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Editors, security agencies, others chart ways to resolving rising spate of insecurity

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja
26 October 2021   |   3:22 am
Insecurity, no doubt, is one of the major challenges facing the country today. In fact, for over a decade, Nigeria has been disturbed by activities of Boko Haram and their ISWAP counterparts...

Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu (left); former president Nigeria Guild of Editors and Osun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mrs Funke Egbemola; President Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mustapha Isah;  Editor-in-chief, LEADERSHIP newspapers media group, Azu Ishiekwene and permanent secretary, Ministry of foreign affairs Dr. Babayo Ardo at the 17th All Nigeria Editors Conference 2021 with the theme “Media in times of crises: Resolving Conflicts, Achieving Consensus’ in Abuja. PHOTO:  PHILIP OJISUA 

Insecurity, no doubt, is one of the major challenges facing the country today. In fact, for over a decade, Nigeria has been disturbed by activities of Boko Haram and their ISWAP counterparts, bandits, kidnappers and unknown gunmen.

Despite effort to tackle the challenges, the situation has persisted. Disturbed by this, newsroom managers, under the aegis of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), gathered in Abuja last week, to discuss the role of media in resolving the seemingly intractable crisis confronting the country.

With the theme, ‘Media in Times of Crises: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus’, the two-day event attracted state governors, security agencies and stakeholders in the media and security sector.

In his opening speech, President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mustapha Isah, who decried the security situation in the country, warned that Nigeria couldn’t continue on its current trajectory.

The NGE president insisted that the media not only have to be part of the solution, but also to be at the forefront of the war against terrorism.

Isah stressed that one of the ways the media could help to address the problem is by reducing undue publicity to activities of terrorists and bandits.

He said, “There’s no doubting the fact that insecurity is one of the major challenges facing Nigeria today. The entire country is engulfed in one form of crisis or the other. Every day, front pages of newspapers are replete with headlines bordering on insurgency, banditry, kidnappings on the highways and schools, farmers/herders clashes, as well as the activities of known and unknown gunmen. Lives are being lost, the economy is bleeding, and scarce resources, which, ordinarily should have been used to address the nation’s infrastructure deficit, are being deployed to tackle security challenges. The nation can’t continue like this.”

According to him, “the media can’t afford to be aloof at this time of national crisis. We have to be part of the solution to insecurity, which has become an existential threat to this great nation. We played a major role in the fight against colonial rule. We were in the forefront in the fight for the restoration of democracy. That fight led to the death of some journalists, with others imprisoned and media houses shut. So, we are currently facing another national crisis and the media should play a significant role in finding solutions through our consensus-building and agenda-setting roles.

“I want to pose a few questions: Should the media play up the occasional successes of insurgents and bandits against our military? Shouldn’t the media deliberately give adequate publicity to the gains of our dedicated military personnel against the bad guys disturbing the peace of this nation? Should we give more attention to the voices of those calling for division or those calling for unity?

“I don’t have specific answers to these questions, and I do hope that this important conference will find the answers. But one thing I know is that terrorists and bandits need publicity to sustain their nefarious activities. Denying them that much-needed oxygen will be beneficial to Nigeria.”

He said the conference was an avenue for editors to come together and liaise with relevant stakeholders to discuss national issues and proffer solutions to them.

In his keynote address titled, Media in Times of Crisis: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus, Publisher, Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, noted that “media is central to democracy and that for the fructification of the values of democracy that can enhance good governance, promote freedom and democracy, we need to focus more attention on what is broken in our journalism that makes it inoperable to deliver the best values for democratic development.”

He added that the government, “in so far as it believes in democracy and development, has a major role to play as indeed the Australian government has shown by blazing a trail.”

He pointed out that “the rash of laws poured into the National Assembly in 2019 to “regulate” the poor behaviour of press will be needless if there is an honest purpose that what is wrong in our journalism is what they intend to fix. We know better that this is not the case but if you engage public officials, particularly those who are genuine about the matter, you see a genuine ignorance and probably a true desire to help with things.”

Olorunyomi took a tour of media spaces across the globe and challenged the Nigerian media to evolve home-grown solutions to deal with security issues of the day.

Veteran journalist, Ray Ekpu, who chaired one of the sessions, stated that the most significant problem facing the country today is the lack of security for life and property.

He argued, “Our failure to secure the nation effectively and efficiently despite the commendable efforts of our security personnel is due to what I call The Seven Anomalies.”

Ekpu, who listed the anomalies, said that Nigeria is a federation that is culturally, linguistically and traditionally heterogeneous but unlike other federations such as United States, Canada, Australia and Germany, Nigeria is being managed in security matters as if it was a homogenous entity.

“My view is that the media, civil society, lawyers and labour are capable of jointly checkmating through demonstrations and legal processes such potentially power drunk governors. Also, if we have State Police, there will be a balance of terror which will be a check on either side as it happened to the super powers during the cold war,” he stated.

