By Musa Umar Bologi
“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”- UNESCO CONSTITUTION
Building troops for 21 century media war
In contemporary warfare where conflicts involve non-state actors and governments, experts believe that wars are not won in the field of battle but in the minds of men. Hence the battle for the minds of the people becomes paramount for both parties to succeed.
Non-state actors, which are mostly terrorists, use the media, especially the social media, to spread their ideologies, gain sympathy and acceptance, as well to recruit new members by propagating messages that appeal to the mind of the populace.
In order to counter the terrorists ideologies, states employ the same strategies to win the people to their side. They use trained personnel that are proficient in the use of social media and create messages aimed at winning the mind of the people and deradicalise terrorists’ converts.
In recent times, the Nigerian Military has been involved in internal security operations, primarily because of several security threats across the country, such as Boko Haram insurgency in the North east, Cattle rustling and armed bandits in the North west, secessionist agitation and armed robbery in the South east and militancy and oil bunkering in the south-south, that have overwhelm the Police and other security agencies.
As it performs this duty, the military also receives accusations of human rights infringement of civilians – one of the weapons experts opined is used by the enemy to win sympathy. Military Public Relations personnel are therefore always in defensive.
It is based on the need to develop team Public Relations personnel that could face contemporary PR and communications challenges that the Nigerian Army recently organised a 2-day workshop for officers of the Directorates of Army Public Relations.
It was a forum for senior and junior officers of the Directorate as well as Defence journalists to interact with resource persons on issues relating to human rights, rules of engagement of the military during internal security operations and information management.
The venue was the Nigerian Army Resource Center Abuja, and the resources persons – who are all seasoned professionals – were drawn from academics, public and private sectors.
The enemy’s perspective
The first lecture, titled: “Perspective on the Role of Communication in Conflict Management and Peace Building”, was presented by the Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Dr. Muktar Sirajo on behalf of the President of the NIPR, Dr. Rotimi Olajide.
Sirajo submitted that due to Nigerian Army’s involvement in numerous internal security operations, there is the need for it to engage all stakeholders through adequate and constant communications in order to avoid misunderstanding.
He also suggested that, as a PR strategy, the army should build and maintain relationship with its stakeholders before emergence of conflict, as it is easier to resolve conflict with a person with whom one has built a strong relationship.
He counseled that the army should take into cognizance factors such as, stakeholder mapping, public affairs monitoring, networking, community relations, and community social responsibility, for it to succeed in its conflict management and peace building process.
“In crisis management, networking is essential and it doesn’t end. It is something that is continuous,” he said.
An essential strategy in managing conflict, according to Sirajo, is to make efforts to “understand things from the other person’s perspective.” With adequate knowledge of why the opponent behalf the ways s/he does, he said the army could be able to deal with a conflict situation better.
He also advised the army to avoid being rigid during conflict management process, but to be ready to shift ground and cede part of its work or duties, as well as be ready to take responsibilities for its actions.
Counting the negative impacts
In the second lecture, Dr. Ismail Mande, Dean of Post Graduate School, National Open University of Nigeria, argued that social media is rather a curse to Nigeria than a blessing.
In his paper titled: “Leveraging on the Efforts of the Nigerian Army Civil-Military Relations during Internal Security Operations: The new Media in Perspective, Dr. Mande said the presence of social media is inimical to the corporate existence of the country, as it a major medium for propagating hate speeches.
He therefore advocated that social media should be regulated as a way of ensuring peace and stability, as well as reducing mistrust and misunderstanding among different section of the country.
“We should not be talking about freedom of speech or information and allow some people to put our country on fire,” he said.
Mande urged journalist, especially those in the new media, to be patriotic by engaging in development journalism rather than downplaying the efforts of the military during internal security operations, thereby demoralising the troops and giving the enemy an edge.
He also advised the military to understand its operational environment, and strive to change the perception of Nigerians of seeing “a soldier as a killer”.
Social media: A double-edged sword?
Contrary to Mande’s submission, Mr. Tope Fasua, a social media expert, in his presentation described the socials as “a double edged sword” which could be used for both good and evil.
In his paper titled: “Managing the Influence of Social Media during Internal Security Operations, Fasua opined that instead of condemning the negative influence of the social media on the its operations, the military should use the same social media to give adequate information and charge negative perception about its operations and the institution as a whole.
To achieve this, Fasua submitted that the military should march its enemy or opponents in the social media space through content creation, followership – seeking and accepting friends -, philanthropism, and active personnel.
“Social media is about perception and image building,” he said.
Your behavior, your perception
Dr. Cosmos Eze of the Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, gave an insight to how the military could influence people’s perception and create positive image.
In his lecture titled: “Influencing Public Perception through Effective Information Management during Military Operations,” Eze opined that “influencing perception is not for the military to refute allegations. It goes beyond that… No matter amount of media coverage, it will amount to nothing if the military does not exhibit good behaviour.”
Using the minds of men to build peace
The use of the military in counter-terrorism operations is becoming obsolete because of the damages it cause to property – human and material -, according to Navy Commodore YEM Musa, Coordinator Counter-terrorism Unit, Office of the National Security Adviser.
In his lecture titled: “Emplacing Strategic Communications for National Security,” Musa said in counter-terrorism operations the world has now shifted to the use of strategic communication to win minds and hearts of the people, since it is the same medium that is used by terrorists to instill fear, intimidate and recruit members.
He defined strategic communication as “the deliberate engagement of identified audience to communicate key values and priorities through a process of sychronised words and actions.”
He said strategic communications could be used for counter-extremists ideologies, behavioral change, rehabilitation of terrorists victims and sympathizers.
Protect me, but mind my rights
Director Legal Services, Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. Y. Shalangwa presentation elicited a lot of contributions, questions and comments from the participants.
Shalangwa’s paper titled: “Developing a Viable Framework for Military against Human Rights Violations during Internal Security Operations”, focused on the constitutional provision of using military in internal security operations.
He said over the years the military had been drafted to quench crisis that could result or have resulted to break down of law and order, and had performed significantly well, but was always been accused of human right violations.
He said though people desire to be protected when even there is a breakdown of law, and often times call for the involvement of the military, they are also quick to accuse it (military) of human right infringement.
But the Director Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, while answering some of the question from participants argued that it is not the people that always spread the narratives of the military infringing on their rights, but criminal elements who do not want the presence of the military, so that they can continue their unholy activities.