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Nigerian Military-Media Relations for National Security 

Presented at the: 

Media Interactive Session on Partnering Military For Responsible Security Reporting By HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA); Delivered 

By

Senator Iroegbu 

Journalist | Editor| | Publisher | Analyst | Facilitator

John Boyd, an American military strategist and essayist once said:

“Machines do not fight wars. People do, and they use their minds and the destruction and distortion of the enemy’s will to win and perception of reality through ambiguous posturing, and severing of the communication and information infrastructure should be the driving force in mental warfare “.

 

Objectives

  • The core objective of this discussion is to foster cordial military-media relations with a view to strengthening national security especially for the successful execution of the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations
  • To situate the responsibilities of the media and especially the media in minimizing sensational reportage considered injurious to national security especially during the period of counter terror war.
  • To identify the role of the media, especially in conflict situation, internal/external security challenges and ongoing war against terror.
  • To discuss the link between the military-media relations and conflicts situations
  • Attempt to look at the ethical concepts and principles at work in press/media operations supporting Nigerian military, defence and security sector to make timely and accurate information about national security and defence strategy available to the public through news media.

☆The focus is on the clash of professional ethics from the military and journalistic viewpoints, and the application of media ground rules to reach ethical outcomes while protecting national security interests.1 — Ditchey II, Robert Louis; Ethics in Media Military Relations, 2011

  • Recommendations on the way forward

Introduction

  • The military-media relation is one of the critical dimensions of the whole civil military relations gamut.
  • The importance of their relationship is underpinned by the fact that both institutions – military and media- are significantly indispensable in the progressive running of any society.

☆They indeed play different roles and might see things from different point of view but in the matters of national security and peace, they must understand, promote, protect and appreciate each other as partners in progress and costakeholders in the overriding task of nation building.

  • For instance, the military and the media in spite of their strategic importance to national security, sometimes appear to hold contrary views on what constitute national security: the military owing to the sensitive nature of its duties considers secretiveness not as a ‘shortcoming’ but as an important, strategic attribute while media, the ‘watchdog of society’, believes that the public ought to know everything and indeed expect the military to open up in anything. It is therefore expected that such lacuna will in most cases breed degrees of animosity between the two institutions, straining their relationship in the process.
  • The aftermath is that the media report of the military will be affected and the military’s perception of media coverage of its activities will also be affected. But the military-media relations in Nigeria had always been punctuated with mutual suspicion, bitterness and lack of understanding, especially during the military rule
  • NOTE:It therefore becomes most imperative to seek ways of collapsing the wall of mutual suspicion between the two critical institutions and by extension, civil-military relations. The inclination by both parties to discharge their responsibilities with a shared sense of patriotism will enhance and sustain the country’s democracy.

☆☆VERDICT: Suffice it to say that the media is as relevant to the military and the society at large, as the military is to the media and the general society within the context of their constitutional mandates.2

–Chidi Omeje, Military-Media Relations in Nigeria: Collapsing The Wall of Mutual Suspicion, 2019

Military-Media Relations: Roles Constitutionally Guaranteed

  • To underline the importance of these two institutions in the life of the nation, their roles are enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution–recognizing the media and military as two of the core pillars of our nationhood.

The Nigerian military—

The roles of a country’s armed forces are entrenched in her Constitution. The defence of the territorial integrity and other core interests of the nation form the major substance of such roles. Section 217-220 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria addresses the Nigerian Armed Forces:

  • 1. There shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an army, a navy, an air force, and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.
  • 2. The Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of – (a) defending Nigeria from external aggression; (b) maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea, or air; (c) Suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. (d) Perform such other functions as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly.
  • 3. The composition of the officer corps and other ranks of the armed forces of the Federation shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria.3 –

The Nigerian Armed Forces; Wikipedia

The Nigerian Media/Press—

Recognized as the 4th Estate of the Realm, the media or press has come to stay as an integral and indispensable element of the society and 4th arm of the Government on its own right.

