Monday, 3 November 2014

REPORT: Security And Media Relations In Crisis Management

Amb. Haruna Wando, Dir. Of Communications - NSA, Moi, Session Chair Mr. Emeka Mba, DG, NBC, Mr. Japhet Omojuwa

If there ever were trying times for Nigeria, it is now. Since the swearing-in of his Excellency, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as president of the federal republic of Nigeria, The journey has been turbulent and peppered with needed distractions. At the centre of this turbulence is Boko Haram, the jihadist sect that has wrecked havoc on the nation - destroying military, civilian and religious symbols and lives in their quest to declare Nigeria an Islamic state. 
Aminu S. Tudunwada,
GM Freedom Radio
 A lot has been said about the Nigerian media and its role as a body that straddles government, civil society and the international community in ensuring accurate and deeper understanding of the issues. The relationship between the aforementioned needs further improvement as the communication gaps that exist are glaring and have affected public perception and international opinion of the government’s sincerity and resolve in its fight against terrorism.
 Mr. Dahiru Sajo Bobbo,
Asst. Dir, Legal, NHRC 

So when the government and/or media broadcast a piece of information, ordinary citizens on the ground who may have contrary or differing facts available to them, now have various means of making such information known to the public.

The result is a cynical and distrustful populace that question every step the government takes and easily puncture holes in its often poorly woven stories.

In many instances where these scenarios have played out in the recent past, these ‘citizen’ journalists who wield considerable influence over their audiences and with the facts backing their unverified submissions, have made the media and government look insincere at best.
Gen Chris Olukolade and Moi

Dr. Tom Adaba, Chairman Trim
To address the aforementioned challenges especially as it affects Nigerian security agencies and the Media, Trim Communications organized a 3-day retreat which took place at Trancorp Hilton in Abuja sometime in October 2014.  

Afua Hirsch, Sky News

I was one part of a panel of discussants invited to speak on Social Media and National Security. The panel also comprised Emeka Opara, DG - Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, Ambassador Haruna Wando, Director of Communications - Office of the National Security Adviser and Japhet Omojuwa – a Social Media practitioner.

If you will like the presentations made by the various speakers and panel discussants, send a mail to and I will forward them to you. To read a summary of my recommendations at the retreat. Continue after the jump.

The following recommendations are specific to the Nigeria Armed Forces and the Presidency as they work to restore public confidence in the authenticity of information they pass across on the one hand and establish credibility and respect within the international community on the other.
  • Setup A Media Control Center:

This may have already been done or there may be plans in place to do this but it is worth a mention. The most glaring communication gap incidentally, is not with the media and government but government within itself. Various instances exist where between the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency, The Nigerian Army, Air Force, Navy, Police, The Presidency, National Orientation Agency and Ministry of Information, different figures have been quoted for casualties of a bomb blast and different, sometimes conflicting stories disseminated on the immediate and remote causes of the blast. This shows a severe lack of synergy between the aforementioned agencies and institutions; the government is one body irrespective of the number of arms or branches and should comport itself in a manner consistent with a body in total control of its nervous system.

The easiest way to ensure consistency with news released via government sources is to establish a media control centre. The primary responsibility of the media control centre is to aggregate news stories across the various agencies, sift and synchronize key information, verify the facts and disseminate to the relevant broadcast institutions. This control centre should have a representative of each of the aforementioned agencies and establish clear guidelines for news release. This process will ensure the government speaks with one voice. It also provides a pipeline for media institutions looking for stories and verifiable facts.

  • Setup A Media Think Tank For The Presidency: 

Nigeria is one of the most heterogeneous and diverse countries on earth. With the number of ethnic groups, tribes, and minorities dwelling within its borders, it is amazing how far we have come. While this achievement shows our innate tolerance of one another despite tribal and religious clashes from time to time, it does present a peculiar challenge to the one who must lead such a people.
The office of the President is a public one with every action or inaction worthy of prime time news spot. This puts pressure on the president to deliver, to satisfy the cravings and aspirations of the various religious, tribal and ethnic groups within the country, of course, as far as it depends on the presidency. To this end, every statement that comes out from the President’s press office must take into cognisance these interests and aspirations and the nuances, intricacies and idiosyncrasies that drive each cluster. Failure to do this will result to a splintered reputation where the president is perceived as biased, sectional or unfeeling toward the needs of a particular group while another group lauds him for the very same things the other group vilifies him about.

For the president to forestall this (As it is already happening), he must clean house. His present media representatives must comport themselves in a manner worthy of the office they represent, they must synchronize news stories they share and there must be a clear and effective method for approving stories that go out of the president’s press office.

Secondly, he should establish a media think tank, a collective of well travelled (Locally), emotionally intelligent, tolerant, articulate and patriotic individuals that understand how the minds of Nigerians work, that understand the media in its entirety and the role it plays in influencing perception and discourse, that understand the politics of international relations and what must be done to position Nigeria as the giant that it truly is.

Interestingly, half the battle the Nigerian government has to fight is not against Boko haram but against other sovereign states and global media bent on discrediting the achievements of the nation and bringing its citizens and representatives to disrepute. This ‘battle’ can be won, not with propaganda or lies but with facts and an understanding and mastery of the written and spoken word. This collective will be charged with the responsibility of scrutinizing and revising as is necessary, any public statement that comes out of the president’s press office working very closely with and will of necessity, measure all speeches, texts or releases using stringent criteria (Some already listed above).

Effectively, the essence of this collective is to foster unity amongst Nigerians by avoiding statements that might divide or engender feelings of abandonment or marginalization of some regions or ethnic groups and portray the Nigerian government as a state to be respected for not just the size of its pocket or population but for the intelligence, integrity and resourcefulness of its inhabitants.
  • Institutionalize Its Digital Communication Framework:

The importance of systems and processes that guide communications between government and the various publics it serves cannot be over-emphasized. With its print, electronic and now digital communications, the government must define how to engage with its increasingly youthful audience whose media consumption habits have reduced the effectiveness of more traditional channels as a tool. It’s understandable to be reluctant to engage on unfamiliar territory but the times dictate a strategy upgrade. To institutionalize a framework for digital communications, the government must:
  • Articulate its social media strategy
  • Define the platforms through which it will engage
  • Outline its plan for content and how the said content will be optimized
  • Determine its approval processes for content created
  • Define its engagement strategy and online community management methods
  • Forecast the resources required to implement the aforementioned effectively
  • And put monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place to ensure ongoing effectiveness of its strategy

If this is done, continuity and consistency, irrespective of personnel changes, become a more realistic aspiration.

Any leader who must lead Nigeria today must of necessity, understand the times we live in. Nigerians are an opinionated generation empowered by global platforms that encourage thought expression without recourse to any professional codes or respect for things like privacy and national interest. As a result, government must strive for honesty and transparency in its dealings with the populace and ensure it remains responsive in spite of its size. Government’s engagement with its citizens is no longer an option it is an imperative. It must leverage the platforms available to connect with the people it leads and prove that it remains a thinking, feeling machinery genuinely interested in the well being of those it governs.

©Naomi Lucas
Follow me on Twitter @msmaikasuwa

No comments: