Of democracy, media and professionalism in the army

Posted by News Express | 7 December 2020 | 854 times

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 Nigeria’s democracy is passing through a very trying time. The times are, indeed, tough. Practically, in all spheres of human endeavour, Nigeria that prides itself as the giant of Africa has been stretched beyond human imagination. Apart from not having a robust political engagement through which the economy can be improved significantly, Nigeria's human rights sector is facing tumultuous challenges; just as the relationship between the military and the civilians has never been this sour, to an extent that a lot of the media products that millions of Nigerians receive on daily basis are substantially and increasingly looking like there is a war between the military and the rest of the citizens.

As the head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), I took a lot of time and energy to understudy the media contents around the issues of the waning relationship between the military and the civilians.

 From most of the reports, it would seem that there is the urgency of the now for both the heads of the military and stakeholders in the organised civil society community in Nigeria to begin to deepen the process of conversations on how best to ensure that the Nigerian Army and the entire military completely and totally become professional, because by so doing, the complaints of the multiple issues of human rights violations committed by some soldiers against the citizens will be minimised.

This is because organisationally, the military is subordinate to elected civil authorities. And these persons exercising authority as civil authorities cannot possibly do so without the mandate of the people of Nigeria; and it is this popular mandate of the civilians and indeed all of Nigerians that confer the legitimacy for them to exercise these essential authorities to shape the wellness and the wellbeing of the nation-state.

I think it was the realization of the indubitable fact that the military is subordinate to the civilian authority that motivated the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, to consolidate and strengthen the conversations between the military and the civil society. This culminated in the establishment of the department for Civil and Military Relations, which is normally headed by a senior Army General; given the realisation within the circles of the hierarchies of the military that constitutional democracy has come to stay. Constitutional democracy is unrealistic without respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizens. This salient message was also reiterated by General Tukur when he decorated some three dozen newly-promoted military generals. By emphasising the primacy of constitutional democracy, he has also by extension adumbrated on the essence of mainstreaming respect for the fundamental human rights of citizens in all internal security operations.

The COAS stated: “Democracy has come to stay. We will not tolerate any agent of destabilisation. The years of military misadventure in politics have never carried us anywhere. It is over.

“Do not hobnob with politicians. At this rank of two-star generals, do not lobby for an appointment. If you want to lobby for appointment, lobby the Chief of Army Staff and you can only do this through hard work, discipline and loyalty. The crop of officers (39 Majors-General) decorated will never be dragged into any interest that is contrary to the sustenance of democracy in our nation.”

The reference being made to the Constitution by the Chief of Army Staff shows the relevance of respect for the fundamental human rights of citizens because chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) remains the barometer for measuring the democratic viability or otherwise of a sovereign state. Constitutional democracy without the dominant thematic areas of adherence to the sanctity of human rights is an autocratic regime and not a democracy.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is one of the greatest coalitions of military powers from democratic nations.

Major-General H. Kujat wrote a seminal work that was published by NATO on its website: "The Role of the Military in a Democracy.” His piece was powerfully articulate and conveys all of the things that we need to stress in our conversations about the place of the Nigerian Army and constitutional democracy vis-a-vis the watchdog roles of the media, which should vigorously monitor the democratic institutions to ensure that the respect for the fundamental human rights of citizens is not jeopardised or compromised.

He wrote: “First, I would like to say that I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you today. Your country is still in a difficult state of transition, which poses new and different challenges every day. It is, therefore, important that people like yourselves have a positive attitude and the dedication to shape events in the years ahead. This is an indispensable prerequisite to help your country normalise its relations with the rest of Europe and beyond, and to become a functioning member of the family of nations that make up the Euro-Atlantic community.”

The top General added: "Let me start by mentioning that the Role of the Military in a Democracy is an ever-relevant concern which was already raised by Plato 2,500 years ago. The principle of political control of armed forces as we know it today is rooted in the concept of representative democracy. It refers to the supremacy of civilian institutions, based on popular sovereignty, over the defence and security policy-making apparatus, including the military leadership."

"There is no common model of how to establish armed forces in a democratic society and how to exercise control over the military, said General Kujat.

