KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION, MR. LABARAN MAKU, AT THE 44TH NATIONAL COUNCIL ON INFORMATION (NCI), HOLDING AT THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE FOUNDATION (WOCDIF), RING ROAD, OSOGBO, OSUN STATE, FROM 25TH TO 27TH SEPTEMBER, 2013
I am pleased to welcome Honourable Council Members and distinguished officials to the 44th Session of the National Council on Information holding at this tourist city of Osogbo. I thank our host, the Osun State Government, for the warm reception, facilities, and arrangements that have been made for our meeting. I hope that we would all endeavour to avail ourselves of the generous opportunity that has been provided, to make time to visit the many historic, cultural and tourist sites for which Osogbo in particular, and Osun State in general have achieved global renown. Once more, I welcome all delegates and officials to this Council meeting.
2. We gather at a momentous time in our democratic and political march towards the nation of our dream. For us as a Council, the theme for this year’s meeting is apt indeed. The growing internet access across the country, the availability of a variety of mobile and web-based devices for information gathering, storage, and instantaneous dissemination on a mass scale across extensive distances, offer new possibilities and challenges for public information management, and the mobilization of the citizenry for development.
3. Traditional media, as we all know, typically deliver content in one direction, from source to receiver, but with minimal role for audience participation in content creation. On the other hand, social media have immense capacities for personalised content generation, and have very minimal barriers, including costs, information and opinion dissemination. Worldwide, the youth are known to be the most social media savvy. Its popularity among young persons was one of the reasons for its unprecedented capacity to mobilize the youth who were in the vanguard of the Arab Spring. It has become a cheap and readily available platform for the voiceless to ventilate their aspirations and views.
4. The effectiveness of the social media in galvanizing such swift mass and historic social movements has made organizations, institutions and political leaders to take notice. It has inspired many of them to utilize the new virtual communities created thereby to engage with their stakeholders in a more participatory, open, and proactive way. Its role in the mobilization of resources and organization of voters for the election and re-election of President Barack Obama of the United States of America is well known.
5. Public institutions, officials and information managers should seek to deliberately establish their presence more visibly and actively on social media circuits and show greater openness and readiness to engage with citizens in a two-way communication process, to create awareness for public policies, programmes and projects, and to generate greater stakeholders’ input, support and cooperation for effective service delivery.
6. The Public Complaints Commission (PCC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other agencies charged with sanitizing the society can certainly do more to engage with the society through social media to achieve speedy and more visible results.
7. Through social media, citizens are empowered to act more decisively, and to hold their leaders to account. Many more opportunities for citizens’ action can be deliberately fostered. Furthermore, by utilizing the social media, public officials, could do a lot more to create greater public awareness of impending policy decisions, solicit appropriate public support or behaviour, and refute unwholesome disinformation or rumour in a meaningful and timely manner. Social media, indeed, afford enormous opportunities for building public trust and confidence in government, eradicating skepticism and cynicism, improving the image of government as sensitive, responsive and diligently encouraging public participation in governance.
8. Popular participation is, of course, key to democratic consolidation, effective policy monitoring, evaluation and efficient delivery of services. The Federal Ministry of Information under my leadership has set a new standard in the use of social media for public information dissemination and management. As you may have been informed during the Technical session, the National Good Governance Tour and the Ministerial Platform are two flagship programmes for which the Federal Ministry of Information effective utilised the social media.
9. Many Nigerians and others from around the world watched the Ministerial Platform 2013 videos on YouTube and FMI dedicated live streaming channel. YouTube and live streaming, ISSUU, Facebook and Twitter handles were employed to relay the Ministerial Platform to Nigerians and the world. The Ministry’s official website on url.www.fmi.gov.ng recorded 2,088,150 hits in June and 1,604,131 in July 2013. The hits in June and July coincided with the just-concluded Ministerial Platform 2013.
10. Many contemporary challenges, like floods and other environmental problems, voters registration, and electoral apathy, could indeed be tackled through effective social media utilization and engagement. Under the current democratic dispensation, public hearings are routinely held to generate public and stakeholders input into pending or proposed legislation. Social media should be used to reach out to stakeholders for their active contribution to proposed legislation.
