The media and the military are two stakeholders who play strategic roles in the Nigerian project. In the course of that, they sometimes have frictions due perhaps to inadequate dialogue on their duties and limitations. The military is constitutionally assigned the role of preserving and protecting the geopolitical territory of Nigeria and in the process, crosses path with the free media, an important partner in nation building project.
Oftentimes, both institutions misunderstand each other’s roles eventhough they are clearly spelt out in the 1999 Constitution. Historically speaking, there were backgrounds to the “stormy” relationship between the media and the military dating back to pre-independence times given the roles of both at the time.
While the media concentrated on advocacy for self-rule, the military was seen as instrument of coercion by the colonialists thus giving rise to mutual antagonism. Both groups were also like cat and mouse during our post-independence military interventions as exemplified by the Newspapers Proscription and Prohibition from Circulation Decree No 48 of 1993 used to proscribe the Concord, Punch and the Nigerian Observer Newspapers.
But as time went on especially after the military ceded power to civilians, the tendency for extreme jackboot behavior reduced drastically through constant media scrutiny and assimilation of human rights tenets oft-repeated under democracy.
Even at that, the military and the media are yet to clearly understand where responsibilities start and stop thereby culminating in the recent raid of the Daily Trust newspapers premises.
According to a one-time army public relations officer, Col. Sagir Musa “The media by its very nature is skeptical, intrusive, freewheeling and entrepreneurial. The media responds to the basic tenets of its very existence to expose the actions of the governments including the military to public scrutiny. This is more so because the military’s involvement into politics and governance in Nigeria made it more susceptible to press inquiry. The military however is hierarchical, regimental with great inner pride and loyalties”.
While the journalists seek to tell a story of interest to the public in good time and without any hindrance, the military pursues specific missions assigned by the constitution and political leaders in case of war or the threat of it, by planning and executing combat missions in secrecy in order to achieve maximum surprise and so it is common knowledge the world over, that war plans must be jealously guarded. An army for example, may decide to strategically expose its capability but obviously not its operational orders or war plans.
In this context, we appeal to the media to be circumspect in its reportage of military issues while the military should as much as avail the media with information necessary for the prosecution of its mandate as enshrined in the constitution.
As the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.General SK Usman puts it,“the military and the media in Nigeria are indeed partners in progress as both are working for the common good of the society in their respective ways. The Nigerian Army is deployed in various parts of the country on internal security duties in aid of civil authority and the fight against terrorism and insurgency to safeguard the territorial integrity of our great nation. As expected, these operations have been subject of media coverage and enquiry. However, most of the reportage tend to negate the basic principle of giving the military fair hearing and were not reported in the context of national security objectives. Thus creating room for mutual suspicion and misunderstanding”.
We hope that constant dialogue between the media and the military would form the basis for further understanding the dynamics of the military professions as it relates to national security.