News / Africa

Analysts: Information is 'Warfare' in Nigeria

Residents watch as two men walk amidst rubble after Boko Haram militants raided the town of Benisheik, west of Borno State capital Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sept. 19, 2013.
Residents watch as two men walk amidst rubble after Boko Haram militants raided the town of Benisheik, west of Borno State capital Maiduguri, Nigeria, Sept. 19, 2013.
Heather Murdock
Despite a four-month-old military campaign against the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, deadly violence continues across parts of northern Nigeria.  But with the three most volatile states locked down in a state of emergency, the rest of the country relies on statements from security forces and the insurgent group to know what’s going on.  Analysts examine how both sides use the media to improve their chances of winning on the ground.

At a conference in the Nigerian capital last week, army spokesperson Brigadier-General Ibrahim Attahiru tod journalists about a new division of soldiers battling Boko Haram insurgents in the north.

“The division continues to conduct counter-terrorism and counter insurgency operations with a more agile and robust posture to meet the full spectrum of asymmetric warfare challenges,” he said.

The conference is the second in as many weeks, but the first since dozens of students were killed in an attack September 29 in Yobe, one of three states under emergency rule.

Despite the attack, the army said the security situation was “good” and Attahiru urged people to come forward if they had any information that could help the military fight insurgents.

Boko Haram doesn’t hold news conferences.  Instead, it distributes videos to journalists, often taking credit for bloody attacks, condemning authorities and issuing threats.

In this late September video, Abubakar Shekau, the man widely believed to lead at least a large portion of militants collectively known as Boko Haram, declared himself alive, despite recent reports of his death.

Shekau has previously advocated for his version of an Islamic state in Nigeria and encouraged militants to kill teachers and administrators of schools that teach subjects like English, math and science. 

Clement Nwankwo, the director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, said both the military and Boko Haram were providing information to the media not because it’s true, but because it helped their position.

“There’s a constant manipulation of the media that goes on.  It makes it difficult for anybody to really say what the truth is.  So sometimes when I see things in the media, I’m very cautious,” he said. 

Both sides, he said, used the media to project an image of strength, hoping to scare the enemy.

“If you make yourself strong in the media and appear to intimidate your enemies it then means that you are able to put your enemies on the alert,” said Nwankwo.

Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009, with attacks on churches, markets, government buildings and, more recently, schools.  International rights groups have condemned the violence while criticizing security forces, who they say have reacted to attacks by shooting before making arrests and detaining people without charges or trials.

Wole Olaoye, a journalist in Nigeria for nearly four decades, said the media’s role in this has largely been to report what it was told, with much of the conflict zone being too dangerous for independent observers to operate in.

“What you have now is propaganda.  It’s more than information - it’s warfare.  Warfare for the minds of the people,” said the journalist.

He said the military would have a better chance of winning the minds of the people if it first won the minds of the journalists that relay the information.

“I’m not saying it should divulge security information, but it should make the media have the ownership of the war.  When the media is trusted and they have enough information than it becomes their war,” said Olaoye.

Boko Haram has threatened reporters and media houses that publish stories it doesn't like and in 2012 it bombed several newspaper offices, killing at least nine people.

Nigeria’s press is considered large, unruly and generally free.  The trick to using a free press to win a war, Olaoye said, was to get them more information, more quickly than the other side.

You May Like

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More