Tasks Before New Army Image Maker; Brig-Gen. Mohammed Yerima
Brig Gen Mohammed Yerima comes onboard as the new director of Army Public relations with an unquantifiable wealth of experience.
Having served as the Director of Defence Information between 2009 to 2013, it is clear that he comes onboard with an unarguable expertise, is highly recommended and can rebuild a directorate that has waned in the last few years following failures of the last leadership to appreciate and understand the complexities of handling a directorate so sensitive, that it is key to the war against terrorism.
Brigadier General Yerima hails from Yobe state, one of the core states affected by the ongoing insurgency which has lasted several years and defied every effort to be contained.
From his first statements during the handing over notes released by the Directorate of the Army Public relations, it is clear he already has a grasp of the job ahead
“the period of Information Communication Technology (ICT) has made it easier for speedy dissemination of information to the public”
General Yerima sure knows the additional challenges ICT has brought to information managers
A review of Media-Army relations in the last twelve months reveals that the Army Media directorate which used to be one of the most active, versatile and fun directorates, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.
The directorate became reduced to a press release directorate without any relationship between the Leadership and Journalists expected to project the military’s successes.
This is one of the major tasks Brigadier General Yerima must focus on rebuilding.
Many believe this was why the Defence Media Operation was set up at a point in time to address the shortcomings birthed by the lapse in Army Media relationship and fulfill the gap created by a Directorate which had led other services in information sharing and dissemination in the past.
Several quotes from Brigadier General Yerima during his taking over of notes shows he understands the challenges brought about by technology, the advent of social media and the opportunities it also presents.
While General Yerima revealed to the world he would be open to constructive criticisms and would work towards strengthening Military-Media relationship, within his first two weeks in office there has already been a buzz generated by his appointment.
There is currently an excitement among Defence correspondents who seek the return of the Army Directorate back to its usual position; the lead role in information sharing and media relations.
“Military -Media relationship is one of the loft ideas for professionalism..”
“the military would be open to constructive engagements and criticism that will support the military operations against all enemies of the country”
With the quote above in mind, no one can argue that General Yerima is the real deal though he must transform those words into action to actually confirm they form a central part of his objectives
General Yerima also between the lines revealed the thought pattern of the current Chief of Army staff as he emphasized General Attahiru’s desire
“the Nigerian Army under Major General Ibrahim Attahiru would continue to value all partnership and cooperation of the media in a mutually respectful, and cordial manner devoid of the usual traditional rancour, distrust, suspicion and bitterness”
With seconds ticking into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days and days into weeks, General Yerima will be judged by his achievements and the innovations he would bring back to the Army directorate.
A chat with several Defence correspondents and correspondents accredited to cover the Army shows that those that served while General Yerima held sway as the Director of Defence information have no doubt that he has the pedigree and experience to succeed.
Infact many believe the Directorate now has a square peg in a square hole when making a fair comparism to its last leadership, but recalling the phrase that “no man will be rewarded for efforts but for results”, General Yerima will also be placed on the altar of media opinion and judged harshly by the results he achieves while in office.
Also his efforts to reposition the Nigerian Army Directorate which in very clear terms has failed in one of its core responsibility in the last twelve months will be judged when the time comes.
Since General Yerima himself pledged to be open to constructive criticism, this writer will attempt to recommend ways needed to rebuild the long lost glory and template of military-media relationship;
- Build his own Army of Media Soldiers
General Yerima must begin building his own Army of Media Soldiers.
This has become more necessary following the opportunities social media has brought to millions of young Nigerians.
We must note that this is one of the focal reasons for the spread of fake news.
The Army public relation department is not about sharing of links to blogs and sites that have no audience or as PR professionals will call it notable Publics (apologies to owners of blogs and websites) but using traditional media which over the years have built a followership running into hundreds of thousands that can be impacted by their reportage.
General Yerima must earn the trust of this new generation of Media enthusiasts who need to understand the complexities of the Army Media directorate and its goals and objectives.
This can only be achieved through direct relationships and not through release of press statements.
Once he achieves this, it is believed that his major work will almost be fulfilled.
