By Chidiebere Ezinwa LLB,BL.Phd
The Media and the Army are two influential institutions in any society. Indeed, they are indispensable for the growth and stability of a nation. However, like a double edged sword, they could be used either for good or bad. Interestingly, Nigeria has myriad of instances were both institutions have been engaged for either good or bad with its attendant consequences. The purpose of this paper is to examine how the media could be employed for responsible, accountable and professional Nigerian Army. This is especially in view of the current insecurity in the country. The security threat has brought the Army face to face with the civil society as the Nigerian Police appears to be incapable of handling the situation. There has been friction between the army and the citizens with allegations of human rights violations among other forms of unprofessional conducts committed with impunity by the Army. The paper avers that the Media is powerful enough to change the narrative not by throwing away the baby with the birth water but by focusing on the underlying factors, not just on what the Army is doing. The Media should look beyond the Army to understand the why and the consequences of their actions and inactions of the Army. It is suggested that the Media should help restore the confidence and trust of the populace in the Army and the Media itself, as they cannot succeed without the support of citizens. Deeper investigative journalism and human right based approach to reporting is also advocated.
ESTABLISHMENT, COMPOSITION AND FUNCTIONS OF THE ARMY
The role of the military is clearly spelt out in Section 271 and 218 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 217 deals with establishment and composition of the armed forces of the Federation, while section 218 deals with command and operational use of the armed forces of Nigeria. Section 217 sub section (1) specifically states that, there shall be an armed forces for the Federation which shall consist of an Army, a Navy, and Air Force and such other branches of the armed forces of the Federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.
The above provision shows that the Nigerian Armed Forces is made up of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Army is responsible for protecting the lives and property and territorial integrity of the nation mostly on land by fighting external aggressors and quelling internal insurrection. The Navy protects the country’s maritime environments and safeguard the seas and coastline. The Air Force was established in 1964 and forms the air power of the country.
Sub section (2) states, 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. suppressing insurrection and acting 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 and
d. Performing such other function as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
Section 217 sub section (2) (c) deals with acting in aid of civil authority 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.
The two components of aids to civil authorities are – the support to civil police in an event that they are unable to cope with civil disturbances or any of such unrest, and when the military is called upon to do so and in times of national emergencies like disasters and the like. Surprisingly, the military is involved in virtually every crisis point in the country. Why is this so? What has happened to the Nigerian Police? Will the Army not suffer the same fate with their continued involvement of in almost every civil strife?
CHALLENGES OF THE NIGERIAN ARMED FORCES
It is against the backdrop of Section 217(2) (c) that the armed forces in Nigeria face a number of challenges especially in view of the numerous internal security threats that brought the army face to face with the civil society almost on a regular basis. Although, this situation pre-dated the 1999 Constitution, the reasons for armed forces intervention in crises period remain the same. But does not in any way justify military involvement in politics.
Agwai (2013,p117) observes that, the Army, Navy and Air Force operated along professional lines, manifesting discipline, regimentation, and subordination to civil authority as inherited from the British’ and were still racing for maturity and consolidation of military professionalism when politicians threw the country into crises’ following the federal elections of 1964 and Western regional elections of 1965 where Chief S.L. Akintola of the Nigerian National Democratic Party was declared winner against the Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. As the crises were unabated, some young majors led by Major Nzeogwu overthrew the civilian elected government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on 15 January, 1966. This marked the beginning of the decades of military incursion in Nigerian politics which according to Agwai changed a lot of things in the armed forces, some for good, but arguably mostly for bad’. It must be reiterated that governance is beyond the mandate of the armed forces. Army’s involvement in politics did more harm than good to it and the nation in spite of the far reaching reforms carried out by the Obasanjo’s government. A number of unprofessional conduct in the Army are attributed to their incursion into politics.
The interaction of the army with the civil society in the course of performing its constitutional function of quelling internal crisis when called upon has a number of negative consequences, which has not only dragged the image of the army in the mud due to some unprofessional conduct; but also has eroded public confidence and trust in the army.
The military participation in quelling internal public disorder has been described as a necessary evil given a number of allegations against the army. Soldiers have been accused of a number of unprofessional conduct ranging from intimidating and coercing civilians, corruption and extortion at checkpoints, psychological and emotional abuse, blatant and flagrant acts of sexual and gender based violence. For instance, the UN. High commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, strongly condemned what she described as excessive and disproportionate use of force by Nigerian armed forces against peaceful protesters in the capital Lagos.