In his presentation, Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai called on media practitioners to always verify reports on security before dissemination to avoid misinformation and inciting people against the government.

Represented by his Special Adviser on Intergovernmental Relations, Hannatu Dalhat, the governor said that his government has always ensured the media played a critical role in its administration in the handling of issues security .

El-Rufai explained that the state took some measures to address the insecurity challenges, but sometimes reporting on issues not fully verified remained a challenge.

The governor noted that to give the necessary support to the military operations in the state, it adopted some measures to enhance offensive against bandits, including formally actioning the processes for telecoms shutdown in parts of the state.

Also, Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, decried increasing insecurity in the country, stressing that it has assumed a dizzying height and justifiably invites the attention of all critical stakeholders.

He identified inclusive governance and collaboration with security agencies as models for addressing security issues in the nation.

Oyetola, represented by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Prince Abdullah Adeyanju Binuyo, noted that the state had, in the past three years, deployed these models, which account for its enviable peace profile as one of the most peaceful states in the country.

He harped on innovative governance style at the federal, state and local levels, saying security is crucial to governance because security makes governance, business, development, trade, commerce, and every ingredient associated with governance possible and predictable.

Contributing to the discourse, the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO) CP Frank Mba, observed that the only two professions you find running towards disasters or emergencies when the rest of the public is running away are security agencies and the media.

Mbah, who solicited for continued support of the media in finding solutions to the security crisis facing the country, said: “I appeal to you in the spirit of the theme of this conference to continue to help us in not just reporting the crises, but also going on to diagnose the crises; not just diagnosing the crises but going on to make critical suggestions on how the crises can be dealt with. And even when the crises or a situation of conflict probably manages to slip through your radar or our radar, do us a favour of carrying a detailed post-mortem of those conflicts so that we can learn our lessons and move forward.”

However, the Director General of the Department for State Security (DSS), Yusuf Magaji Bichi, wants the media to be forthright in its reporting of conflict.

Represented by spokesman of the Service, Dr Peter Afunanya, the DSS boss urged the media to call “unknown gunmen” by their names.

He asked, “why for instance, will an editor continue to call or not call those who in destruction of lives and property by their names? Who are unknown gunmen? If you know them, and I think you should know who they are, call them by who they are. Call them by their names because like one of the speakers had earlier said, terrorism thrives on publicity.”

Bichi appealed to the media to work in good conscience and for the common good, and also stressed the need for the media to tone down on conflict-related stories put out to the public.

Also speaking, Director General of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), Amb. Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, who was represented by Mr Emma Anzaku, noted, “Security is the problem of all of us.”

He stated: “It is something that we need to collaborate. We must work together to ensure that there is peace and security. Sustainable economic growth and industrialisation will require that we have peace and the only way we can achieve that is when we work together as security agencies and as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm.”

For Azu Ishiekwene, Editor-in-Chief of Leadership Newspapers, “while it may be sensible to assume that the editor, guided by the basic professional requirements of accuracy, balance, fairness, objectivity and facts should exercise reasonable judgment, there is the temptation to over-estimate the role of the media in building consensus or mediating peace.

“That said, the media is like a double-edged sword, and in some ways, too, like fire – it can help to cook a meal; it can also set the house alight. The media can act as both a catalyst in conflict prevention, while it could also potentially inflame it.”

He, however, said, “the continued relevance of journalism, whether in peace time or in time of crisis, lies just as much on its inventiveness as in how it reinforces the agency of the citizen.”

Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello charged the media to set agenda for the country and not to abdicate that role to politicians. Bello, who drew rounds of applause, wants the media to be fair and fearless.

IN a communiqué signed by the NGE’s President, Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the conference attended by 350 editors, security chiefs, and other stakeholders, stated that the prevalent insecurity challenges, which have seen terrorists, bandits, armed herdsmen and other criminal elements holding the nation to ransom and threatening its survival and development, have the potential of tearing the country to shreds.

“The problem of insecurity confronting the country is taking a huge toll on societal life and posting negative development indices in several areas. That the insecurity crises stem from leadership failure that has bedeviled the country for many years,” the communiqué stated.

The conference resolved: “Governments at all levels have a responsibility to defend, protect and provide for its citizens. That agitations for self-determination, which are raging in the Southeast, Southwest and the South South regions do not augur well for the unity of the country.

“The conference called for an end to raging insecurity so that citizens can conduct their normal lives in an atmosphere of peace and concord. That there’s need for healthy and harmonious collaboration between the media and the security agencies in the fight against insecurity.”

The conference also advised editors and other media professionals to ensure that they are conflict-sensitive and ensure they do not publish stories that are capable of inflaming ethnic, regional and religious passion. It called for urgent need to tackle the monster of misinformation and sanitise the media against unprofessional and unethical behaviour.