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By Richard Bagudu
IF you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it -Joseph Goebells

ACCORDING to Wikipedia,'propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or person.'

Unlike journalism which holds facts as sacred and pursues the rules of fairness and balance in its reporting and comments, 'propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.'

Perhaps the best known propagandist to mankind is Paul Joseph Goebells, Hitler's minister of public enlightenment and propaganda under whose notorious stewardship propaganda was elevated to an official policy of the state. Utterly mean spirited and full of bile, Goebells was a man blinded by selfish ambition and lust for power; he took delight in being cynical and had an incurable disdain for the truth.

Very Machiavellian in his methods, Goebells believed only in the self-justification of power and deployed crude propaganda to satisfy the hedgemonic ambitions of Aryan supremacy as embodied by the Nazi. As editor of the Berlin Nazi newspaper Der Angriff  (The Attack) Goebells was a thorn in the flesh of the local communist and socialist parties.

Infamous for his vitriolic anti-Semitic rhetoric, Goebells believed in two essentials for effective propaganda viz: (1) It must label people and events with distinctive phrases or slogans; and (2) it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.

It is from both perspectives that one must properly contextualise Modibbo Kawu's article: 'Who is really our President? Azazi or Jonathan? (Vanguard, February 16), which from all intents and purposes was a disingenuous attempt at Goebellism. Kawu lifted a page off Goebells's manual of propaganda with his less than charitable denigration of General OwoyeAzazi, as 'anti-North and anti-Islam.' The choice of label is deliberate even if baseless and unfounded because as Goebells himself said, 'it is not propaganda's task to be intelligent; its task is to lead to success.'

Put somewhat differently, propaganda has a careless regard for the truth but it must steadfastly and ceaselessly repeat the same point, for in doing so it stands a chance not of becoming true but of being believed to be true by those for whom it is intended to sway.

In pasting Azazi with such derogatory labels, Kawu was simply orchestrating the puerile sentiments of Mohammed Haruna (The Nation, February 1, 2012), a man whose casual regard for the truth is almost legendary.

As proof of his 'anti-North and anti-Islam' bias, Kawu offers for evidence the General's candid admission to London's Financial Times that a negotiated end to the Boko Haram insurgency is both complex and complicated because 'if you reach out to somebody 10 steps away from the centre, you are wasting your time.'

More than a month earlier, (December 30, 2011 to be exact) the NSA had made a surprising pronouncement through the wire agency, Reuters, that the government was seeking dialogue with the jihadist sect through 'back channels' as a way of ending the conflict. Said he: 'I don't think it's everybody (in Boko Haram) who believes in the level of violence …

That's why you could have other channels for discussion … It's something we could pursue. From our perspective, you try back channels. And when you are trying back channels, that's not when the president will come and announce to the whole of Nigeria that 'I'm talking to mister A or mister B.'

But Kawu insists the NSA is the villain, not the victim. Consistent with the propagandist's strategy of demonising his victim with selective presentation of facts, Kawu sought to stoke hatred towards the NSA in vituperating that Azazi had 'foreclosed' negotiations with Boko Haram in direct opposition to the avowed stand of President Goodluck Jonathan.

It's a blatant lie. It is a lie not only because the General's public statements put a lie to Kawu's bigoted assertion, but more so because the General's track record in public service has no antecedent in that regard. Given the NSA's lofty office we deserve better than hollow and unconvincing rhetoric for the charge of 'anti-North and anti-Islam bias' to stick.

Needless to say, Kawu and his cohorts must, as a matter of exigency, proffer us substantive evidence of this weighty allegation from Azazi's stints as Director of Military Intelligence, General Officer Commanding, GOC, I Division, Chief of Army Staff, and Chief of Defence Staff.

For a man with such high profile appointments, it is doubtful it would be such a herculean task to unearth evidence of prejudice by the General against any one group, religion, or person in flagrant breach of the constitution.

Now to the second point that Goebells made, which is that propaganda must offer some form of action or diversion, or both. Evidently, Kawu's tirade is diversionary. Despite the public talk about dialogue or negotiation (depending on which side you are on), Boko Haram has yet to indicate interest in any such round table conference.

Instructively, the group's leader Imam Shekau responded to the President's offer of olive branch with an unmistakable taunt, smugly calling for the President to first convert to Islam if he was serious about dialogue. It would seem that commentators like Kawu would rather gloat over public humiliation of the President he so claims to love than direct the arsenal of his poisonous pen against Shekau and his terror gang for insulting the First Citizen.

It is in vain that Kawu seeks to set the President against his security adviser because, as to the matter of dialoguing with the insurgents, the President and the NSA are clearly on the same page - excerpt of course in Kawu's warped mind.

On January 26, 2012, the President told Reuters: 'If they (Boko Haram) clearly identify themselves now and say this is the reason why we are resisting, this is the reason why we are confronting government or this is the reason why we destroy some innocent people and their properties … then there will be a basis for dialogue… but if they don't identify themselves, who will you dialogue with?'

On December 30, 2011, General Azazi had told Reuters: 'For now, Boko Haram is an invisible enemy. You don't have an identifiable person you can talk to. By contrast, in the Niger Delta conflict, at any time the government wanted a meeting, he rang them and said we'll come and talk. But nobody has come out openly and said 'we're Boko Haram.'

Strong arm tactics
Kawu's assertion that the NSA is hell bent on strong arm tactics as opposed to the President's desire for dialogue has little to do with his intelligence or the lack of it, or of not having full knowledge of the facts, but everything to do with willful mischief.

All is fair in war, the adage goes, and in this instance, propaganda is being deployed for the purpose of political warfare. Once again let's hear both distinguished citizens. The President to Reuters: 'Military confrontation alone will not eliminate terror attacks… Our commitment is to make sure our irrigation programmes are all revitalised so most of these young people are engaged in productive agriculture and … will not be free for them to recruit.'

The NSA toReuters: 'The president strongly believes that his economic plans will bring productivity to (northern) areas, especially focusing on agriculture. In the north, most people are farmers. Someone who is gainfully employed is less likely to join (Boko Haram). They say Western education is taboo.

If you go to school and you can't get employed, you'll not see the value in education.'

The foregoing is ample evidence that Kawu is, for whatever reason, pitifully in the stranglehold of Azaziphobia. Unfortunately for him, he has not got the power or the means to suppress the truth or shield it from us asGoebells did in 20th century Germany with his totalitarian hold on the media, cinema and arts. And since we know the truth, 'the mortal enemy of the lie,' Kawu's thesis, if you will call it that, is fatally flawed.

Bagudu is a United States based attorney, and author of the book, Judging Annan.