11. The use of social media in Nigeria and in other parts of the world has a flipside to it. Abuses of social media, including identity thefts, cyber bullying, and defamation are inherent challenges that must be carefully balanced against the many benefits of social media. The murder of Cynthia Osokogu last year is a poignant reminder in this regard. In the North East of Nigeria, Boko Haram has always deployed the social media to coordinate deadly attacks on citizens. Also, terrorists are known to use mobile phones and other devices to coordinate their attacks and to spread their evil ideologies and hate campaigns within and across nations.
12. For now, the antidote to slander or libel through the social media is the right of reply. Public institutions and officials must ensure a more active and effective presence on the social media circuit, to ensure prompt rebuttal of wrongful publication. But while the jurisprudence of the social media is still evolving, it is important that persons whose reputations have been maligned by malicious social media content ought to pursue legal remedies for defamation. For, unless and until cases are diligently prosecuted, the current lack of editorial restraint will persist in the social media.
13. Nevertheless, I urge that we approach the subject with candour and forthrightness, so we can come up with resolutions that will invigorate public information management in our country, and help steer our nation on the trajectory of continued unity, peace, progress and prosperity.
Honourable Council Members, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
14. I am fairly certain that by the time the Council reconvenes for the 45th session, it will be sometime next year. By then, we would have entered into the electoral season, even though voting in the general elections is not due to hold until 2015. Already, we are all witnesses to the heat being generated in the lead-up to the commencement of full-scale electioneering. There are both intra-party and inter-party squabbles. But the media remain the most viable and readily available platform where the squabbles are ventilated. Yet, of the available media, the electronic media are the most susceptible to abuse, misuse, and manipulation, especially by the political authorities.
15. Let me, therefore, urge this Council to consider very seriously a moral suasion to those in charge of the electronic media at all levels, to respect the prescriptions of the revised Broadcasting Code.
16.The electronic media must be open to all political parties, for free exchange of ideas, to facilitate free choice by citizens in the elections. Access should be granted not only for primary broadcast, but also in instances that warrant a right of reply. Denial of fair access has been noticed particularly at the local levels and that hampers the free exchange of opinions and ideas which ought to be the basis of choice by citizens in elections.
17. All too often, as we have seen in previous elections, the electronic media have been used for hate broadcast, which then ignited violence, that in turn led to the wanton loss of lives and destruction of public and private property. I wish, therefore, to invite Council Members to take a critical look ahead of the next electoral season, and make resolutions that invoke the necessity of our being responsible with the enormous powers we wield with the electronic media. As I have already noted, there is the revised Broadcast Code, which was the product of the collective and wide-ranging inputs of stakeholders. We must be faithful to the Broadcast Code, with the concomitant obligation to face up to the risk of abuse by politicians and commentators who use live programmes to create hate along ethnic, religious and partisan lines, to stir the masses into violence and destruction.
18. Council Members will recall that in July 2011, we convened an Extraordinary National Council meeting in Abuja, in the wake of the violence that erupted in some parts of the country, after the free, fair and credible elections that led to the inauguration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for his first term on May 29, 2011. Let me use this opportunity to praise Council Members for promptly following through with the implementation of the resolutions of that Extra-ordinary Meeting. No doubt, the various steps that we all set in motion to accelerate the peace communication strategy arrived at on that occasion helped in no small measure to curtail the spread of terrorism to all parts of the federation. In particular, it also helped nip in the bud the ideology of hate being preached by Boko Haram, which had hoped to set Christians against Muslims, and various ethnic groups one against another.
19. Regrettably, we cannot proclaim that we are out of the woods yet in our collective fight against terror. Indeed, on account of the audacity of the Boko Haram terrorists, and the growing spectre of insecurity, President Jonathan imposed a state of emergency on Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. Four months into the emergency rule, the security agencies have recorded huge and visible gains. To a large extent, the Boko Haram terrorists have been routed in the major cities and towns in the three affected states, where normal business and social activities have also picked up considerably. There are, however, lingering challenges of pockets of terrorists engaged in hit-and-run attacks in remote locations, especially in Borno, where the military and other security forces have flushed them out of the Gwoza hills, Sambisa forests and other camps.
20. On our part at the Federal Ministry of Information, we have collaborated exceedingly well with the Defence and Security Forces in managing information relating to the peace enforcement measures, while the state of emergency lasts. I would also like to commend the state Ministries of Information in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, which have keyed into our overall programme of strategic information management against terrorism.
