22 November 2012

Nigeria: JTF, Media and Terrorism


In Nigeria's history, we had and are still witnessing instances of burglary, car theft, and armed robbery, 419 and kidnapping. But none of these criminal acts has elicited massive media and national attention like the terrorists' activities currently facing the country and none is as pernicious as terrorism. The long term effects on the society are as destructive as terrorists themselves as they involve dangerous erosion of some moral boundaries and have the potency to be accepted as a bargaining power for negotiation or a justifiable means of political or religious conflict. It has the tendency to simplify, justify and explain rather than condemned terrorism in all its ramifications. Hence, the explanation that terrorism in Nigeria is caused by poverty, unemployment, acrimonious political competition occasioned by bad leadership. Whatever are the causes; terrorism is reprehensible and therefore is condemnable.

The apparent insecurity in Borno state and some states of the North Eastern part of Nigeria occasioned by the activities of Boko Haram necessitated the establishment of the Joint Task Force codenamed JTF Operation Restore Order 1 in June 2011. The mandate of the Task Force is to restore law and order in the North Eastern parts of Nigeria and Borno state in particular.

In the course of actualizing its mandate, the JTF troops have since inception been operating in the most difficult situation and terrain accentuated by the endemic nature of the operation. Despite the obvious challenges of urban/asymmetric warfare, the JTF has succeeded in restoring and maintaining law and order in Borno state. The successes notwithstanding, there are concerted efforts including damaging and negative press propaganda by the Boko Haram terrorists, their financiers and sympathizers to smear the image of the JTF, so as to discourage or distract it from actualizing its mandate. This is not surprising given the fact that terrorism thrives on publicity and forceful propaganda to attract attention, court sympathy and use as a tool for political negotiation.

It is apparent that publicity is the oxygen of terrorism, and that modern terrorists also employ media terrorism to oil their dastardly act. It makes no sense unless it is conspicuous in that targets are selected for maximum propaganda and publicity value. For instance, the bombing of United Nations Office in Abuja, the January 2012 coordinated attacks in Kano, Kaduna Easter bombing, the Potiskum cattle market incident, the bombing of This Day and The Sun Newspapers Offices in Abuja and Kaduna and, the massacre of 9 construction workers and recently, the assassination of a respected elder statesman Major Gen Muhammadu Shuwa in Maiduguri. Thus, to carry out a particular operation without getting any publicity out of it would be wasteful to a terrorist course.

Terrorism acts are acts intended to create fear or chaos among the people. The spread of public terror, fear and feeling of chaos depends largely on the images and messages being carried by media reports about the terrorist acts and threats. The omnipresence of mass media at global level frequently multiplies these effects out of proportion. This is more so because terrorists have learned how to use information technology in order to disseminate their own audio-visual recordings, electronic messages or web sites on the internet to serve their goals.

Terrorists employ whatever means possible to sway public opinion toward their cause. Recently, the preponderance of criticisms against the JTF operations in Borno state and the desperation to manipulate images and post on the social media is a calculated attempt to smear the image of the JTF. Thus, the permanent presence of acts of terrorism in the media in daily life and their global reach has increased the need for re-think about the roles of the media (social media inclusive) in the context of terrorism.

Since terrorism thrives on publicity, it follows that the crucial roles of the media in fighting terrorism should start from the media industry and professionals themselves. Thus, there is need for the media to embark on self-regulation in order not to play into the hands of terrorists. The media should be able to avoid over sensationalism of reports on terrorism so as not to offer terrorists a platform of undue and undeserved publicity since they do society no good but rather harbinger of pains, blood, death and sorrow. The relevant arms of security agencies should periodically organize workshops for media professionals aimed at increasing awareness of the sensitive nature of media report on terrorism and to avoid contributing to the aims of terrorists through their report by in some cases, unknowingly add to the fear of the members of the public.

The media ought to understand that refraining from disseminating any picture, image or stories of terrorist acts which often contribute to the negative effect of the acts on the people, is for all intent and purpose, a noble act. Therefore, there is need for relevant arms of government to prepare under the guidance and in cooperation with media professionals and qualified security agencies a handbook for journalist reporting about terrorist acts and violence. Reading through some news and opinion articles from some national dailies often makes one presume a sinister motives of such piece and the authors.

The tendency to aggravate the already tensed situation is very obvious in such articles and news reports, hence, there is need for the media to avoid exacerbating societal tensions through their reports. News, comments, images and hates speech capable of widening divisive tendencies, threaten national security, public safety or economic well-being of a state, should be avoided or restricted.

Lt Col Musa is the spokesman for the Maiduguri-based Joint Task Force.

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