Communication, security and sustainable development
Dynamics of effective communication
Communication is defined as the mutual exchange of information and understanding between two or more parties by any means possible. Communication is also described as the mutual exchange of meaning, which is characterized by the dispositions of empathy and compassion, acceptance, and respect. Communication involves an ongoing process of ‘coding’ and ‘decoding,’ because if the recipient of communication cannot successfully decode the content, then no communication would take place. For Effective Communication to occur, truth and trust are indispensable among the required ingredients.
In the first instance the content of the communication must be true, and it must be communicated truthfully. Secondly, the parties in the communication enterprise must have earned the trust of each other before any effective communication can take place. It was Abraham Lincoln who advised that, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend, that you have his interest at heart, that you care…” Thus, effectiveness in communication often depends to a reasonable extent on the credibility of the communicator in the eyes of the other parties involved. The parties need to have wide areas of shared experiences and shared meaning, and the content of the communication must be credible, relevant, beneficial, tested and owned by all the parties involved, if communication between them is to be effective.
Trust is critical in the effectiveness of communication. But such trust cannot be earned through acts of coercion and intimidation. Acts of coercion and intimidation rather lead to further breakdown in communication. In the face of the breakdown of trust between the leaders and those they lead, no real progress can be made in the direction of effective communication for governance, security, and sustainable development, until a measure of trust is re-established. And how do the leaders facilitate the re-establishment of such trust? By disposing themselves to know and embrace the truth of their local or national circumstances, no matter how uncomfortable such truth might be; for as Jesus Christ says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Yes, by demonstrating sincerity of heart and sincerity of purpose, and by being consistent on this path of sincerity, the people will eventually come to believe that the leaders truly care for them, and they will reciprocate with not only personal loyalty, but also some commitment to assisting their leaders in its task of strategic communication of policy frameworks and policy directions with the people.
Information dissemination and announcements are not the same as communication. A series of monologues do not qualify to be called communication. And attempts at the indoctrination of a population are antithetical to effective communication. What is more, the mismanagement of public relations by reactive rather than proactive messages from official channels of the government have in recent times often aggravated potentially volatile situations, rather than calm down such situations.
Instead of strategic proactive communication, we have often been fed on a diet of strategic denials and distractions regarding facts, figures and realities that are in the public domain. We have also been treated with what has now become regular demonization of Nigerian stakeholders who happen to voice out their disagreement with certain policies of government or those who express their displeasure and frustration over the obvious failure of government to improve the economy, to reduce corruption or to effectively address the heightened insecurity in the land. Such crude attempts at communication or such public relations practice on the part of government officials can hardly elicit any measure of loyalty and patriotism in the citizens. The result has indeed been widespread resentment among a significant portion of the Nigerian polity, and a proliferation of groups that are now seeking self-determination. Sadly, there are elements in some of these groups who today have resorted to armed insurrection.
Agents of the government who react too quickly and often in the most impetuous manner to every critical comment regarding the failures and perceived injustices of the government should be told in very clear terms that they are often heating up the policy and rendering an already dangerous situation even more precarious. Senior officials of government, who react too quickly and often too impulsively to critics of the administration should be educated on the fact that democracy only thrives when there is a government in power, and there are opposition voices, whose duty it is to constantly drag the feet of those in power to the fire of good governance. In a democracy, critics of government policies and political actors should never be called enemies of the state… Yes, spokespersons of the administration who take on critics of the government often in the most uncivil manner, should be told that if all Nigerians become sycophants, minions, and praise singers of the captain of a sinking ship, then we are all doomed, when the inevitable occurs. Finally, in a volatile environment such as our own, all those who speak for government and their principals should be mandated to take a short course in the dynamics of nonviolent communication, which is now widely available, even online.
Critical elements of human security
On the subject matter of security, I need to emphasise here that all of us stakeholders in this country, and especially functionaries of our security agencies, need to begin to understand national security beyond regime protection and the safety of the incumbent, to include or take into consideration all elements of the human security of Nigerians. We need to begin to understand the remote causes of insecurity, and appreciate that justice and equity, the availability of social infrastructure and a robust social welfare system, a generous provision for universal education and youth employment, as well as the amount of trust the leadership has succeeded in earning from the various segments of the diverse population, etc., are the most critical elements that make for security and peaceful co-existence in any society.
To be continued tomorrow
Rev. Fr. Ehusani, executive director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation delivered this presentation (titled: Strategic Communication In Governance, Security And Sustainable Development: The Role Of Traditional And Religious Institutions) at the Crisis Management Seminar of the National Institute for Security Studies Abuja on October 18, 2021.