The General submitted that those models also include the hierarchical responsibility of the military to the government through a civilian organ of public administration - a ministry or department of defense - that is charged, as a general rule, with the direction and supervision of its activity. Other aspects of the place of the military in promoting constitutional democracy are:

*The presence of a well-trained and experienced military corps that is respected and funded by a civilian authority. It acknowledges the principle of civilian control, including the principle of political neutrality and non-partisanship of the armed forces.

*The existence of a developed civil society, with a clear understanding of democratic institutions and values, and, as a part of the political culture, a nationwide consensus on the role and mission of their military.

The Constitution, he says, explicitly prohibits any action, which could disturb the peaceful togetherness of nations or which supports the preparation of any aggression. Worth mentioning is also that the rules of the International Law predominates over the Basic Law. This results in specific responsibilities and obligations for the government, the citizens and, especially, the soldiers. The models he listed out for member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization fully applies to the Nigerian Army.


Last weekend, HURIWA organised a town-hall meeting Enugu, for South-eastern Nigeria, whereby the civil society community in Nigeria and the media met and brainstormed on what needed to be done with the military. The theme of the meeting addressed by two top Mass Communication and Political Science scholars of the Enugu State University of Technology and the Institute of Management and Technology,  Doctors Chidiebere Ezinwa and Nwanze Emeka, was also attended by youths and students from the region. Chidiebere Ezinwa listed the following roles for the media so as to ensure that the Nigerian Army remains thoroughly and comprehensively professional.

On the Social Responsibility Theory, he said: "This is a product of United States of America’s response to the abuse of free press by sensationalism and commercialism, which threatened the stability of the country with the setting up of the Hutchins Commission in 1947. The emphasis in this theory is that press freedom should be exercised with a sense of obligation to the society. It holds that the press has the right to criticise the government and institutions, but also has certain basic responsibilities to maintain the stability of society. The press should not be used to destabilise the society but rather serve as an instrument for the recognition and promotion of public interest. The Commission, after observing the frequent failings of the press recommended the following standard that the press should seek to maintain:

“• a responsible press should ‘provide a full, truthful, comprehensive and an intelligent account of the day’s event in a context which gives them meaning

• it should serve as a forum for the exchange of comments and criticism and be a common carrier of public expression

• The press should give a ‘representative picture of constituent groups in society and also present and clarify the goals and values of society.”

The Commission frowned at the limited access granted to voices outside the circle of a privileged and powerful minority; sensationalism of the press and the mixing of news with editorial opinion.

Following from the postulations of this theory, the logical question to enhance our understanding of the issues at stake in the present work is to ask whether the Nigerian press seek and maintain the above standard.

“A negative answer simply implies that the press is not effectively engaged for achieving national interest, goals, values and aspirations. This will form the basis for our discussion on how to engage the press to achieve responsible, accountable and professional armed forces in Nigeria. It is only a responsible press that can boast of this feat; a press that shares in the national interest and consciously sets out to pursue it in all it does. A press that fails to cover a vital institution like the army properly and adequately, with aim of making it responsible, accountable and professional, especially at this time our national life cannot claim to have contributed meaningfully to nation’s interest and goals. A responsible, accountable and professional army would no doubt contribute to a stable society."

On the Framing Theory, he stated:

"Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communication text through repetition or by associating them with culturally familiar symbols (Entman, 1993, p.52).  According to Hague and Harrop (2007, p.130): “The journalist’s words, as much as the camera operator’s images help to frame the story, providing a narrative which encourages a particular reaction from the viewer.  Repetition and association technique of persuasion could be used to achieve this.”

The media can also frame itself through the reports it carries about itself. According to Uwakwe (2010, p.187): “Media framing means that media coverage shapes how people see issues.” In other words, media can shape people’s perception of reality. Pavlik and Mcintosh (2011, p.292) opined that “traditional news media often decides how they will frame a story before the reporting is completed and sometimes before it has even begun.”

