First attempt was when I was in primary six. I was at Benin to write the entrance exams to military secondary schools. Unfortunately my completed application form was not submitted and I was not allowed to take the exams. In Senior Secondary School 3, I took the application form into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). I was bent on becoming a military doctor and strategist. To my chagrin my late dad refused to sign the form and there went my dreams of joining the army. Again after my induction as a medical doctor, I tried getting into a military hospital for my internship. That too went the way of previous attempts.
Years later I was privileged to teach several sessions on effective information management and citizen engagement through digital media at the Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information (NASPRI). Attendees included reporters, photojournalists, videographers and public relations.
Again over the course of some months in 2010, I shared some strategic insights with key officers of the Special Military Task Force (STF) in Jos on “winning the information war in the digital space”. I travelled to Jos severally and experienced some of the challenges facing the Nigerian military.
At that time, no arm of the Nigerian military had any presence on social media. I came into Jos at a time when the public perception had turned against the Nigerian military. It was evident that the state authorities had made out the Nigerian military as the enemies of peace and instigators of violence. Being on the ground was very different from sitting in an armchair thousands of miles away in the safety of my home.
I asked to see evidence of the gallant efforts being made by the STF. That’s how I was shown thousands of photos and tens of videos documenting unequivocally the brave actions of our soldiers there. On asking why these were not on any of the websites of the military, I was told that there was no strategy around using multimedia to manage information. The STF and indeed Defence Headquarters were working in silos. The STF on its own had no authority to create and manage information outside the supervision of Abuja. That is one of the very sad realities of the Nigerian military. Credible evidences supporting the very gallant works of our military are gathering dusts while the standard approach to information management remains press conferences and releases.
So what has changed between 2010 and now? The Defence Headquarters has an improved web presence. However right from the home page of its website, it is obvious that there is a need to improve the accuracy and timeliness of the content. Of the 5 social media accounts whose logos are on the site, only Twitter and You Tube are active. The Facebook link leads to a non-existent Facebook page. What is the rationale for a Linkedin logo on that page? The latest news is dated August 2014. With sections such as Defence Headquarters Channel that lead nowhere it is time to remove redundant links. The best part of the website is its blog. However the blog’s narrative is overwhelmingly non-evidential as it attempts to chronicle the successes of the counter-insurgency efforts in the North East.
In this digital age, the Defence Headquarters can and should do more to engage the public with content that is Authentic, Believable and Credible (ABC). Don’t just dismiss the seemingly credible claims of CNN and Amnesty International as satanic, orchestrated blackmail and propaganda against the leadership of the Nigerian military and government. We live in a world of global standards where our business is everyone’s business. I have repeatedly seen the interviews CNN conducted with the “so-called Nigerian soldiers”. The Defence Headquarters needs to make Nigeria look more professional and competent. Amnesty International’s report on Baga and co is damning! If the Defence Headquarters has a problem with the satellite images presented by Amnesty International then by all means it (Defence Headquarters) should have presented its own footages (with its version of the truth) or simply kept quiet. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and drinks like a duck, it is but a duck. This information management approach is not working! Without these third party reports, Nigerians would still be in the dark about these massacres.
A review of the You Tube channel of Defence Headquarters once again shows a familiar trend – largely press conferences. Its Twitter approach borders on unverified posts, denials and accusations…sounding like a cracked record. Even if the military do not trust Nigerian journalists, what has stopped them from embedding their own multimedia personnel as part of its operations? It is not just about what you do but how you report what you do! How well are we really doing against Boko Haram?
I believe that we do not have cowards in the Nigerian Military. However I am convinced that just like a surgeon is useless without his equipment, our soldiers have not had the best support on and off the field.
The Nigerian military needs to rethink its approach to information management. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is my model on how to effectively and proactively manage information. Given how savvy Boko Haram is with social media, the Nigerian military authorities can learn a thing or two from IDF’s many campaigns. We have no other choice!
P.S: This article was also published in the 28th of January 2015 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read