Terrorism, National Security And The Mass Media

By Agbese Philiip

Security of lives and property is a fundamental obligation the Nigerian state owes to its citizens, as entrenched in the 1999 Constitution. When government fails on other constitutional obligations, it is pardonable. But breach of security in any guise is never compromised and a government alive to its responsibility takes it seriously. It is government business, much as it is the responsibility of all citizens.

Nigeria has been burdened by terrorism. In the last eight years, it has proven to be Nigeria’s mortal enemy. While the country battled acts of terrorism, the quantum of havoc it wreaked on the population is better imagined than believed.

Assailed by acts of terrorism in different parts of the country, violent manifestations of Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs), Niger Delta Militants and armed banditry and cattle rustling have all seared a deepening sense of insecurity among the people.

No segment of the nation is spared the wrath of terrorists. The media has also tested this bitter pill. The bombing of ThisDay newspaper office in Abuja in 2011 and the intermittent threats of bombing media houses by terrorists have been the media’s testimony of its shadows, reflective in anxiety, anguish and the pains terrorism can foist on a nation.

It is confirmed that Nigeria, like many other nations of the world have risen against acts of terror, based on the overriding motivation of securing national security. The Nigerian military has been instrumental in this regard. Anytime it is under threat or disrupted, in any part of Nigeria, it becomes a burden not only to the immediate communities affected, but the entire country comes under its choking grip.

It sprouts humanitarian crisis of a frightening dimension as evident in thousands of Internally Displaced Persons trooping into safer abodes, deaths of women and children as well as creates food crisis.

To avoid this scenario is what has informed the imperative for the inevitable partnership between the Nigerian security agencies and the mass media. Both play different, but complimentary roles in containing the acts of terror against the citizenry.

It’s repeating the obvious to assert that the Nigerian military in conjunction with the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) has degraded BHTs through a determined warfare. Normalcy is returning to the affected areas and it has doused the tension which became the haunting affliction of Nigerians.

But the Nigerian Army is not living under the false illusion that terrorists have been completely routed out of Nigeria, as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen. Tukur Buratai himself has consistently echoed in many places. Given the opportunity, remnants of Boko Haram terrorists, who now dread the army have cleverly mixed up with the local population and can occasionally strike individually or regroup to launch attacks.

The present situation demands for concerted action and collaboration from all stakeholders to completely eliminate terrorists in the country.

Again, suffice it to say, the remnants of BHTs have resorted to waging a psychological warfare on Nigerians more than its earlier penchant for detonation of bombs in public places. Some BHTs elite members have even resorted to cyber warfare, where they issue threats of more attacks or reporting sensational, but phantom strikes on targets.

These are baits designed to embolden some of their members who have renounced their membership to re-unite with them to secure the massive followership they need to reinvigorate. The Nigerian mass media would do the nation a lot good, by refraining from disseminating such unfounded propaganda.

In essence, the media has a big role to play in this regard. It is incumbent on all journalists to put national interest foremost in reporting terrorism and other acts of violent aggressions against the Nigerian state. This call has become necessary because aside ethical considerations, which are sometimes, breached by reporters, the language and tenor of some reports on terrorism violence could rather enliven the perpetrators or confer on them a false sense of might against the Nigerian state.

For instance, when Boko Haram terrorists struck Baga in one of its devastating raids of a community in Borno state, an online medium gave priority to the terrorists’ seeming sack of the military base of the MNJTF more. It proceeded to proclaim how the Nigerian military ignored intelligence reports warning of the impending attack. Such floating details were not necessary when national interest is considered.

It had the tendency to dampen the morale of troops and bolster the bravery of terrorists, to feel they can even descend on military formations unchallenged. It also conveyed to other terrorists groups that Nigerian military formations have no sophistry to counter their madness. The reporter may not have intended any mischief, but it would have been as a result of his failure to properly comprehend the implication and destructive effects of a report crafted in this manner to the success of the anti-terrorism war.

In another instance, a news medium reporting the repeated terrorists attack on Biu the home town of Nigeria’s COAS, Gen. Buratai, emphasis was placed more on the symbolism of the penetration of the country home of Nigeria’s number one soldier- Buratai. Biu is just anybody’s community and the specifics on linking the COAS to it was disingenuous and an attack on efforts to tame national insecurity. It signified the defeat of all Nigerian soldiers in the battle because a man, who cannot secure his house, cannot be trusted to safeguard the house of a neighbor.

Flowing from this understanding, Buratai recently hosted Journalists in Abuja to re-cement the relationship between reporters and the Nigerian army. During the interface organized by Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abuja council, the army expressed its willingness to partner with journalists in the collective efforts to finally bury terrorism in the country.

Buratai further pleaded that reporters should always consider national interest in the performance of their constitutional responsibilities and avail themselves of information the military is now willing to give out on the anti-terrorism war.

But more importantly, while the army continues to break new grounds in its engagements with terrorists, Nigerians who now savour the respite generally should consider it a cardinal point of appreciation to keep encouraging soldiers even with mere verbal blessings.

NUJ National President Waheed Odusile’s declaration that Nigerian journalists “… are proud of our Nigerian Army, which is second to none in the world,” would not only strengthen their resolve to do more, but it is an inestimable morale booster. Buratai caps it all by imploring Nigerians to verbally applaud soldiers, on the road or streets, at checkpoints, places of worship and indeed, anywhere a soldier is sighted, as this simple gesture would make them happier as Nigerians appreciated by the people they are serving with their whole lives.

Agbese is a UK based public affairs analyst.