The Proposed Nigeria’s National Strategic Communication Centre for Countering Violent Extremism – Yusuf Abubakar Mamud, Directorate of Studies, National Defence College Abuja,
“The defunct NAIC was designed to coordinate all information and communications concerning the counterterrorism efforts of the FGN. Unfortunately, NAIC ended up becoming a mere press briefing centre populated with people who had never heard of the discipline of strategic communication”
The phenomenon of violent extremism has been generally accepted as a global threat given its impact across nations of the world. Despite being a global threat, studies have been able to demonstrate that countering violent extremism requires local knowledge. One of the instruments to be used for countering violent extremism is strategic communication. Because of today’s highly inter-connected communications, communications efforts do not take place in a single environment. They can simultaneously have local, regional and worldwide effects. Therefore, strategic communications efforts against terrorist groups like Boko Haram must take into account the multiple wider contexts of the effort.
The knowledge about strategic communication in Nigeria is still very limited. Poor understanding of the discipline was espoused when the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) under the Dasuki regime as National Security Adviser (NSA) set-up the National Information Centre (NAIC). The defunct NAIC was designed to coordinate all information and communications concerning the counterterrorism efforts of the FGN. Unfortunately, NAIC ended up becoming a mere press briefing centre populated with people who had never heard of the discipline of strategic communication. Of course under such circumstance, one cannot expect much from such an outfit.
The FGN under the Buhari administration is again gearing up to set-up a National Strategic Communication Centre which will be under the Office of the Vice President. This is where my concern lies. If we recall the NAIC experience, the FGN placed it under the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and because it was under such a very highly placed office, a lot of people went lobbying to be part of the NAIC. This therefore explained why most members of the NAIC had no business being there. If the FGN places the proposed National Strategic Communication Centre under the Office of the Vice President, we will only be doing the same thing the same way and obviously we must expect the same results. A National Strategic Communication Centre under the Vice President will automatically become a prestige and ego centre for privileged Nigerians and you will see ministers, senators, and other connected personalities lobbing to fix their wards into the centre. At the end, the place will be populated with unserious minded people and the aim will be defeated.
A Strategic Communication Centre is supposed to be part of the soft power strategy in the fight against Boko Haram. Therefore it is a “think and do” warehouse that develops the national brand and counter-narrative against the terrorist group. It is a centre where policymakers and researchers work together to develop the nation’s brand in counterterrorism. The proposed National Strategic Communication Centre is supposed to direct policy in the counterterrorism efforts, provide the soft power strategy and coordinate all soft power program. At the moment, there is limited understanding among policy makers concerning Strategic communication and its value as a complementary non-kinetic weapon in the fight against Boko Haram.
The critical importance of strategic communication can be better appreciated when one looks at the multiplicity of communication system. The modern day terrorist capitalizes on the strength of the global multiple communication systems to spread its narratives. This is why strategic communications effort in countering terrorism is very essential. Strategic communication serves as a messenger to counter the narrative of the terrorist. Messaging is central to countering violent extremism. In the December 2015 international research conference on Countering Violent Extremism held in Abu Dhabi, messaging as a critical instrument of strategic communication came to the fore as a very essential instrument for Countering Violent Extremism. The gap according to the communique of the conference was that the media and security agencies lacked the required capacity to interpret messages and deliver them appropriately to the local communities. This shows that the lack of capacity in strategic communication is not just a Nigerian issue but an issue that cuts across several countries.
The FGN could address this issue by initiating series of strategic communication training workshops for security operatives, media practitioners and researchers alike. The forum will bring the different actors together to share field experience and knowledge. From their respective experiences, the participants could be tasked to develop a National Narrative for the proposed National Strategic Communication Centre. As we earlier mentioned, even though violent extremism is a global threat, it requires local knowledge to counter it. Developing the national narrative require a proper mix between research, policy and local communities. This is because better research conducted within the local communities and with local aspirations captured and interpreted will lead to good policy.
Yusuf Abubakar Mamud, Office of the Deputy Commandant/Director of Studies, National Defence College Abuja, +2348173216071, firstname.lastname@example.org