By Kayode Fayemi
This is the concluding part of the lecture focusing on the role of the media in nation building.
IF the Nigerian media fail to play the role they have played in the past to press for and help promote the imperatives of unity in diversity and sustain democratic rule, there is no doubt that democratic rule will atrophy and the nation building process will go into reverse gear.
Hence, the need to instill such lessons in an enduring manner in the intellectual tradition of this institution.The media and the challenges of insecurity in Nigeria: Nowhere is this more crucial than in the media’s understanding of the security challenges that Nigeria confronts.
As the nation confronts insecurity on a rising scale, the key challenges to the polity remain that of establishing effective and accountable security agencies in pursuit of individual and community security in tandem with state security and on the other, that of establishing effective governance of the security sector through the empowerment of civilian oversight mechanisms. In other words, any given national security policy and architecture to have meaning and purpose must address these two broad challenges.
Yet, these structural challenges could only be addressed within a historical context. Equally, to understand the nature of the challenges and proffer solutions to them, an assessment of the political environment is crucial by the media.
To what extent, for example, has the question of the nation been settled? What do the constitution and other laws say about the control of security forces, what is the mission, purpose and nature of the security forces and its interplay with the larger society?
Does the mission derived from the security threat correspond to the size, composition and equipment of the security forces; or are they misused in various ways including for rent seeking purposes; what’s the role of non state security actors – positive or negative and how effectively do the key oversight agencies – Legislature, civilian bureaucracy, civil society, media – function in general. These are all questions that the media should regularly pose in speaking truth to power.
To do this, however, the media must understand the complexities of the treacherous threat environment because more often than not, the orientation governing the operation of our security agencies, having been tailored to address perceived dangers of yesteryears, is now out of sync with reality.
For example, the media must be better informed that the new security environment has occasioned a broader definition of security, drawing an inextricable linkage between security and development, underscoring the security of people rather than territories and individuals rather than states.
This became known in academic and policy circles as human security and popularised by Kofi Annan as encompassing “human rights, good governance, access to education and healthcare, and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential.”
And as if taking a cue from this concept of human security, Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states in Section 14 (2b) that ‘the security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary purpose of government’, in other words placing governance at the epicenter of security and development complex in Nigeria.
It is, therefore, obvious that our status as a young and populous democracy with as yet fragile institutions in a geopolitical arena defined by globalisation and the internationalisation of conflict presents the media with a raft of challenges to understand.
First is that the narrow and uni-dimensional militaristic orientation of our security establishment is inadequate to address the threats we face and must be drastically revised. Second that we must approach the development of a national security policy and strategy as a composite of various causalities not conventionally regarded as related to the subject of security. Issues of poverty, demography, food security, energy security and social security are all risk factors to be considered in the generation of threat assessment matrix and the formulation of security policy.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian media is often at sea in providing the citizens with the requisite understanding of these issues and it ends up regurgitating sensational opinion and treating such as factual news with scant attention paid to national psychology.
A good example of this faux pas by the Nigeria media is what is popularly referred to as the 2015 prophecy of doom. In 2005, the US National Intelligence Council convened a group of American experts on sub-Saharan Africa to discuss likely trends in the region over the next 15 years.
The group discussed several major issues that will affect Africa, including trade globalisation and conflict among other factors. According to a National Intelligence Council Estimate authored by the conference, Nigeria could enter a phase of unrest and instability by 2015 that could culminate in her collapse by 2020.
It is important to note here that the particulars of that estimate are not actually discussed in the public space. Most Nigerians are unaware of the context in which this projection was made. What every media carried was that Nigeria would collapse or cease to exist by 2015.
What makes the report pungent is the fact that it resonates with popular, foundational anxieties about the long term viability of our union. For many Nigerians, it is enough that this is what America has projected concerning the nation. Local episodes of graft, conflict and terrorism, in the eyes of pessimists, only lend credence to the report.
The fact that 2015 was an election year and that electioneering in Nigeria is typically fraught with violence on our shores further fortifies the conviction of pessimists that Nigeria is on her last legs.
All of these inadequacies were not only reflected in the media, but they were also projected and magnified locally and often in a very subjective and sensational manner depending on the perspective of ownership. The role the media can play in exacerbating conflict can only be ignored as the world found out in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
In our own nation building context, such anxieties constantly projected in the local and international media may serve to generate a psychological context of fatalism and resignation within which conflicts, political violence and terrorism flourish.
This risk highlights the need for our media practitioners to recognise psychological operations aimed at de-marketing promising nations and information warfare as a necessary aspect of national security awareness.
Indeed, security managers must also be aware of the need to be conscious of the distinction between “secrecy” and “confidentiality” and engage the media regularly on the “need to know” basis. In other climes, the media understands the power of positive projection and they deliberately use it for the development and unity of their nations even when they have information to achieve the opposite.
The above example also underscores to the media the importance of being circumspect. Despite the challenges that we have faced as a nation, which we sometimes, unfairly exaggerate, it is important to constantly bear in mind that nation building is a slow and dynamic process.
The awareness that nothing in nation building is finalised should give us hope and challenge us to do better and constantly look for ways and means to build a better country, by experimentation and learning, trial and errors, setting and resetting. And this is why the operative framework of any nation is never intended as a divinely inspired scripture.