Towards a positive army-media relations
Who says things aren’t changing in Naija? It may be in Max Romeo’s classic of one step forward and two steps backwards, but some things are changing in Naija. Could you imagine that the army has issued an apology to the nation for misinforming them on the sad abduction of NNPC and University of Maiduguri staff? I mean, it actually happened! It’s not fake news. No media house was closed down as a result, no reporter was harassed over the matter, a press statement did the deed and a press statement righted the wrong! Hurray, my eyes have seen the goodness of the army!
Years back, yours sincerely had to go into hiding after reporting that the air force base in Kwara was closing. It was a true story from the mouth of the then chief of air staff who was making a farewell tour of units under his command. The address was made to the troops who had gathered at the base to hear their commandant. But a few hours after the story broke, a this change of tactics is a welcome gesture.
My generation may not see the day when people who signed such monumental misinformation statements would find the decency to resign, but this statement is a landmark in the history of army-media relations. Prior to this, the army had insisted it was overhauling the way it passed information to the public.
Not too long ago, errant soldiers who brutally and unconscionably attacked a civilian on wheelchair, bouncing both him and his chair across the street to the consternation of the people were disciplined when social media broke the news. The army apologised and compensated the poor chap. Apparently some soldiers are yet to get the memo. Recently, army commanders reportedly disciplined soldiers who punished civilians by making them swim in puddle. Things may not be where we want them to be, but they are not as bad as they used to be and they appear to be improving.
While that is going on, let me report that a very shameful video has been making social media rounds where soldiers ordered some group of men, suspected to be area boys to engage in a slapping competition. Just like the sad video of the lady soldier who brutalized a young Abuja environmental garden chap received military attention, we hope the soldiers in that video get their just recompense. Barely three weeks ago, some soldiers interfered with a domestic spat between a cousin of mine and his estranged wife. Uniformed personnel must remember Fela’s words - nothing special about uniform/ uniform na clothe na taylor dey sew am. In the war against crime and criminality in which our gallant soldiers and other resources are spread thin, the first weapon of success is winning the hearts and minds of the civil population. There would be neither peace nor security until the civilian sees the uniformed person as a true friend and shield.
Last week, the president of Pakistan, Nawar Sharif resigned after the country’s supreme court declared him ineligible for public office on account of the inexplicable wealth of his children. Once in Naija, an official accused of abusing public office by allocating land to his toddler and his friends - gave an epic defence -his accusers should wait for their chance at public office, and then allocate public resources to their enemies!
With the army leading the reform, there is hope not just for Naija, but perhaps for Africa. Naija patriots have often said that if their country gets it right, the whole of Africa would toe the line. Who knows, someday soon, a sick Katsina man would find the courage to say ‘no’ to public office if he knows that his health is likely to stand in the way of the rigorous demands of the office. A governor might realise that paying worker’s salary is not an achievement neither is having a graduate child when local schools are run down. That would be the day, but with the good news coming from the army optimism is no longer just a wish!