The Commandant of the National Defence College, representatives of the minister of defense, representatives of the service chiefs, generals, admirals and Air Marshals here present.
I thank the Commandant of the National Defence College for inviting me to speak to you today. It is a great honor and permit me to say that seated in this audience are some of the most patriotic Nigerians alive.
Many gave something to Nigeria. Few gave a lot. And fewer still are prepared to give or have given everything. You are in that latter category and I celebrate you.
I have been asked to speak on the subject Information as a Tool for National Security: The Role of the Media.
With regards to the military, you will agree with me that nations of the world project their power through their military. In other words, the military is an institution for the projection of national power and a guardian of a nations sovereignty.
That being the case, if the popular proverb, knowledge is power, is true, it therefore follows that the military of any nation should be a citadel of knowledge, knowledge that can be translated into power.
Being that I have been asked to speak on the role of the media in influencing national security policies, I dare say that in my humble opinion, there is no better example of this than Ronald Reagan whose policy of ‘a peace through strength’ was projected by the media and in projecting it, it was amplified and in amplifying it, the media gave those words so much power that it drove the nuclear arms race of the early to late eighties and culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall and later the Soviet Union.
Words have power that bullets do not have. Proper communication can achieve what bombs can’t achieve. Ronald Reagan was known as the great communicator who used his words to overwhelm the Soviet War Machine paving the way for the West’s victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War and the arms race that it caused.
The fall of the Soviet Union was a strategic national security objective of the United States, but that objective was not achieved by force of military power. It was achieved by force of knowledge power and specifically through the domination of the media by the United States and her allies.
The Reagan administration came up with the Strategic Defense Initiative in March of 1983 and using media propaganda, they hyped the SDI as a trump card that would cancel out the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction and ensure victory for the United States and her NATO allies should conflict ever break out between the West and the Soviet Bloc.
But as is now common knowledge revealed through declassified documents obtained by the media, the Strategic Defense Initiative was really not what it was cut out to be. In fact, it could be said that it was a facade. It was actually a failure.
When it was dissolved by the Clinton Administration in 1993 it became clear that the US where nowhere near what the whole world, including the Soviet Union, thought they were in the development of the SDI.
The US baited the USSR into an arms race that she could not afford, an arms race that destroyed her economy and prevented her from turning her energies and attention to pressing domestic problems which eventually led to her break up, and America did this through the power of her media in partnership with her military industrial complex.
Gentlemen, that is what we need in Nigeria, a strategic partnership between our media and our military industrial complex.
For instance, we have been battling a most viscous strain of terrorism and as Margaret Thatcher warned in the 80’s, “publicity is the oxygen of terrorism”.
You and I know that a terror group like Boko Haram uses the media to spread fear and to induce paranoia amongst the populace.
Imagine how easy it would have been to defeat Boko Haram if they had no access to the media and if the fourth estate of the realm could be convinced to black them out of the media space and only publish patriotic reportage that boosted the morale of the military and feeds the confidence of the civilian population in the armed forces?
That is why today, I want to appeal to online media houses like Premium Times and others in that space. The Nigerian military are our first and only line of defense to all enemies foreign and domestic. Where it not for our military, Boko Haram would have marched on Abuja and hoisted its flag.
That being the case, is it asking too much if we request that the media give the military the benefit of the doubt in their reportage?
Just like the Western media helped amplify the Strategic Defense Initiative, is it asking too much for the Nigerian media to help amplify our own Strategic Defense objectives? Even if this involves propaganda, promote good propaganda of our military instead of promoting the evil propaganda of our enemies?
Every time we air Boko Haram’s boastful videos we strengthen them and undermine our military. We boost their morale. We help their recruitment drive. We assist them in their fund raising. But most importantly, we help them spread terror by propaganda amongst our own civilian populace.
Such news coming from Boko Haram and its affiliates fall under the classification of fake news.
The recent elections in the US has exposed the vulnerability of the media to so called ‘fake news’. Social media is particularly susceptible to this because unlike other media it is not encumbered by an editorial board.
Outright lies, half truths and innuendo are traded on social media and this calls for a greater responsibility on the part of online journalists. You cannot legitimately lay claim to the title of a journalist if you report what you have heard instead of what you have verified!
Social media should not and cannot promote gossip peddlers to the platform of journalists. It demeans the profession and it can actually lead to loss of lives.
During the Second World War, the British coined the phrase, ‘loose lips sink ships’, which simply meant that talking flippantly about military matters gives the enemy an edge and empowers them with the foreknowledge needed to counter efforts by friendly forces.
Many a times, I have read about troop movements and other sensitive information in online and social media. Sometimes, disgruntled soldiers speak to journalists anonymously or shoot videos and release them through civilian accomplices and these videos tend to undermine our military.
I therefore suggest that the Nigerian military should establish a very robust inter services information unit that is accessible 24/7 to receive and treat verification enquiries from the media in order that our enemies do not use social media to set our military against our civilian populace in an act of war by other means.
This unit within our military should also have short codes and hotlines by which the public can get in touch with them to either verify information or provide tips.
I also suggest that our local journalists on all platforms, including the traditional and new media, should from time to time and within reason, be embedded with our troops as they engage in internal security operations as well as foreign engagements.
This will serve two purposes. It will enable these journalists appreciate the unique and costly sacrifice our military make for our collective safety. And secondly, it will offer them a platform to report the truth from an eye witness perspective.
Finally, let me recommend that select military personnel be made to feature in the regular breakfast morning news shows done by all major Nigerian network.
Doing this will help build a bond between the civilian populace and the military and that understanding will increase the credibility of the military which in turn will impact their effectiveness in gathering intelligence and tip offs from the public especially in the anti terror war.
As I conclude, let me state that though I am not in the military, I nevertheless come from a military family. My brother during the Nigerian Civil War. I believe in our armed forces and I believe and support the code of esprit de corp.
Do not allow anybody tell you otherwise. The Nigerian Military is a fine fighting force that has done in places like The Congo, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and others what the military of first world nations could not achieve.
God bless the Nigerian Army, God bless the Nigerian Navy, God bless the Nigerian Air Force, God bless the National Defence College and may God bless Nigeria.