This means that a journalist may beforehand decide how he/she wants an issue, a person or an event to be perceived, by reporting them in a particular way or by using certain words, images or symbols in the report. Balnaves, Donald and Shoesmith (2009, p.68) explained that “framing makes certain information in a news story salient and depresses the importance of other information.”

It is unarguable that the journalist can manipulate the audience perception of an event, issue, idea or person through framing.

It is also noteworthy that the way the media frame event, issues or ideas in their reports inversely influence the audience perception of media coverage. The media may be perceived to be fair, biased or otherwise as a result of their framing of an issue or event. In other words, the media could be judged based on the way they frame an issue, event or idea.

Pavlik and Mcintosh (2011, p.292) describe framing as one of the biggest problems of journalism today as the facts of a story are frequently forced to fit into the frame, or angle regardless of reality. Similarly, Lippmann cited in Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009, p.179) observed that “of public affairs, each of us sees very little and, therefore, they remain dull and unappetising, until somebody, with the makings of an artist, has translated them into a moving picture.”

 This is why experts believe that media people are in the business of selling meanings. Thus, Entman, Jorg and Pellicano (2009, p.176) rightly observed that “some communicators engage in framing strategically, seeking to exert power over outcomes by inducing target audiences to accept interpretations that favour their interests or goals.”

These communicators, according to them, are politicians, bloggers, political satirists, editorial writers and pundits. They are, however, of the view that reporters and news editors in mainstream national news media normally engage in framing without intending to push any particular policy or political goal (with the exception of certain party-affiliated newspapers and government-owned broadcast news in Europe). Pavlik and Mcintosh also believe that journalists are often not even aware that they are framing stories, but only reflecting reality.

Agenda Setting Theory is that the frequency and pattern of media reports on a given issue make the public consider the issues important. This is currently known as the “first level” of agenda-setting. It focuses on the amount of media coverage an issue or topic receives. The concern is the influence of the media on which objects are at the centre of attention.

The “second-level” of agenda setting considers how the media discuss those issues or objects of attention. The interest here is on how people understand the things that have captured their attention. The quantity and quality of information made available to the citizens about the Nigerian Army will influence their attitude and behaviour towards the army.

This theory further demonstrates the power of the media and its capacity to be employed in achieving a particular goal. What picture do you have in your head about the Nigerian Army, based on media report? What is your attitude towards the army, based on these reports? This shows that the media, like a double-edged sword could be engaged to achieve the desired goal, whether positive or negative.

Limitations of Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press

Freedom of expression and the press is not absolute in any society, including the advanced democracies. The crucial nature of this right notwithstanding, it is limited by public interest. Thus, the right to freedom of expression and the press granted by Section 39 (1) and (2) is limited by section 39 (3), which states as follows:

“Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society –

a. For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or

b. Imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a state, members of the armed forces of the federation or members of the Nigerian Police Force or other government security services or agencies established by law.”

Other limitations to this right could be found in other enactments such as:

“Section 51(1) of the Criminal Code Act, which prescribes punishment for seditious publication;

Section 396 and 398 of the Penal Code Law, which provides for the offence of criminal intimidation and insult;

Section 373 of the Criminal Code, which defines defamation; Section 1(1) of the Official Secrets Act, which defines classified matter;

Section 1(1) of the Cinematograph Act, which prescribes film censorship;

Section 156 of the Penal Code Act and Section 117 of the Criminal Code Act, which define Perjury.”

On his Thoughts on Journalism Practice in A Nigeria, he said: ‘Obasanjo in his book, My Watch, observed that some sections of the media still cannot be credited with integrity and objectivity in their comments and reactions to issues, or in their criticism. As a result, they do incalculable damage to the media in general and to themselves in particular.’ This, he attributed to the adversarial press mentality of the colonial times, which has persisted in Nigerian journalism practice.

In the same vein, Liad Tella, a regular contributor to the (defunct) National Concord, in an article, Taking a cue from the Western Press, he said: ‘The critics (in the Western press) are usually from informed positions, loaded with facts, and they are usually made in a manner that will lead to higher attainment of national goals, rather than the destruction of the establishment.’ However, Tella observed that it was the contrary in Nigeria, saying: ‘Unless you are violent in your criticism of government action, no matter how genuine the underpinning reasons necessitating the action, you are not a good journalist or reporter. When you criticise with enlightened disposition, you are labelled establishment reporter; forgetting that the essence of criticism is correctness not destructiveness. What do we and the nation gain by such approaches?’ he asked.