21. However, a lot remains to be done. While the states currently under emergency rule need to reinforce their positive messages, to win hearts and minds, the rest of the country cannot be complacent. As reported in the media, some suspected terrorists have been arrested in places as far south as Ogun and Lagos states. We must, therefore, use our public media organs to sustain the security awareness campaigns throughout the states of the federation, especially on terrorism. The free and unrestrained flow of criminals and arms across our borders require sustained media campaign to sensitise our border communities to cooperate with immigration and security forces to check these. Most terrorists operating the country are foreign nationals.
22. Besides, there is the equally worrisome incidence of kidnapping, which is rampant in some states, especially in the south. We should rise to the challenge by designing suitable measures to encourage citizens’ action in warding off kidnappers, or otherwise furnishing information that will be most useful to the security agencies.
23. Having stated the foregoing, I must register my utmost displeasure with the utter lack of professionalism being displayed by some online news media sources whose reportage is counter-productive to the efficient and effective execution of the peace enforcement measures in the states under emergency rule. In particular, I refer to SaharaReporters and Premium Times, both of which frequently publish online reports deliberately contrived to undermine military strategy, demoralise our troops, or even cause incitement to mutiny. This is unacceptable.
24. The Defence Headquarters has complained on several occasions about personnel losses due to inciting reports mainly from SaharaReporters and Premium Times, which clearly undermine military operations by terrorists who are emboldened, and setting the people against security forces in their campaigns in the North East. I would like, therefore, to admonish SaharaReporters and Premium Times to refrain from their unprofessional conduct.
25.Let me also express my serious disappointment over the intense politicisation of last week’s operations by the State Security operatives against a terror cell in Abuja. Following the successful operation, media reports were instigated against the security agencies, including open campaign on the floor of the National Assembly. This is very unfortunate given the impressive work done by security agencies to secure our major cities so far. The horrific attacks in Kenya demonstrate the dangers we all face. We must keep politics out of the war on terror. It is very discouraging for our security agencies when they are maligned by those they seek to protect whenever to take pre-emptive measures to secure the nation.
26.The network employed by terror groups to gather information, plan and carry out attacks is amazing and includes recruiting the most unlikely agents in the most unlikely places. Politicians’ lack of cooperation with security agencies was one of the key reasons why terrorism grew out of control in the North East and spread to other parts of the North. Every time security agencies took action, politicians continued to condemn them, and raised voices against security operations. We are all now paying dearly for it in huge losses in lives, property and retarded development in the affected states.
Honourable Council Members, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
27. Let me touch briefly on a programme that was approved at the 43rd NCI, which took place in Calabar, Cross River State, in October 2011. I am here referring to the National Good Governance Tour (NGGT), which the Federal Ministry of Information, in collaboration with other stakeholders, commenced in September last year. By the time we took a break from the Tour in May, this year, the Tour Team had already visited the Federal Capital Territory and 19 states. I wish to use this opportunity to thank Council Members at the state level for their cooperation and active participation in the Tour, which was designed to showcase and achievements and progress at the local, state and federal levels.
28. We have adhered to the original concept of making the Tour non-partisan, as our colleagues from all the states visited will testify, when the Tour Team visited their states. Of course, we are all aware of the attempt to politicise the Tour by some states, which sought to disparage the Tour, a regrettable development that stood in stark contrast to the 43rd NCI Resolutions, as well as the resolutions of the National Economic Council and the Nigerian Governors Forum, all of which were attended by all state governments, which also approved the Tour.
29. When we took a break from the Tour in May, this year, it was to enable the Federal Ministry of Information organise the second edition of the Ministerial Platform, which ran from June to July. We will resume the National Good Governance Tour in due course, and I urge the remaining 17 states to support and participate actively in the Tour to project their development efforts and results to the nation and to the rest of the world.
30. I should stress that what the Tour has unearthed are the hidden stories often ignored in lieu of the sensational and political stories that reflect the shenanigans of political actors and their adversaries. No one who has taken part in the Tour can deny that work and development are going on in the states, by all tiers of government – local, state, and Federal. So, God willing, the Tour train will resume its strenuous but immensely enlightening journey in due course.
31.Let me conclude by thanking you for the large attendance at this year’s Council Meeting, and look forward to fruitful deliberations and resolutions that will further advance the development of the media and the image and development of our country.
I thank you for listening.
God bless Nigeria.
Mr. Labaran Maku
Minister of Information
27th September, 2013