Reframing Nigeria’s Terror Narrative

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

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Boko Haram (BH) recently claimed responsibility for another terrorist violation of the Nigerian people. However, this time around, BH’s leader, Abubakar Shekau was incensed that they were not given due credit for the explosions in Lagos: “A bomb went off in Lagos. I ordered the bomber who went and detonated it, you said it was a fire incident, well if you hide it from people you can’t hide it from Allah.”

With such a display of insensitive arrogance, do we need any more proof that BH loves being in the media spotlight? The fact that the Lagos explosions were either hidden from public gaze or were better managed in the media, hit a raw nerve in Shekau’s media thirsty ego. Unlike the Niger Delta MEND which had an “apparently” efficient media presence via their constant media alerts of impeding bombings via emails, BH seems to feast on indirect publicity. There lies the irony, that Nigerian citizens, victims of BH’s attack, are the mouthpiece of the terrorists. Clearly, BH’s “haram” does not extend to publicity. On the contrary their tech-savvy uploading of YouTube videos and their dispersion through a certain foreign channel suggests a clear western media “halal” and indeed, a growing obsession with such publicity.

Soon after Shekau’s admittance of being behind the Abuja and Lagos bomb projectiles, I had an interesting conversation on Twitter. It started with this tweet:

I advocated a media blackout on BH terror and this naturally ignited a heated tweet-convo:

 

Obviously, the thrust of my suggestions of snuffing off BH’s relishing of deaths from the news was not generally accepted. It had generated similar sentiments some years earlier in a public relations seminar. We[1] had advocated, among others, the following:

100% Media blackout on all Boko Haram activities

As it stands, Boko Haram has won the psychological warfare by instilling fear amongst Nigerians. Boko Haram has used the media to issue threats, spread the details of their successful activities and promise more attacks. We therefore suggest a radical change in this information war: a total media blackout.  

Centralized Media Mouthpiece

We propose an integrated and synchronized communication strategy for BH. As such, all media briefings, press conferences, interviews, press releases, reactions, etc and on whatever platform MUST receive the implicit endorsement of the Head of Media Team on Boko Haram. The head of this team will also be the exclusive spokesman on Boko Haram issue in Nigeria. However, there will be an alternate head – who he can delegate this duty to – only when the head is not available or indisposed. (Nwogwugwu, Egbunike, Ajayi, Lawal, Salako and Olanipekun, 2013)

Many disagreed with this approach and I must admit that those who opposed the blanket media silence had strong points. Their fear, which was quite reasonable, was that the government would definitely go to sleep. These were not unfounded considering the apparent institutional decay and the cynicism with government’s ‘truths’. Also it was argued that it would be a grave injustice to the victims and their families if their plight were to go unnoticed. This additional wound of lack of public empathy would be too much for people already devastated, the argument continued. Faced with such valid objections, I had to change my original propositions to:

I do not claim to have all the answers. Besides I am not deluded to think that Nigeria’s war on terror will be won via media strategies alone. Nonetheless, literature on media and social movements has confirmed the importance of news framing. Frank Luntz’s[2] apt statement which captures the essence of framing: It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it (as cited in Scheufele and Tewksbury, 2007:7). It is significant to dwell on news framing because audiences depend on media not only for information but also to make decisions. As such the media – old and new – provide ‘windows’ for audiences to ‘understand’ an issue.

How then do we reframe the terror single story without falling into the trap of propaganda or gagging the victims of BH’s terror? Do we have the courage to side step our entrenched political convictions to face the common enemy, BH? Or is this an impossible task, laced with the inherent danger of gagging free speech? I admit that a total blackout is untenable based on the prevailing circumstances. However, a reframing of the narration on terror is long overdue.

 

 

[1] Nwogwugwu, D.; Egbunike, N. A.;Ajayi, T;Lawal, A; Salako, Y. and Olanipekun, T. (2013) Rebranding Nigeria, an MA PR Group Presentation, Department of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, unpublished

[2]  Scheufele, D. A and Tewksbury, D (2007) “Framing, Agenda Setting and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models” Journal of Communication 57 (2007) 9-20

 

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