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Published On: Fri, May 23rd, 2014

Has government a right to lie?

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

An immediate unintended consequence of the just concluded World Economic Forum for Africa (WEFA) was the unprecedented scale of interest of the global media in Nigeria. A major area of focus of the international media was the kidnap by armed Islamic insurgents of some two hundred plus school girls from the government girls High School in Chibok, a hitherto unknown media territory in Borno State. Borno state is the epicenter of the ongoing campaign of violent terrorism by the armed rebels known as Boko Haram.

The United Nations has already stated that the abduction and sexual slavery of these school girls amounted to a crime against humanity. Locally, the vocal group known as Christian Association of Nigeria has reacted to the internet video circulated by the armed Islamic insurgents in which most of the girls were shown renouncing their Christian religion to embrace the religion of the sectarian violent leader. To this group of Christian leaders as well as other leading Islamic Scholars, what these insurgents have done constitute a war crime.

On their own part, the hierarchy of the Nigerian military has issued instruction restricting media coverage of the epicenter of the attacks by these armed insurgents and according to a press statement, the Nigerian military can only allow authorized media coverage by the global and local press.

This instruction on limited media coverage of operational areas whereby the Nigerian military are said to be waging anti-terror war has been called an attempt at censorship of the media which contradicts section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution.

The Defence Headquarters said it has noted the presence of a large number of tourists, journalists and adventurers of diverse interests moving about in areas where security operations are currently ongoing especially in Adamawa and Borno States without the necessary security cover or clearance, a trend which constitutes not only an unnecessary risk to the persons especially the foreigners involved but is also an undue obstruction to operations.

What has emerged based on the peculiar local situation in Nigeria is that government has the legitimate right to keep operational secrets of the military away from the prying eyes of the media but it has no right to refuse to allow the media both from local organizations and global media outlets to monitor how the war on terror is proceeding and to criticize the counter terror war if and when it deviates to war in error. A good example was the shameful revelation that the military commanders in Borno State capital got four hours notice of an impending attack of the armed insurgents targeting the Chibok’s girls’ secondary school, but did nothing to stop it.

The international media with specific reference to the Atlanta, United States-based cable News Network [CNN] sent her crew of reporters few days after the kidnap of the school girls, and local people including anonymous military sources informed them that the military commanders in Borno state capital were pre-informed of an imminent attack of the girls school in Chibok by the armed insurgents but for four hours, the military failed to stop it. Amnesty international (AI) a United Kingdom-based non-governmental body did a comprehensive report and issued a media statement making the same claim but the Nigerian military authority denied it.

Most Nigerians believe the version told them by the global media more than the claim of the spokesman of the Nigerian military who has once deceived the World into believing that majority of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls were already rescued few hours after this dastardly kidnap incident. But when overwhelming contrary opinion emanated from the parents of the missing girls, the military spokesman accepted that his earlier claims were based on false intelligence. It is therefore in the self enlightened interest of the Nigerian government that credible media reportage of the counter terrorism war is encouraged while the military hierarchy endeavors to professionally identify the saboteurs within their rank that always leaks operational secrets to the armed Islamic insurgents.

Those who leak operational military information to the insurgents should be treated as enemies of Nigeria and must be severely punished in accordance with extant military law in Nigeria.

On the other hand, the Nigerian government should cultivate greater transparent media coverage of the anti-terror war but at the same time keeps all information that may endanger the lives of the troops within the secret confines of the highest governmental levels bearing in mind that even the government is said to have being infiltrated by the armed insurgents.

While the media is termed a constructive friend of Nigeria in our ongoing counter terrorism offensives, media owners must provide the necessary enabling environment like life insurance policies for their workers and all information received from official government circles without independent verification must be carried with a caveat so consumers of media information are aware that information reaching them were never independently verified and authenticated.

Emmanuel Onwubiko via linkedIn


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