☆It derives its powers to function from the constitution as stipulated in Chapter II section 22 of the 1999 constitution, hence:

  • The press/media: print, radio, television, online and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
  • This provision implies that the media shall be a watchdog over the excesses of government, and shall ensure that government delivers it promises to the people. The government on the one hand shall ensure that the press informs the people about its programmes and actions.
  • The free society which comprises of people of different ethnic, religious, socio-economic backgrounds are also entitled to free information, as such chapter II section 39 subsection (1) of the 1999 constitution states: -Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
  • Subsection (2) states that:

-Without prejudice to the generality of subsection I of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.4

 –Charles Akolo Katsibi, The Constitution and the Nigerian Press

Military-Media: A Historically Frosty Relations

  • Globally, the relationship between the military and the media has not been a smooth and healthy one, especially in Nigeria yet like Siemens twins they must seek a way to work together for national security.
  • In Nigeria in particular, the relationship was soiled by the fact of prolonged military rule of which majority of Nigerians viewed as illegitimate with the media being the channel through which opposition to such ‘abnormality’ is constantly challenged.
  • Indeed in the past, relationship between the military and the media has been marked by periods of distrust particularly during the Buhari -Idiagbon and the Babaginda – Abacha era. But since the return of civil rule in 1999, there has been cordial relationship with the media without harassment and intimidation.

☆However, with the recent clamp down on media houses (twice Daily Trust has been invaded in 2014 and 2019) and arrest of some journalists, the relationship has again suffered some major setback and indeed reminding us of the dark past of the military and obnoxious Decree 4 of 1984.5

–Samuel Orovwuje ; Military, media and national security

Military actions that negates effective media relations

  • Arrest of journalists
  • Suspected murder/assassination of journalists
  • Harassment and brutality against journalists
  • Closure/invasion of media houses
  • Unfriendly military public relations officers/directorate
  • Inaccessibility of information, delay or untimely delay
  • Unprofessional behaviour/conducts
  • Underrating/underestimating the roles/ability of the media or reporters

Media Actions that endangers security operations/effective military relations

  • Exposing/reporting operational details/intelligence
  • Unprofessional behaviour/conduct
  • Lack of knowledge/expertise of the beat/military operations
  • Sensationalism and related matters

    THE BIG FACT

    • Media is firmly at the centre of not just national but global security.
    • One of the major challenges beclouding media-military relations is the often claim by the military as the sole custodian of the national security. The myth which has now been shattered by the deployment of the media by states and none state actors to achieve a set security goal.
    • According to Orovwuje*: The social responsibility role of the media which essentially include impartiality and self-censorship mechanism is the key driver in setting agenda for public opinion and the military do not have the monopoly of what constitutes national interest.
    • He noted: The experience of the military across the world in the fight against insurgency and separatist movements and the Boko Haram in the case of Nigeria, has shown that victory on the battlefield is not simple as defeating criminal gangs by force of arms but rather successes is defined by public perception which the media helps to shape through its reportage. Therefore, the military high command stands to gain more than ever before from the media in their engagement strategy and indeed in shaping their operational output.
    • To this Omeje* acknowledged that the military, having recognized the indispensability of the media in the success of its operations, have developed media management departments to enhance their relationship with the media. The Nigerian Army (NA) formally established its Public Relations Directorate in 1967 to counter the war propaganda of the then Republic of Biafra; the Nigerian Navy (NN), Public Relations, which was first seen as a ‘purely mess function’, in 1972 formally established its Directorate of Information. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) also followed suit by establishing its Directorate of Public Relations and Information in the late 1970s and The Defence Headquarters (DHQ), established its own public and media relations directorate named Directorate of Defence Information in 1993.
    • It is therefore pertinent to recognize that there is a constant link between the media (ink and papers, online) and guns (conflicts, crises and wars). This link exists since the former thrives in the later and can also escalate or de-escalate the later. Have you heard that bad news is the news and that “the pen is mightier than the sword”?
    • The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte testified to this when he said: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”.
    • It’s even more so now in this era of information liberalization/social media where state and non-state actors can readily deploy the media to devastating effect.
    • This reiterates the fact that effective media campaign is a critical tool in accelerating or diminishing conflict, terrorism or insurgency
    • Unfortunately, the media tool has either not been strategically deployed or is underutilized in the on-going campaign against insurgency.

    THIS THEREFORE CALLS FOR RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM. HOW?