This is because his own Press Army will fight for his cause and at the same time project the image of the Army.
There can be no better censoring than self-censoring
- Shun The Temptation Of Building Walls But Focus On Building Bridges
This was the greatest undoing of the last Army Director (All apologies to his predecessor though truth must be told)
Instead of building walls, the Directorate should focus on building bridges.
The Media is not the enemy.
Media enquiry over certain events is not because the media seeks to cast aspersion on efforts of the military but because the Media must perform it’s own responsibilities.
Having a proven experience on this wise, General Yerima knows better than any that in the world of the press, there is no vacuum.
Silence speaks louder than words
So when the Press cannot reach a Director of Army Relations who has a penchant for refusing to pick calls and answering text messages especially in times of great upheaval and demand for information, it gives room for fake news as other (non professional) accounts of the event will overshadow the Army’s account.
This was one of the greatest strengths of a one-time Director of Army Public Relations who is now retired; Brig. General Sani Kukasheka Usman.
Defence correspondents knew that General S.K Usman was ready to engage any correspondent or media house intellectually on any issue, he would be firm on his position engaging Journalists despite their perception on events.
The writer recalls several times he has had arguments with Gen. S.K over issues, despite the difference in opinions, a call to General S.K 5 minutes later would always be picked, the delectable General would once again pick your calls and reaffirm his position.
Indeed General S.K was a delight to work with.
He exhibited professionalism and would always insist the eye must never be moved from the focus.
No wonder General S.K Usman till today remains one of the most respected former Army Director of Media relations, he continues to be a media delight even after retirement, as is professional viewpoints on security issues continues to be sought by television and radio stations across the country till date.
- Separate Mercenaries From Genuine Media Professionals
The war against terrorism has brought a wide range of opportunities to many.
From the merchants of war who catch up on the existing need to fuel a steady supply of weapons to criminal elements, to those that focus on supplying terrorists and criminals with foodstuff and basic needs to survive
The media space has also brought up mercenaries who must sell their pen for hire and convince the directorate that their loyalty is with the Nigerian Army
While media mercenaries and contractors play a vital role and must do their Job, their selling point remains convincing their clients that Journalists are the enemy while they remain patriots.
Though there is nothing wrong with attaching a cost to their services because these mercenaries also provide a professional service also needed in the war against terrorism, General Yerima must disregard their praise songs and continue to objectively analyze his intent and purposes.
This is because mercenaries cast a blur line between efforts and results.
It is very clear that efforts and results can never be intertwined because efforts can never take the place of results
If he chooses to deal with many of these contractors, it is solely his decision but the false belief that these media mercenaries can take the place of genuine Journalists is a recipe for disaster and failure
- Continuous Engagement With Journalists
This will determine to a large extent whether Brigadier General Yerima is hell bent on succeeding.
Nothing can take the place of a direct relationship with Journalists.
The fallacy that all Journalists can be bought with money is another recipe for failure.
Though it is a fact that all Journalists have a price, many of them have a price tag which is called “direct relationship”, while some others “exclusive access to information”.
Not all pressmen can be bought with money, infact many see money-first relationship as a direct insult to their pedigree and an assault to their professionalism.
Only a continuous engagement with pressmen on an individual basis will ensure that General Yerima knows what each Journalists desires
This cannot be whisked aside except he wants to work with the assumption that all or most pressmen are the enemy, just like his predecessor
As earlier stated, the pedigree of General Mohammed Yerima will be questioned.
Unfortunately he has not had time to appraise the current situation at the Directorate especially as it has to do with Media – Army relations, because there have been one crisis after the other in the last few days
This speaks volumes of the onerous responsibilities he has at his hands.
However, while the writer tries to set the agenda for an expected thorough bred professional though in military fatigues, it is also an opportunity to wish General Yerima the best in his new role as the Director of Army public relations
Our prayers is that you succeed as your success will determine to a large extent, the success of the war against terrorism and criminal elements.
A final quote from Napoleon Bonaparte, another great General
“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”
Amadin Uyi is the Abuja Bureau Chief / Head Northern operations of Plus Tv Africa, he can be reached via email@example.com