Are We At War?
Nigeria is not at war. So she may not need a Paul Joseph Goebbels or the local version, Prof. Uche Chukwumerije. But presently, the best of the two loose-chain propagandists may be required to navigate the multiple internal security problems bedevilling the country. At this point, the brutal truth most be told. Holding back may be unnationalistic at the end of the day. It is not that all attacks are won and lost by military sophistication and might. Some tact are needed which the military may not actually take cognizance of.
There is an urgent need to change strategy in combating the renewed banditry and Boko Haram insurgency attacks in the Northern hemisphere of the country. So also is the virtual breakdown of law and order in the Eastern flank. The West is also grappling with kidnapping and sundry issues. The continuous use of military might to me will not ease off these attacks, and before long, the entire country might be at the mercy of these irredentist bandits.
We all read how late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s simple strategic intervention led to the eventual surrender of the Biafran rebel forces led by Col. Phillip Effiong. He was said to have advocated the blockade of food supply to the Region and that did the magic which several ammunitions had failed to do. Like I posit earlier, the country is not at war. So there is no need for any blockade, save technological and information.
The Boko Haram
Allowing the Boko Haram leader, Ibrahim Shekau the opportunity to post materials (using the avenue they opposed religiously) and get published regularly is a disservice to the souls of the several soldiers that have died fighting the insurgents. The power of information in situation like this cannot be under estimated. The local press is guilty, terribly guilty. Splashing pictures of Shekau and his bands of vampires on the front pages is insensitive and irresponsible. The press, both the traditional, (print and electronic) and even social media should have been mobilized to black out the group’s activities long time ago. I know our information managers know much about Paul Joseph Goebbels. He was a member of the German Nazi Party and Minister for Propaganda for Adolf Hitler’s German Third Reich. His handling of the propaganda machinery of Hitler during the Second World War almost secured victory for the Nazis. With this, I think no one should have allowed the bandits or the Boko Haram insurgents’ media space. Pushing them into the consciousness of the people is risky and dangerous. Before we know it, we would have created cult-hero images of these heartless vampires.
The Nigeria media is not lazy, nor uneventful. It has a very long and beautiful history. Right from the beginning when the United Missionary Society established the Iwe Irohin fun Awon Ara Egba ati Yoruba in 1859, it has been a roller-coaster journey till the present day of massive digital information system. From the Horatio Jackson, Enerst Ikoli, Nnamid Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo crude journalism practice to the present day sophisticated publishers, the profession was built on the solid foundation laid by that rag-sheet by-monthly publication, Iwe Irohin.
Nigeria and the Press
From history, the Nigeria press was noted for its vibrancy, dynamism, robust debates and candor. It was never known to shield away from its responsibilities of the nation building. The pre-independence press was highly focused on the nationalism struggle. Despite the occasional tits and tats between Azikwe’s West African Pilot and the combined team of Awolowo’s and Ikoli’s Nigerian Tribune and Daily Times, they never shirked nor deviate from the original nationalistic.
At Independence, in spite of all the crises, the press stood firm. And during the internecine Civil War, it played a critical role. The rebel government of the failed Republic of Biafra employed all back hand propaganda tactics, yet the nationalist press stood firm. Reading the post war writers, Ayekooto, John West, Tai Solarin, Lad Bone, Sonola Olumese, Dele Giwa, and others drew many youngsters to Mass Communication/Journalism.
The media can be alive to its responsibilities if the authorities will it and allowed it. Agreed, we all know the damage the advent of the ‘Oja Oyingbo’, (Oyingba Main Market in Lagos Mainland) that is the social media in the country have cause in this negative narrative. The concept of gate-keeper in the traditional media has been subsumed and overridden. Everything has become an all-comers’ affairs.
What the people say
Yet, one finds some fun reading all manner of threads and posts on the social media. But mid-last week a Lawyer-Pastor friend, Tayo Adesiyun jerked me up from sleep with a post that I have read a dozen of times and yet could not react to nor comment on.
Tayo Adesiyun if not a flippant nor a political person. And each time he has cause to draw my attention to an issue, I always try to have second look at such. He had sent me a conversation on a post from one of his WhatsApp’s groups. The conversations from the group actually is a reflection of what we are inundated with daily from both the traditional (print and electronic media (and social media platforms.
A sender had seriously complained on posting Shekau’s new video on the group’s status. He wrote inter alia: ‘You may not be able to stop others from posting useless news like what Shekau had for dinner or the monster he newly appointed as his Commander of war, but you have the power to keep it off your WhatsApp status. I have the same power too. If we claim to be better informed then we should know the implication of spreading stuff like that on our platforms. We are doing Boko Haram’s job for them. Not because you didn’t read the news but you shouldn’t be a medium to spread such news that emboldens and glorifies the strength of those guys. If 200 million Nigerians have the capacity to spread the news, and on elite groups like ours we make it a point of duty to ignore news of that variety, we would have done our bit. Even the press aren’t helping by posting such useless news. They’re profiteers off the crisis. Imagine the other day, someone called a journalist reported that Leah Sharibu gave birth for one of the Boko Haram commanders. What do they think that would solve? Have they considered Leah’s parents in their quest to be first to report instead of what is right to report? If it is truly their job to report anything and everything, why don’t they report the marital infidelity of their publishers or the financial recklessness of their publishers too? They know that it is not every garment one dries in the open but they don’t mind the collateral damage as long as it is someone else’.
To this another bemused member replied: “Imagine how much help it would’ve been if the civilian population didn’t have to watch the threats and boasts of Shekau regularly since the war started. And I’m talking of the Jonathan years and later. They need that coverage to intimidate and we could have denied them that. But we say that it is the right of the press to cover everything and they’ve been doing the job of the enemy for them quite effectively”.
Another contributor chipped in the sucker punch: “During wars in other countries, the press is enlisted to black out news of the enemy’s successes in battles and to amplify the successes of their own troops. No war is won by creating hysteria, panic and hopelessness in your own citizens. In the name of reporting. Let the military liaise with the press to direct coverage of the war. Propaganda is an extremely powerful tool in wars and we are at war.”
The way forward
Do we still have to allowed Shekau and his ilk unfettered access to the open media? The same western invention of which they vehemently opposed going by their chosen name “Boko Haram” literally meaning Islam against books and Western ideas. While the government cannot control what an individual posts on his restricted social media like the WhatsApp, much can be done to discourage indiscriminate posting of such materials. We need to go borrow from the French Philosopher King, the Military and Political leader, Napoleon Bonaparte who remarked before the press: I bow and tremble before the pen. For a pen is mightier than a thousand bayonets’. Letting the bandits occupy our land is dangerous enough. We should not now hand over the pen to them too. This will be suicidal.
The press was solidly behind the Federal Government during the Civil War of 1967-70. One could only imagine now what could have happened if the press at the time had decided to sabotage the Federal Government efforts by publishing all manners of fake news being pushed out by Gen. Odimegwu Ojukwu and his cohorts, the way Shekau and other bandits are getting good air time and newspapers space today.
Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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