this Vision, which is “Human capacity development through robust and result oriented training for enhanced professional performance” has received much attention since he assumed office as the Twentieth Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). Notable amongst the initiatives in pursuit of the Vision, has been the concerted and systematic development of core competencies and critical capacities for the NAF’s Directorate of Public Relations and Information (DOPRI), which is charged with Information Management and Strategic Public Communications to enhance the NAF’s operational effectiveness and overall public perception. Hence, for DOPRI to better meet the aspirations of the Service, particularly in the context of current security challenges confronting the Nation and also given the rapidly changing Strategic Communications environment occasioned by advancements in technology, the CAS approved several local and oversea trainings for the personnel of NAF PR/Info.
Gratifyingly, the drive to enrich the capabilities of the DOPRI is yielding enviable dividends as the NAF, for the second year running, has emerged Winner of the prestigious International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Golden World Award (GWA) for Excellence in Crisis Communication Management. In the same vein, the NAF is also among the Major Winners of the 2020 African Public Relations Association (APRA) Public Sector/Government Category Awards, which recognize Superior Achievement in Branding Reputation and Engagement (SABRE). Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, the Director DOPRI, noted recently that the 2 awards were in particular recognition of NAF’s campaign through the documentary, “Women of War”, which highlights the NAF’s ongoing initiatives to empower women in roles hitherto considered to be beyond them due to certain cultural misconceptions. The 2020 GWA, which was announced by the Member Services Manager of IPRA, Janice Hill, in a message to the Image Merchants, Promotion Limited, which spearheaded the campaigns, stated that the selection of finalists and winners was done online this year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The President of IPRA and Chairman of the Jury, Svetlana Stavera, stated that multiple judges evaluated the entries to ensure a balanced assessment. “We had expected the competition this year to be tough as budgets were cut and people worked from home. So, we were proud to see the PR industry fight back determined to tell the world about its best campaigns”, she said. The jury for the selection of the 2020 GWA winners comprised judges from various countries worldwide, including Austria, Bulgaria, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Philippines, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The President of APRA, Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, while speaking on the 2020 SABRE Awards, stated that the annual award ceremony, which would have coincided with the Annual Conference earlier scheduled to hold from 11 -15 May 2020 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. He said they eventually held a virtual ceremony on 10 September 2020, before they dispatched the Awards to the various winners.
It is instructive to note that, over the last 5 years, the NAF, under the leadership of the current CAS, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, in line with its focus on promoting and inculcating the Core Values of ‘Integrity’, ‘Excellence’ and ‘Service Delivery’, has placed a high premium on equal opportunities for both male and female personnel to realize their potentials. The enabling environment created as a result of this policy led to a surge in the involvement of female personnel in areas that were hitherto the preserve of men. According to the DOPRI; “Five female pilots have been winged within the period, bringing the total number of female pilots in the NAF to 7. Sadly, the NAF lost one of these female pilots, Flying Officer TolulopeArotile, to a road traffic accident earlier in the year. However, 14 other female officers are currently undergoing training both within and outside the Country to become NAF pilots”. Similarly, many other female officers and airwomen are excelling in their various fields of specialization including Regiment and Special Forces, Aircraft/Armament Engineers and Technicians as well as Air Traffic Controllers, amongst others. The NAF’s objective in this regard, according to Daramola, is to maximize all the potentials of Nigeria’s vast human resource pool, male and female, to ensure the effective, efficient and timely employment of Air Power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives.
Prior to the assumption of office of Air Marshal Abubakar, the NAF DOPRI enjoyed limited local and overseas training, most especially for the airmen/airwomen cadre. This impinged on the professional efficiency, effectiveness and morale of personnel of the Directorate, thus diminishing the impact of reportage of NAF activities which also reduced the goodwill the NAF enjoyed. As a result, majority of Nigerians were oblivious of NAF’s contributions to national security. However, the current CAS took significant steps to rectify the anomalies. For instance, in May 2017, the NAF sent a delegation to the African Public Relations Association (APRA) Conference which was held in Casablanca, Morocco. The NAF-sponsored 5-man team was headed by the former Director DOPRI, then Air Commodore – now Air Vice Marshal – Olatokunbo Adesanya.
In like fashion, to better enlighten the Defence Correspondents about the NAF, the DOPRI, on 8 March 2018, conducted a one-day enlightenment workshop on Air Power for Defence Correspondents in Abuja, which witnessed a large turnout of journalists from different media organizations covering military activities. The workshop was aimed at better equipping Defence Correspondents with requisite skills and updated knowledge on the application of Air Power and to acquaint them with various associated terminologies in a bid to enhance professionalism in the reportage of NAF events, thereby projecting the Service in a more accurate and balanced manner.
While declaring the workshop open, the CAS, who was represented by the then Chief of Administration, Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Yahaya, stated that Information Management in contemporary times is critical to national development. He added that the way information is processed could affect national security either positively or negatively. “Therefore, a Defence Correspondent must understand the terminologies associated with his beat to enable him report events professionally”, he stated.
The NAF also on 18 January 2019, conducted an ‘Enlightenment Workshop’ on Air Power for Defence Correspondents in Abuja. The DOPRI organised the one-day Workshop, which witnessed a large turnout of journalists from different media organizations covering various Defence beats. While declaring the Workshop open, the CAS, represented by the then Chief of Administration, Air Vice Marshal Kingsley Lar, enjoined Defence Correspondents to make good use of the opportunity offered by the Workshop to acquire pertinent knowledge about the NAF. According to him, there was a growing need for journalists to understand the nuances and technicalities involved in air operations as the nation strives to maintain peace and stability.
In 2019, the NAF was recognized for its efforts in PR practice and the fight against insurgency in the Northeast by the African Public Relations Association (APRA) in Kigali, Rwanda. At the Annual Conference and Awards Ceremony, the NAF received a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ in recognition of its sterling contribution to PR development and its invaluable support to APRA activities. The NAF also received a ‘Certificate of Excellence’, in the ‘Public Sector/Government Award Category’ for its crisis communication campaigns in the counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast. The awards were presented to the NAF by the President of APRA, Mr. Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, who commended the NAF for its developmental strides in PR. He said; “The NAF is honored for its contributions to capacity building, professional development and its outstanding PR practices on the African Continent”.
The Service further bagged the prestigious International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Golden World Award for Excellence (GWA) in the Crisis Communication Management category. The Award which was presented at the colorful 2019 IPRA GWA Awards Night held in Yerevan, the ancient capital city of Armenia, on 27 September 2019, was given in recognition of the NAF’s management of communication in the aftermath of attacks on Metele in the Northeast of Nigeria, in partnership with Image Merchants Promotions (IMP) Limited. Speaking after receiving the award on behalf of the NAF, the former Chief of Administration Headquarters NAF, Air Vice Marshal Kingsley Lar, stated that the award was a testament to the hard work and dedication of personnel of the DOPRI, with the firm backing of unwavering support and guidance by the CAS.
It is extremely remarkable that in 2020, the NAF was again the recipient of the IPRA and APRA Awards for Excellence in Communications Management. This consistency in receiving global and regional acclaim for Excellence in Information Management, in this era of the Information Age, where New Media provides a dangerous breeding ground for Fake News and misinformation, bears eloquent testimony that, with the right investment in capacity development, Information Management can be effectively engaged as a veritable vehicle for positively shaping public perception and ensuring proper public enlightenment, with great benefits for national security and citizen wellbeing. Indeed, it can be surmised that the enviable awards received by the NAF are returns on investment which the current leadership of the Service, under Air Marshal Abubakar, has, over years, invested in capacity building towards a re-professionalized Air Force that is ‘Willing, Able and Ready” to serve.