There is indeed no confrontation nor war situation between men of the pen fraternity and the uniformed men with the sword, the ‘sword’ in this case is the gun.
What both of them need is basically what the tongue told the teeth that they both need, “understanding.”
Over the years, the men in uniform, especially the police and the military, have regarded themselves as mini-gods and the media as their worshippers. They see the media as rats while they are cats. Sequel to this wrong notion and perception, both have been at daggers drawn, waiting to see who blinks first. Clearly, the media should be understood. Likewise the security services. For them to work in unison, they need understanding. Each should know his limits and bounds. It was, therefore, gratifying when the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Leitenant General Tukur Buratai was quoted as soliciting the cooperation and understanding of all segments of the media toward the military.
“There is no doubt that, by your distinct position, you can stabilise or destabilise situations in any given security environment. The reasons are not far from the fact that the pen is mightier than the sword.”
Such a humble presentation is what the media professionals want to hear. The media hate intimidation or being addressed from the rooftop with an air of ego. When the COAS noted that, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” Wikipedia described it as “a metonymic adage, coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, indicating that communication, or in some interpretations, administrative power or advocacy of an independent press, is a more effective tool than direct violence.”
The Urban Dictionary says “the pen is mightier than the sword” means “a person can cause people to change their opinions (e.g., to fight a war) and on a large-scale and whereas a sword can only change a peron’s opinion by force and then often only.” For publicly reinterating this obvious fact, it means the military has opened wide its arms and, by extension, offered an olive branch to the journalists covering the activities of the military in the war zones. No doubt, the constitutional responsibility of the military to defend our boarders requires support from all sectors of society and the media as well to make Nigeria safe from all forms of criminalities.
When the insurgency started in Maiduguri like child’s play, the media exhibited all the needed responsibilities. Both the electronic and the mainstream media were very active. Their patriotism was later captured by the insurgents who capitalised on their zealousness to get news by feeding them with their own news. The situation got worse as Nigerians became more receptive to news from the terror group. This trend greatly destabilised the efforts of the military under President Jonathan Goodluck’s administration when journalists were harassed. The military was oblivious of the power of the media, whereas the insurgents fully capitalised on the loophole. This information dissemination strength of the Boko Haram terrorist warlords further helped them to extend their frontiers and reached out to other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, more commonly known as al-Shabaab, also a jihadist fundamentalist group based in East Africa. They too pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organisation Al-Qaeda, thereby forming a veritable network. They all found solace in the media circle. The strength of the media cannot be over-emphasied but suffice it to explain that the wisdom of the military to embrace the media should be commeded. Although belated, this new relationship can still help the military to regain lost ground and further instill the needed confidence in the men at the war zones. It is important to state some fundamental reasons why the media is always at loggerheads with security agencies faced with operational challenges/assignments. Just as the military has a mandate, so does the media. So, any effort to deprive the media of facts, such as number of casualties during a suicide bombing or operational attack, is viewed negatively. Whereas the military by its action may have shut out the media, the terrorist group is ready to offer the media ready information.
True, defending national security should be the guiding principle of both the military and the media. Of what use is it for the media to jeopardise national security on the platform of dissemination of news? As a crime reporter, I stumbled on a news item in 1986, when I heard of the killing of 36 police dogs in their kennels at the Mobile Police Barrack, Agbani Road, Enugu. After a thourough investigation, I approached the state police commissioner, Mr. Johnson Odu, who warned me not to publish the story and ordered me out of his office, referring to me as a “nosy reporter,” adding that, should I go ahead to publish the story, detention would await my action.
Such intimidating officialdom is not acceptable in the media. So, he saw the story on the front page of the National Concord. He dispatched the police public relations officer, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo, to my office to arrest me (the rest is history). Such confrontational stand by heads of security agencies does not help issues like the situation narrated.
The understanding needed should be embraced with humility. Last year, this writer met with COAS Buratai for an exclusive interview in Maiduguri after observing the hectic activities of the soldiers at the war zones. During the interview, I asked him about the casualty figures of the military since their involvement in the war. He took a long look at me and confided in me by saying, “national interest should guide us and he was only a messenger and such a question should go to his boss.” I was impressed and other issues were trashed out, impressively. Only last week, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani disclosed to the media that more than 45,000 members of the country’s security forces have been killed since he became leader in 2014.” When the media is starved of news items, they would turn and be open to the insurgents who would definitely feed them with propaganda stuff.
By fully engaging the media and opening doors for better communication, the military has captured the mind of the media. Like the saying “police is your friend,” I can boldly say “the media is your friend.” Such friendship is targeted at the security and peace of the country.
The insurgents are declared enemies of both the military and the media, including members of their families. That Buratai deemed it appropriate to fraternize with the media speaks volumes. The COAS has exhibited patriotism. Other security agencies should toe this line in the overall interest of the nation.