Perpetrators of these crimes are not usually brought to book, which is also a major source of concern to the citizens and International human rights agencies. What takes place is the usual run of the mill investigation which leads to no arrests or any form of accountability. Bachelet observed that Nigerian security forces suspected of serious crimes and gross violations of human rights have gone unpunished over the years. It is expected that the questions about who ordered, who arranged, who knew about the killing of unarmed protesters in October,2020 in different parts of the country especially in Lekki in Lagos would be answered with appropriate punishment given to culprits.
The army have also been accused of raiding media houses, arresting, detaining their staff and confiscating their computers, laptops and accessing their smartphones without warrant in contravention of Cybercrime law 2015. The premise of Daily Trust Newspaper have been raided on different occasions by soldiers in the company of other security agencies to answer questions about some of their publications such as an article that allegedly divulged classified military information related to planned attacks against Boko Haram.
The above apparently negates the doctrine of military subordination to civil authority which Former president Obasanjo strongly advocated as one of the ways of facing 21st century challenges by the military. He enjoined them to embrace in its totality, the fundamental doctrine of military subordination to civil authority. The doctrine entails the following:
(i) Acceptance of the constitution as the sole and supreme doctrine defining the role of the armed forces.
(ii) Acceptance of the elected civilian Chief Executive as Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, and the supremacy of elected officials of state over appointed officers at all levels.
(iii) Acceptance of civilian headship of the ministry of Defence and other strategic establishments.
(iv) Acceptance of civilian or legislative deliberation and decision-making over the military budget.
(v) Acceptance that the decisions regarding the goals and conduct of military operations must serve the political and strategic goals established by the civil authority.
(vi) Acceptance of civil (Supreme Court) authority to review any action or decision taken by military judicial system or court martial.
Two key theories of mass communication will be advanced to account for this discourse – Social responsibility theory and Framing theory or Second level Agenda setting hypothesis. Other theories will be mention in passing where found relevant. These theories would account for the power of the media and the appropriate use of the media to achieve stability in a society.
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY THEORY
This is a product of United States of America’s response to the abuse of free press by sensationalism and commercialism which threatened the stability of the country with the setting up of the Hutchins commission in 1947. The emphasis in this theory is that press freedom should be exercised with a sense of obligation to the society. It holds that the press has the right to criticize the government and institutions but also has certain basic responsibilities to maintain the stability of society. The press should not be used to destabilize the society but rather serve as an instrument for the recognition and promotion of public interest. The Commission after observing the frequent failings of the press recommended the following journalistic standard that the press should seek to maintain:
• ‘a responsible press should ‘provide a full, truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s event in a context which gives them meaning’
• it should serve as a forum for the exchange of comments and criticism’ and be a common carrier of public expression’
• The press should give a ‘representative picture of constituent groups in society’ and also present and clarify the goals and values of society’
The commission frowned at the limited access granted to voices outside the circle of a privileged and powerful minority; sensationalism of the press and the mixing of news with editorial opinion.
Following from the postulations of this theory, the logical question to enhance our understanding of the issues at stake in the present work is to ask whether the Nigerian press seek and maintain the above standard. A negative answer simply implies that the press is not effectively engaged for achieving national interest, goals, values and aspirations. This will form the basis for our discussion on how to engage the press to achieve a responsible, accountable and professional armed forces in Nigeria. It is only a responsible press that can boast of this feat; a press that shares in the national interest and consciously sets out to pursue it in all it does. A press that fails to cover a vital institution like the army properly and adequately the with aim of making it responsible, accountable and professional especially at this time our national life cannot claim to have contributed meaningfully to nation’s interest and goals. A responsible, accountable and professional army would no doubt contribute to a stable society.
Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communication text through repetition or by associating them with culturally familiar symbols (Entman, 1993, p.52). According to Hague and Harrop (2007, p.130) “The journalists words, as much as the camera operator’s images help to frame the story, providing a narrative which encourages a particular reaction from the viewer”. Repetition and association technique of persuasion could be used to achieve this.
The media can also frame itself through the reports it carry about itself. According to Uwakwe (2010, p.187) “media framing means that media coverage shape how people see issues”. In other words, media can shape people’s perception of reality. Pavlik and Mcintosh (2011,p.292) opined that “traditional news media often decide how they will frame a story before the reporting is completed and sometimes before it has even begun”. This means that a journalist may beforehand decide how he / she wants an issue, a person or an event to be perceived by reporting them in a particular way or by using certain words, images or symbols in the report. Balnaves, Donald and Shoesmith (2009, p.68) explained that “framing makes certain information in a news story salient and depresses the importance of other information”. It is unarguable that the journalist can manipulate the audience perception of an event, issue, idea or person through framing.
It is also noteworthy that the way the media frame event, issue or ideas in their reports inversely influence the audience perception of media coverage. The media may be perceived to be fair, biased or otherwise as a result of their framing of an issue or event. In other words, the media could be judged based on the way they frame an issue, event or idea.
Pavlik and Mcintosh (2011,p.292) describe framing as one of the biggest problems of journalism today as the facts of a story are frequently forced to fit into the frame, or angle regardless of reality. Similarly, Lippmann cited in Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009, p.179) observed that “of public affairs, each of us sees very little, and therefore, they remain dull and unappetizing, until somebody, with the makings of an artist, has translated them into a moving picture”. This is why experts believe that media people are in the business of selling meanings. Thus, Entman, Jorg and Pellicano (2009, p.176) rightly observed that “some communicators engage in framing strategically, seeking to exert power over outcomes by inducing target audiences to accept interpretations that favour their interests or goals”. These communicators, according to them, are politicians, bloggers, political satirists, editorial writers and pundits. They are however of the view that reporters and news editors in main stream national news media normally engage in framing without intending to push any particular policy or political goal (with the exception of certain party affiliated newspapers and government-owned broadcast newscasts in Europe). Pavlik and Mcintosh also believe that journalists are often not even aware that they are framing stories but only reflecting reality.
AGENDA SETTING THEORY
The idea here is that the frequency and pattern of media reports on a given issue make the public consider the issues important. This is currently known as the “first level” of agenda setting’. It focuses on the amount of media coverage an issue or topic receives. The concern is the influence of the media on which objects are at the centre of attention. The “second level” of agenda setting considers how the media discuss those issues or objects of attention. The interest here on how people understand the things that have captured their attention. The quantity and quality of information made available to the citizens about the Nigerian Army will influence their attitude and behaviour towards the army. This theory further demonstrates the power of the media and its capacity to be employed in achieving a particular goal. What picture do you have in your head about the Nigerian army based on media report? What is your attitude towards the Army based on these reports? This shows that the media like a double edged sword could be engaged to achieve a desired goal, whether positive or negative.
LIMITATIONS OF RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND THE PRESS
Freedom of expression and the press is not absolute in any society including the advanced democracies in the world. The crucial nature of this right notwithstanding, it is limited by public interest. Thus, the right to freedom of expression and the press granted by Section 39(1) and (2) is limited by Section 39(3) which states as follow:
Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –
a. For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony , wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
b. Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigerian Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.
Other limitations to this right could be found in other enactments such as-
Section 51(1) of the Criminal Code Act which prescribes punishment for seditious publication;
Section 396 and 398 of the Penal code law which provides for the offence Criminal Intimidation and insult;
Section 373 of the Criminal Code which defines Defamation; Section 1(1) of the Official Secrets Act which defines classified matter;
Section 1(1) of the Cinematograph Act which prescribes film censorship;
Section 156 of the Penal Code Act and Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act which define Perjury
THOUGHTS ON JOURNALISM PRACTICE IN A NIGERIA
Obasanjo in his book MY WATCH observed that some sections of the media still cannot be credited with integrity and objectivity in their comments and reactions to issues, or in their criticism. As a result they do incalculable damage to the media in general and to themselves in particular. This he attributed to the adversarial press mentality of the colonial times which has persisted in Nigerian journalism practice.
