Daily Trust (Abuja)

25 January 2013

Nigeria: National Security and the Nigerian Journalist

opinion

Nigeria has sent troops to Mali for peacekeeping operations in that country. Where are its embedded correspondents? Nigeria has provided the Force Commander, in the person of General Usman Shehu Abdulkadir. Nigerian journalists should be there to provide its citizens with information, firsthand. Anything short of that, Nigerians back home will see this war from the perspective of the foreign media. In fact the CNN, BBC, RFI, France 24, DW, Aljazeera, are already there and the Nigerians will judge the success of their troops from the eyes of these international media organisations.

See the case with Darfur, Western Sudan. Nigeria has about 3,000 troops there. There are no Nigerian journalists there to tell the story the Nigerian way. It is like there is nothing happening in Darfur as there is no one telling the story to Nigerians and the rest of the world from there.

There is a saying in America that America does not win any war unless CNN says so. No wonder they see that organisation as a partner in progress. Nigeria cannot afford to tell the story in its own perspectives in these war zones, should the trend continue. In this modern times, is there still that perceived mutual suspicion between the press and the military? Count many of the "who is who" in Nigeria, they were journalists and very committed to the development of the country. Name them -Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Adeyemo Alakija, Lateef Jakande, Obafemi Awolowo, Yusuf Bello Dambatta, Babagana Kingibe, Yaya Abubakar, Babatunde Jose, Ike Nwachukwu, Segun Osoba, Boni Haruna, Aja Ajolochukwu, Marshal Harry, Adams Aliyu, Chukwuma Anueyiagu...and counting.

The way and manner a good gentleman officer of the armed forces loves Nigeria's national security interest is the same way and manner a good gentleman of the press does for this country.

Wikipedia defines national interest and national security as "a country's goals and ambitions whether economic, military or cultural". Another definition is that it is "a multi-dimensional view and response towards protecting National Interest against threats, both internal and external".

The traditional roles of the Nigerian journalist -be it radio, television, newspaper, magazine, news agency or the social media- is to inform, educate, entertain, set up an agenda, among others. Within the context of terrorism, economic crimes and corruption in the country, there is a national call to duty; the Nigerian journalist has a great role to play just like the security agent.

The year 2012 saw some synergy between the security and the journalist in forging a common understanding. Just a few examples: Last year, for two weeks, Journalists participated in what is called HASKE BIYU 2012 at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College Jaji, Kaduna state. Officers of the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, State Security Services, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, National Intelligence Agency, the Customs, Immigration, Fire Service, Prisons, Federal Road Safety Corps, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency attended this course. It had to do with "Joint and Multi Agency Training in Internal Security/Low Intensity Conflict, Counter Insurgence and Stabilization Operations". It was apt that such training took place as the nation is witnessing attacks from Boko Baram, kidnapping and armed robbery.

The journalist has become very sensitive to security issues. He cannot a betrayer. I have always liked the maxim or appeal to Nigerians when it comes to fighting crimes and deviant behaviours that says: "see something, say something and do something about it"

For a long time, the Nigerian journalist and the security personnel have remained strange bed fellows. While the Nigerian security personnel owe the duty to protect citizens always, the Nigerian journalist owes the same citizens the duty to inform them on the goings-on in society at all times.

It is no wonder that they clash as the security personnel has to hide some things or censor aspects of their duty they believe concern national security or national interest. To the journalist, it is news and the public has a right to know as duty calls on him to inform the people. This is where social responsibility of the journalist comes in. The question is, will publishing or airing such news help the public or cause a stir, a riot or reprisal attacks? What is the journalist to do here? Gag himself by killing the story or tell it is a light form? Professionalism has to come to play here. Publish and damn the consequence? That a journalist's story has caused the death of one person or even above one hundred is definitely a calamity.

As expected, security duties and journalism will clash and, sometimes, the journalist ends up worse off as he has to contend with harassment, arrest, detention, and some others forms of infringements on the journalist's fundamental human rights. All of these could be avoided.

Despite all of these situations, the Nigerian journalist has always tried to in his on way to serve the nation according to his capability.

In National Interest and National security, there are always matters arising. Let me move to identity management; talking of a national data based for this country. There appears to be a crisis in terms of who really is in charge of the biometrics of every Nigeria? The biometrics of an individual has to do with the individual Nigerian- the names, photo, sex, age, finger prints, next of kin, residential address, blood group/genotype and many other requirements.

Once upon a time, it was the Department of National Civil Registration that was handling it. This agency was scrapped by the federal government and many of the multi-million Naira equipment imported by Sergem, a French company disappeared with the agency. A national tragedy it was and still is! Now we are starting all over and most of those trained by Sergem, have either been sacked or posted out as pooling staff to other ministries or government agencies for different jobs.

In our usual manner, another agency has been set up known as the National Identity Management Agency. It must obtain and keep the data of every citizen of this country, by repeating the job of its predecessor.

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