Obasanjo contended that, some media reports must be checked and crosschecked; some must be taken with a pinch of salt and, yet some with a bag of salt. One must seek to know the ideology, interest, orientation, prejudice and bias of the writer, editor, proprietor, or organisation. He further opined that anybody can write any piece and get it published in almost any Nigerian media outlet if he can pay the price. He emphasised that, ‘with most media organisations, if the price is not right or you are not favoured, your statements or actions may not be printed or they may be misinterpreted, distorted, or misrepresented.’

The Owelle of Onitsha, the doyen of the Nigerian Journalism, in a speech, Pioneer Heroes of the Press, advised: ‘The modern press in Nigeria should place more emphasis on its use for the public benefit. He explained that, by twisting facts, by telling half-truths or untruths, the Nigerian press can mislead a great number of innocent people and, thus, distort our national image. By presenting facts to suit their purposes, journalists desecrate the tradition of a historic profession.’

“Given the enormous power wielded by the press, it could be safely stated that a a responsible press has the capacity to reform the Nigerian Army. A press that places the national interest, goals and aspirations over and above any other consideration can work harmoniously with the army to attain them.”

He attempted a response on the central question of the day which is: What to do With the Nigeria Army?

He said: "As a part of the executive arm of government, the army is also under the watch of the media as the fourth arm of government or the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm.’ This watchdog function is clearly assigned to the media under Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as follows:

‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.’

“By this section, the press is expected to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government and by extension the Army, to the people. Section 14(2) (b) specifically states that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’ The press has a crucial role to play in that regard. The watchdog function of the media is paramount here, because the provision of this chapter ‘is non-justiciable, according to Section 6 (6) (c) of the Constitution, under which these objectives are declared to be outside the jurisdiction of the law courts.

“These objectives are said to be fundamental because their progressive realisation defines the essence of government; and where they are abandoned, there might as well be no government at all. The question is: Has the government done all it should do to ensure that the Army is well disposed to secure the citizens? For instance, it was reported by PR Nigeria that the facilitators of the foreign military contractors that suppressed Boko Haram in preparation for the 2015 election has vowed not to return to Nigeria, because of the humiliations, persecutions and prosecution of foreign mercenaries along with their Nigerian counterparts who participated in the operation after the emergence of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. They complained that some of their payments are yet to be made, and classified and highly-coded transactions were exposed as corruption.

They further expressed disappointment and regret that some Nigerian military and intelligence officers who participated in the operation was not only retired but also prosecuted and convicted. They complained of difficulty in working in a country where operations, strategy and the thinking was exposed to the media and judicial processes.

“Hence, the media has a duty of ensuring the realisation of these fundamental objectives by reporting the wrongdoings and failures of government and its agencies, thereby making them accountable and responsible for their misdeeds and ineptitude. The media practitioners need to understand this part of the Constitution deeply to appreciate the enormous responsibilities placed on their shoulders. This section of the constitution clearly defines the essence of government and would no doubt provide material for proper interpretation of government actions and omissions, especially with respect to the welfare of the citizens.

“A deep understanding of this part of the Constitution and the doctrine of Military Subordination to Civil Authority points to the need for the media to look beyond what the army is doing to consider why they are doing what they are doing. The reaction of the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, John Enenche, to the call by North-east governors to engage foreign mercenary in the fight against Boko Hara attests to this need. He said it is the decision of the government and the people, not the army. He is indirectly telling the media to focus their attention on the people (?) and the government. “Security is everybody’s business and the army cannot do much without the government and peoples’ support, especially in a democracy. The handicap and dilemma of the army are also reflected in his reaction to the statement by the Bornu State governor that the army is overstretched.

“He said: ‘It is not for the military to say we are overstretched; I am not overstretched. If I say am overstretched, that means I don’t want to work. And if I say, I am not overstretched, that means, I am under-utilised.’ This is a very tactical way of acknowledging helplessness. Reporters should look deeply into the allegations that some leaders and communities in the North-east are supporting Boko Haram and the terrorists are better equipped than the Nigerian Army. This may explain why the soldiers abandon their duty posts or show less concern about the situation in the North-east. The efforts of government need to be thoroughly examined.

“The media need to realise the sensitive nature of army operations with respect to security, which requires that certain information should be kept away from the public. This remains a conflict point between the army and journalists. The Chief of Army Staff, Buratai, had complained that some media reports give the terrorists advantage over the army. Media practitioners must realise that national interest was clearly established overrides every other interest.

Nwagbaoso rightly observes that ‘while the public has a right to know how they are being governed, they are not supposed to know everything as that may have grave security implications.’ In the same vein, Jakande declared that ‘matters of security are not for a market place.’ The American Newsweek of October, 1990, reporting on US pre-invasion policy, stated that ‘the same day, the State Department stopped the Voice of America from broadcasting an editorial warning Iraq that the United States was strongly committed to supporting its friends in the Gulf.’

“Embedded journalism is advocated in Nigeria at this point to reduce the friction between the army and journalists, even though it will take a long time to build the type of trust and confidence needed for this kind of reporting. America embraced this genre of journalism following complaints of access denial by the army during the Gulf War. The press should collaborate with the army when national interest is at stake, such as the current effort at restoring peace and order in some parts of the country due to internal security threat.

“Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution cited above also forms the basis for investigative journalism. This is important to engender reform in the army. By digging into issues deeply in its various dimensions, in a police-like manner, and contextual interpretation, this type of journalism would no doubt equip the army, the government and citizens with the necessary information to grapple with the internal insecurity in different parts of the country. Journalists by the nature of their job and training are closer to the people and can elicit useful information for the army, the citizens and the government.

“The army in the course of carrying out their constitutional function gets into conflict with the civil society. The media can also provide a platform for the army and the public to express their grievances and settle their differences. The media should give both parties equal opportunity to state their stand during such conflict. The media can also help to broker peace through their reports. Journalists should shun reports with the tendency of aggravating conflict.

“Journalists can help promote understanding between the army and the civil society through human rights education. There is wide spread ignorance about the concept of Civil-Military relation in Nigeria. The citizens need to know the extent of their right while relating with the army; while the army needs to appreciate the fundamental human rights of the citizens. Today, the army is used even in civil matters involving private citizens, such as the settlement of debts or bills. The army serves as personal guards of some influential private citizens.

“Journalists should understand and promote the core values and traditions of the army such as discipline, respect for rule of law, subordination to civil authority, regimentation, command and control structure, service, loyalty, spirit de corps, deterrence due to status and a pride of being. The media should constantly remind the army of these core values and traditions. The media should equally remind them of the importance of a community-driven approach to security. They need the trust, confidence and acceptance of the people to succeed. The civil society should be educated on the need to support the army with relevant information. This is obviously not possible in the absence of mutual trust and confidence. The media must consciously promote such a cordial relationship.

“Journalists must earn the trust, confidence and respect of the army by upholding the time-honoured canons of journalism practice, such as truth, objectivity, balance, fairness. Journalists must be seen to be responsible.

Media should help build consensus on issues of national interest so as to guide the government in directing military operations. They should help to define and promote national goals.

“The guiding principles in right-based reporting are accountability, universality, indivisibility and participation. The reporter holds all duty-bearers accountable for all infringements on human rights in society. No right is more important than the other, all rights must be attained. Every voice must be heard.”

The summary of the Town-hall Meeting of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria was to remind both the Media and the Army about their strategic roles towards promoting and respecting the fundamental human rights of citizens, because it is by so doing that the army will maintain its professional status. Both the civil society and the media should be constructive partners to the critical national institutions, including the Nigerian Army, that make our constitutional democracy viable and globally respected. 




•Onwubiko, Head of HURIWA; blogs @www.  thenigerianinsidernews.com; www.huriwa@blogspot.com


Source: News Express

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