Chibok and the failure of reporting

on   /   in #BringBackOurGirls, Chibok Watch 12:56 am   /   Comments

INSECURITY as typified by the Boko Haram menace, BHM, must rank as one of the longest running stories in the Nigerian media. For five years now, the BHM has unrelentingly hugged the headlines and redefined life in northern Nigeria especially with stories of one bestial killing competing with another in the resolve to overwhelm the people.

Hiding under the clamour for an Islamic state, the BHM has denounced western education as sinful and made centres of learning objects of regular and special attacks, especially in the last two years. Last year alone, no fewer than 50 schools were destroyed in northern Nigeria, 30 teachers and scores of students killed.

A screengrab taken on May 12, 2014, from a video of Nigerian Islamist

A screengrab taken on May 12, 2014, from a video of Nigerian Islamist

At first, the protest wore the garb of speeding motorcyclists hurling firebombs at police stations and other state installations in state capitals. Later it donned the toga of religious attack as churches were burned down regularly. When those urban centres were better secured, the attacks relocated to schools and homes mostly in the urban outskirts, and later rural settings without regard to religion or ethnicity.

Usually a band of marauders storms a remote village, looting their foodstuff, sacking their homes, and killing their men and women. This year alone, about 2000 lives have been wasted, including the massacre of 500 at a market on May 5. At the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, 59 boys were slaughtered like rams by these agents of darkness.

It is, however, the April 14 abduction of 276 girls from their school dormitory that has caught the attention of the world like no other. How such an act could be pulled off without challenge in a state under emergency rule beggars the imagination. It also mocks the government’s avowed responsibility to promote the citizens’ welfare and guarantee their security.

This callous act has compelled response from almost all corners of Nigeria, where the protest culture has been muted for long. Privileged Nigerians, who otherwise may have been content to make verbal denunciations, have taken to the streets in their conscientious resistance to this descent to sheer terror. Beyond Nigeria to Africa, the Western cities of Europe, the Americas, and Australia, condemnation continues to trail this heartless act.

In the face of Nigeria’s limited capacity to tackle this type of asymmetrical war, it is understandable, if unfortunate, that foreign troops from more experienced countries are now in Nigeria to help fashion a better response to the insurgency.

This turning point obviously calls for more robust coverage and analysis of the BHM. Regrettably, the Nigerian media have shown limited capacity to rise to the occasion. Beyond the reactive reports, which are filed hundreds of kilometres from the trouble spots, Nigerians have had to rely on the foreign media to get a clearer understanding of the issues at stake.

To begin with, the Nigerian media like the Nigerian presidency have shied away from visiting Chibok for any meaningful on-the-spot-reporting. By so doing, they have denied the public a firsthand pulse of the sense of life and living there and dismissed the Chibok people as not being important enough to have their experience directly mediated by the media.

True, Chibok, linked to Maiduguri, Borno State capital, by a 134 kilometre lone dusty road, is nobody’s favourite destination. But the magnitude of its loss compels a better reporting response, which has eluded the Nigerian media. That can be blamed on the parlous state of the media.

From the owners to the reporters, everyone is sworn to a journalism of convenience. This mindset explains why no medium invests enough resources to report stories beyond the relative comfort of urban centres, much less one in a conflict zone. Media managers are generally satisfied with coverage that guarantees advertisement patronage from various tiers of government and business interests. State correspondents have conditioned themselves to “pack journalism” of reporting events from the prism and precincts of Government houses. It is usually when illicit negotiations break down that some angry reports filter into the public space about government’s shortcomings.

In the case of Chibok, it is from the foreign media that we learnt firsthand of the state of the Government Girls’ Secondary School after the Boko Haram invasion and abduction.

It took CNN’s visit to Chibok for Nigerians to get a guided visual tour of the burnt school and comprehend the enormity of the damage. It is also from CNN that we had glimpse of a victim’s account of her ordeal on television. It is also from them that hard probing questions on the Nigerian experience, which should be the hallmark of reporting, resurfaced on television as our Information minister was forced to shift gear from his usual self-assured soapbox-like exhortations to mumbling excuses for inaction. A good reminder that fawning questioning in the name of respecting authority is an abdication of duty!

Abdication of duty

The Daily Mail, Reuters, BBC, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, to mention a few, have joined CNN to explain developments in the Chibok story that are lost on the Nigerian media. Regrettably, Nigerian dailies, without a touch of irony, dutifully reproduce these reports for their readers’ consumption. The abnormal has become normal as the Nigerian pathfinders that should guide the rest of the world on happenings in their backyard have been reduced to playing catch up.

In the journey to this sorry pass, the military are not blameless. Media managers have complained of the military’s unwillingness to embed their reporters in periodic sorties to conflict zones, especially those suffering from BHM. The military have always hidden under the cover of the unconventional nature of the war as not conducive to such “adventures”.

The truth, however, is unless the military have something to hide, they need to cultivate the media to convey better the challenges of the war and secure the public buy-in without which no war is successfully conducted. Nigeria is at war and the false notion that it involves only a section of the country is dangerous and short-sighted. What affects one affects all ultimately! Nigeria with active support from the media, the military and the security community must galvanise the people to be more security-conscious and conflict-sensitive to tackle the BHM and other conflicts.

As long as conflicts result from divergent interests, perceived injustice, clash of values, and communication breakdown, the BHM is not about to disappear from Nigeria. The war against terror cannot be won by half-hearted reporting by the media or lack of media engagement by the military and security community but by all parties leveraging on each other’s strength. The BHM discussion will benefit more from greater appreciation of conflict-sensitive communication that differentiates underlying issues from the eye-catching ones, that explains the process, not just the consequence, and distinguishes the predisposing factors from the immediate trigger. The media and the military-security community obviously have a lot of catching up to do in this area for the good of our land.

LANRE IDOWU is Editor-in-Chief of Media Review and a Trustee of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence

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