In the same vein, Liad Tella, a regular contributor to the National Concord, in an article titled, “Taking a cue from the Western Press,” he said, “The critics (in the western press) are usually from informed positions loaded with facts and they are usually made in a manner that will lead to higher attainment of national goals rather than the destruction of the establishment.” However, Tella observed that it was the contrary in Nigeria, saying, “Unless you are violent in your criticism of government action, no matter how genuine the underpinning reasons necessitating the action, you are not a good journalist or a reporter. When you criticize with enlightened disposition you are labelled establishment reporter forgetting that the essence of criticism is correctness not destructiveness. What do we and the nation gain by such approaches?” he asked.
Obasanjo contended that, some media reports must be checked and crosschecked; some must be taken with a pinch of salt and yet some with a bag of salt. One must seek to know the ideology, interest, orientation, prejudice and bias of the writer, editor, proprietor, or organisation. He further opines that anybody can write any piece and get it published in almost any Nigerian media outlet if he can pay the price. He emphasised that,” with most media organisation, if the price is not right or you are not favoured, your statements or actions may not be printed or they may be misinterpreted, distorted, or misrepresented”.
The Owelle of Onitsha, the doyen of the Nigerian press, in a speech, “Pioneer Heroes of the press,” advised that, “The modern press in Nigeria should place more emphasis on its use for the public benefit. He explained that, by twisting facts, by telling half-truths or untruths, the Nigerian press can mislead a great number of innocent people and thus distort our national image. By presenting facts to suit their purposes, journalists desecrate the tradition of a historic profession.”
Given the enormous power wielded by the press, it could be safely stated that a responsible press has the capacity to reform the Nigerian Army. A press that places the national interest, goals and aspirations over and above any other consideration can work harmoniously with the army to attain them.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE NIGERIA ARMY
As a part of the executive arm of government, the army is also under the watch of the Media as the Fourth Arm of government or the Fourth Estate of the Realm. This watchdog function is clearly assigned to the media under Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as follows:
The press, radio, television 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.
By this section, the press is expected to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government and by extension the Army, to the people. Section 14(2) (b) specifically states that, the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. The press has a crucial role to play in that regard. The watchdog function of the media is paramount here because the provision of this chapter is non – justiciable according to Section 6 (6) (c) of the constitution, under which these objectives are declared to be outside the jurisdiction of the law courts. These objectives are said to be fundamental because their progressive realization defines the essence of government and where they are abandoned, there might as well be no government at all. The question is: has the government done all it should do to ensure that the Army is well disposed to secure the citizens? For instance, it was reported by PR Nigeria that the facilitators of the foreign military contractors that supressed Boko Hara in preparation for the 2015 election has vowed not to return to Nigeria because of the humiliations, persecutions and prosecution of foreign mercenaries along with their Nigerian counterparts who participated in the operation after the emergence of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. They complained that some of their payment are yet to be made and classified and highly coded transactions were exposed as corruption. They further expressed disappointment and regret that some Nigerian military and intelligence officers who participated in the operation were not only retired but also prosecuted and convicted. They complained of difficulty in working in a country where operations, strategy and thinking were exposed to the media and judicial processes.
Hence, the media has a duty of ensuring the realization of these fundamental objectives by reporting the wrong doings and failures of government and its agencies, thereby making them accountable and responsible for their misdeeds and ineptitudes. The media practitioners need to understand this part of the constitution deeply to appreciate the enormous responsibilities placed on their shoulders. This section of the constitution clearly defines the essence of government and would no doubt provide material for proper interpretation of government actions and omissions especially with respect to the the welfare of the citizens.
A deep understanding of this part of the Constitution and the doctrine of Military subordination to civil authority points to the need for the media to look beyond what the Army is doing to consider why they are doing what they are doing. The reaction of the Coordinator Defence Media Operations John Enenche to the call by North East governors to engage foreign machineries in the fight against Boko Hara attests to this need. He said it is the decision of the government and the people, not the Army. He is indirectly telling the media to focus their attention on the people and the government. Security is everybody’s business and the Army cannot do much without the government and peoples’ support especially in democracy. The handicap and dilemma of the Army is also reflected in his reaction to the statement by the Bornu state governor that the Army is overstretched. He said: “it is not for the military to say we are overstretched; I am not overstretched. If I say am overstretched, that means I don’t want to work. And if I say, I am not overstretched, that means, I am underutilised”. This is a very tactical way of acknowledging helplessness. Reporters should look deeply into the allegations that the some leaders and communities in the Northeast are supporting Boko Haram and the terrorist are better equipped than the Nigerian Army. This may explain why the soldiers abandon their duty post or show less concern about the situation in the Northeast. The efforts of government needs to be thoroughly examined.