    • The media should build effective relations with the military with the ultimate goal of national security and global peaceful co-existence
    • Have a designated defence correspondent
    • Ensure fact-checking and balance your story before publication
    • Minimise sensationalist headlines
    • Bear in mind that we are all victims of state of insecurity. So ensure not to aggravate it by your reportage.
    • Self-censorship is allowed in matters of national security
    • RESPECT OFF RECORDS INFORMATION**

    Examples of how media reports compromise military operations/national security

    ☆ “If they are overrun, the country would go to the dogs. When they are bitten or beaten, the press laughs at them, exposes their weaknesses, thereby teaching the enemies what to do. Yet these men are fighting and dying so that all of us may live in peace and comfort” 6

    –Femi Kusa; The military and media relations, 2019

     

    • The most recent is the controversial Daily Trust report that gave details of impending military operations in January 2019. Fortunately, the operations was eventually successful
    • In Nigeria-Cameroon conflicts over the Bakassi Peninsula in the late 1980s/ early 1990s, on Vanguard newspaper reported graphic details of a planned operation of the Nigerian Army. The said report compelled the army to cancel the operation (Omeje)
    • Also few years back, another Nigerian newspaper, quoting a vague international source, carried a screaming headline that the Nigerian Army was ravaged and weakened by HIV/AIDS. That report created the impression that average Nigerian soldier is ravaged by the deadly virus (Omeje).
    • Kusa narrated: This folly occurred during the tenure of Gen Ibrahim Babangida as military president of Nigeria. Editors were invited to Dodan Barracks in Lagos to be informed that the navy and the army would launch an attack on Charles Taylor’s forces in Liberia in two weeks time. The information was not classified or embargoed. So, the media published it the next day.
    • It was not clear if the government had been in touch with the navy, or if something went wrong. Before two weeks, Taylor stepped up his game, entered Liberia, routed Samuel Doe, the president, ransacked the Nigerian embassy where many Nigerians were taking refuge, killed as many of them as possible, including two journalists, Krees Imodibie of The Guardian and Tayo Awotusin of the Champion.
    • Also Americans lost the war in Vietnam because the American media pulled the carpet off the feet of the army back home.
    • Sierra Leon war escalated because negative media reports that demorised the military
    • Rwandan genocide was also fuelled by the media

    ADVICE: “We should concern ourselves with professionalism, where it involves military war secrets, you would be accused of working for the enemy. That is it, anywhere in the world”-Kusa

    BIG QUESTION

    ☆Are negative media reports about the military or security sector dangerous for national security?

    ANSWER: NO…BUT WHY?

    • Depending on the information contained positive report could even be of more injurious to national security than negative and vice versa
    • Negative reports have helped to warn about impending danger not seen.
    • It can help to expose corruption within the security sector of which if left unchecked could cause greater harm in the future.
    • It could lead to better reforms
    • It puts pressures on policy makers to take necessary actions towards improved and effective national security
    • Sometimes what is regarded as positive or feel good reports may be deceitful and leave our troops in harm way
    • Failures in Vietnam brought huge reforms in American military operations including more sophisticated military engagements.

    BIG FACTORS

    • Politicians and politicization of our military/national security
    • Media ownership/slant
    • Social media
    • Non-State actors and multiple interest groups

    WHERE ARE WE: THE WAY FORWARD

    ☆While the US has moved to the third to 4th phase of media-military relations, Nigeria is still stuck at the second pre-Vietnam era engagements

    • To this end, we should encourage a proactive, friendly and accessible media military relations and engagements.
    • For mutual institutional and indeed national interest, ways must be evolved by which to aid media access to unclassified information about the military. This is very necessary as the military need to show greater regard for the right of the media to as much information as possible and in good time, in the interest of the public.
    • There should be effort to build a consensus between the military and the media on what constitutes national security and how it can be protected. This can be pursued through continued engagement forums involving media executives and officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
    • This should be followed by a sustained and continuous training programme for defence correspondents on coverage of the media. This will provide platforms for them to be let into the workings of the military – its organization, capabilities, sensibilities and protocols, and how the media can seek and get information from the institution.
    • The media conversely should reciprocate such gesture and ensure it does not indulge in anything that may compromise the security of military operations and indeed national security.
    • The media should see partnership with the security agencies both as a social responsibility obligation and patriotic duty than a favour to the agencies. It is strongly believed that if the issues raised above are put to practice, the wall of mutual suspicion between the media and the military will be collapsed and the enduring bridge of understanding firmly built.
    • The media and reporters covering defence and security issues must endeavour to professionalize and understand the tenets of national security.
    • SOCIAL/NEW MEDIAis a strong factor that must be considered in dealing with the Media-Military Relations.
    • More importantly, the perception of the military as an appendage of incumbent political rulers/parties must be changed. THE NEUTRALITY OF THE MILITARY IN POLITICAL SPACE MUST BE A GOAL THAT COULD BE CHAMPIONED TOGETHER WITH THE MEDIA.

    FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS BY OROVWUJE

    *While International Humanitarian laws and conventions which regulates the conduct of war do not reflect the critical role of the media in shaping outcome of internal conflicts, the media is given a primacy of the right of civilian population as a neutral force on the battlefield. Therefore the military high command should close the gaps in its relationship with the media with a view to galvanizing supports for its operational strategy and other engagement with the civilian population.

    *The perceived possibility of bad press has always been a challenge to the military high command, but indeed bad reportage does occur. But it is expedient on the military particularly the directorate of defence information to understand that reporters bring their own perceptions, level of access and the freedom to publish what is considered in the public interest.

    *Going forward, the relationship between the military and media should be hinged on the understanding of the impartiality and balanced media reporting and on other hand, the military objectives of internal security particularly on terrorism and other perceived threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria. The military high command must also purge itself of the arrogance of the gun and the clandestine seizure of publications in the name of national interest and security. Therefore, the military should give attention on how they can influence the activities and output of the media for national security.

    *Fundamentally, there is need to draw up internal security reporting manual or code for the media in Nigeria that would help to shape public perceptions which will help to balance the interest of the media in the pursuit of headline stories and similarly, the military pursuit in winning the war against insurgents. It is instructive to note that in the United State of America with a long history of democratic values, warfare and strategic engagement with the media has a guideline called, The US Army Field Manual: Public Affairs Tactics, Techniques and Procedures which has helped to shape information operations and ensuring that the media themes and messages are consistent with national aspirations and interest. This in my view has reduced the area of conflict between the military and media in reporting war. Therefore a code of engagement with the media and the larger civilian population must be clearly defined in a democratic setting.

    *The military must also be strategic in their engagement with the media beyond news conferences and releases to more robust techniques of understanding the political slants and media representation in the area of operations and media ownership. The wide variety of non- traditional media should be explored to engage the enemy rather than open confrontation with the media in recent time.

    *More importantly, the principle of embedding which is a feature of conventional warfare has been used by the US military to influence the media. Reporters are embedded with different units of the military and the strategic level news presentations is given by senior military personnel before they are relayed to the news rooms. The mechanism also provide the military with the power of influence media output allowing the media a first-hand experience in tactical, operational and strategic dimensions of military campaigns.

    *Lastly, the media has increasingly become an important party in the fight against insurgents because of the growing importance of information management in warfare whether they are non-conventional as the case of Boko Haram or not. Furthermore, the military means and objectives of winning the war against terrorism has changed dramatically, the media itself particularly the press has undergone some transformation in recent years. These developments cannot be under estimated. From 24 – hours rolling news stations, on-line media platforms and websites, the Nigerian discerning public and indeed the world have greater sources of information more than ever before, and the military in my view has a more complex task in information management and intelligence rather than clamping on the press. Therefore the military and the media must build an enduring partnership and consensus to address the new realities of war-reporting in the interest of national security.

    TAKE HOME

    “Americans lost the war in Vietnam because the American media pulled the carpet off the feet of the army back home. By the time of the Gulf War, the American army cat had known how to deal with the media mouse. Reports from the trenches and battle lines were faded out. In many cases, information filtering to the media was well monitored”-

    References

    1. — Ditchey II, Robert Louis; Ethics in Media Military Relations, 2011
    2. –Chidi Omeje, Military-Media Relations in Nigeria: Collapsing The Wall of Mutual Suspicion, 2019
    3. –The Nigerian Armed Forces; Wikipedia

    4.–Charles Akolo Katsibi, The Constitution and the Nigerian Press

    5.–Samuel Orovwuje ; Military, media and national security, 2014

    6.–Femi Kusa; The military and media relations, 2019

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