The media need to realise the sensitive nature of army operations with respect to security which requires that certain information should be kept away from the public. This remains a conflict point between the army and journalists. The chief of Army staff, Buratai had complained that some media reports give the terrorists advantage over the army. Media practitioners must realise that national interest were clearly established overrides every other interest. Nwagbaoso rightly observes that, “while the public has a right to know how they are being governed, they are not supposed to know everything as that may have grave security implications”. In the same vein, Jakande declares that “matters of security are not for a market place.” The American Newsweek of October, 1990, reporting on US pre-invasion policy, stated that “the same day, the State Department stopped the Voice of America from broadcasting an editorial warning Iraq that the United States was strongly committed to supporting its friends in the Gulf.”
Embedded journalism is advocated in Nigeria at this point to reduce the friction between the Army and journalists, even though it will take a long time to build the type of trust and confidence needed for this kind of reporting. America embraced this genre of journalism following complaints of access denial by the Army during the Gulf War. The press should collaborate with the Army when national interest is at stake such as the current effort at restoring peace and order in some parts of the country due to internal security threat.
Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution cited above also forms the basis for investigative journalism. This is important to engender reform in the Army. By digging into s issues deeply in its various dimensions, in a police like manner, and contextual interpretation, this type of journalism would no doubt equip the army, the government and citizens with the necessary information to grapple with the internal insecurity in different parts of the country. Journalists by the nature of their job and training are closer to the people and can elicit useful information for the army, the citizens and the government.
Credible investigations need to be conducted into the allegations of human rights violation by government security forces including the army. Cases of human rights violations involving the army if properly investigated, reported and followed up would help to establish the truth. Trial and punishment of culprit if reported would serve as a deterrent. This is not a classified matter that should be shrouded in secrecy. As this would give room for rumour and further smear the image of the army.
The army in the course of carrying out their constitutional function get into conflict with the civil society. The media can also provide a platform for the army and the public to express their grievances and settle their differences. The media should give both parties equal opportunity to state their stand during such conflict. The media can also help to broker peace through their reports. Journalist should shun reports with the tendency of aggravating conflict.
Journalists can help promote understanding between the army and the civil society through human rights education. There is wide spread ignorance about the concept of Civil – Military relation in Nigeria. The citizens need to know the extent of their right while relating with the army. While the army need to appreciate the fundamental human rights of the citizens. Today, the army is used even in civil matters involving private citizen such as settlement of debts or bills. Army serve as personal guards of some influential private citizens.
Journalist should understand and promote the core values and traditions of the army such as discipline, respect for rule of law, subordination to civil authority, regimentation, command and control structure, service, loyalty, spirit de corps, deterrence due to status and a pride of being. The media should constantly remind the army of these core values and traditions. The media should equally remind them of the importance of a community driven approach to security. They need the trust, confidence and acceptance of the people to succeed. The civil society should be educated on the need to support the Army with relevant information. This is obviously not possible in the absence of mutual trust and confidence. The media must consciously promote such cordial relationship.
Journalists must earn the trust, confidence and respect of the army by upholding the time honoured canons of journalist practice such as truth, objectivity, balance, fairness. Journalists must be seen to be responsible.
Media should help build consensus on issues of national interest so as to guide the government in directing military operations. They should help defining and promoting national goals.
Right –based approach to reporting is also advocated in the present situation. This implies that the reporter sees human right as rights not needs to be fulfilled by a benefactor but as a duty owed to humanity by all levels of society including families, civil society, the media, the government and other stakeholders such as the law enforcement agencies. Thus the reporter assumes the position of a duty bearer well placed in the society to help ensure the realization of human rights as contained in relevant national, regional and international legislations. They are expected to advocate for and promote human rights by highlighting the need to respect, protect and fulfil those rights. The reporter investigates, humanizes and interprets his/her stories with human rights at the centre.
The guiding principles in this type of reporting are accountability, universality, indivisibility and participation. The reporter holds all duty bearers accountable for all infringements on human rights in the society. No right is more important than the other, all rights must be attained. Every voice must be heard.