by Salisu Suleiman
Published on: Aug 12, 2004
Type: Opinions

In traditional Nigerian societies, drummers and town criers were important means of communication and were used for a variety of reasons to inform and entertain the public. That process probably represented the earliest form of public information management as an organized process intended to inform or modify behaviour of targeted audiences. Drums beaten in a particular style or mode represented war, victory celebration, death of a king or a multitude of other developments within the society. The talking drums of Yoruba land which are still in use today were particularly famous as were the trumpets of Hausa land, both of which, arguably were also early means of encoding messages and other forms of information, our own Morse code.

With the onset of colonialism, the British introduced modern means of communication and public information management. As a colonial power, the major intention was not to inform and entertain the public, but to manage and modify attitudes to suit the colonial administration. If the people were entertained in the process, it was pure happenstance. Suffice to say that it was the technology involved that entertained people more than the actual contents of the messages.

The Second World War saw an increased need for propaganda which the BBC carried out to all parts of the world. In Nigeria, loudspeakers were mounted at strategic points in major cities to rebroadcast BBC programs. This development represented a major technological innovation as radio receivers were still very elitist. Eventually, with the growth of independence movement which had been fuelled by robust Nigerian newspapers such as the West African Pilot, among many others, local radio, and in 1959, television (in the Western region) came on stream.

All through these periods, attention focused more on the use of these media of mass communication as tools for public information management, which was and is necessary to keep a country as diverse as Nigeria together and to shape minds and attitudes in our quest for unity in diversity. Entertainment was hardly a prime mover in programming. With independence, the Nigerian media matured into one of the freest and most diverse on the continent. Hardly any period in the succeeding years since independence has seen such exercise of press freedom, except for now.

In Nigeria, the return of democracy in 1999 has seen a revitalization of the media, the most important development being the licenses granted to the private sector. Thus, the most robust and entertaining newspapers in Africa today are to be found here. The same thing applies to television and radio. In all, this administration must take credit for creating this atmosphere of press freedom and the facilitation of another golden age in the history of Nigeria’s mass media. And in recognition of the fact that the private sector has an important role as managers of information, some federal government owned media are to be sold to private investors.

The implication is that while the traditional means of public information management as represented by radio, newspapers and television are witnessing increased private sector participation, new developments in the sphere of information communication technology or ICT are evolving and this places a challenge on the state and federal governments respectively to stay in tune with the times and to better manage public information in this age.

It has often been argued that the central gathering, dissemination and management of information are outdated. But that premise is faulty; the United States of America, the most computerized country in the world still has the Voice of America, the British the BBC, the French, Radio France International. Similarly, Japan, China, Germany, the Netherlands and many other countries still spend millions of dollars yearly to operate radio stations and other media of mass communication to defend their governments and their policies. No one who listens to or watches supposedly private international satellite television stations would deny that reports are slanted to favour their host countries. Watching the CNN before the Iraq war would make you wonder if the US government didn’t own it. The government of the US has specifically opened an Arab satellite channel to broadcast it’s views to the Arab world. This means that the Nigerian Television Authority, the Voice of Nigeria, the FRCN, the National Orientation Agency as well as other parastatals under the umbrella of the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation are not only relevant, but vital to nation building and in propagating and defending the corporate interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In a country as diverse as Nigeria, policies of government have to find understanding in the minds of people; otherwise government cannot effectively carry the people along. Also, some Nigerians are sceptical of government policies and programs. It is the duty of the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation to get the message across and to carry Nigerians along in the decision making process and to explain the policies of government to them and the wider world. It is the mission of the Ministry to pursue the development and application of the tools of communication, to establish effective and efficient information gathering, dissemination and feedback mechanism for the attainment of the socio-economic and political objectives of Nigeria’s corporate existence, stability and national interest.

The Ministry’s clients are therefore the Nigerian public, organized labour, private media, religious leaders, human rights activists, politicians, ethnic groups, academic and non-teaching staff unions, student unions, non governmental organizations, civil societies, traders, traditional rulers, international community, Nigerians in Diaspora, public media, federal government establishments, state and local government administrations, professional groups, international media, unemployed youths, farmers associations, military and Para-military staff, housewives and other segments of the Nigerian society.

In appreciation of its huge responsibilities to all citizens in Nigeria and to the international community, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Chief Chuwkuemeka Chikelu directed the various departments of the ministry to further improve on service delivery and to provide prompt information on government policies and programs through different media, provide reliable feedback through accurate opinion polls and daily review of all media, effective supervision of a well articulated information dissemination process by all government agencies through Nigeria’s internet website, proactive sensitization of the public through enlightenment campaigns, general printing and publishing services for effective public administration, among many others.

In order to carry out these functions and recognizing the role of information communication technology, ICT in public information dissemination and management, the Ministry has embraced full computerization as the way forward. Speaking recently at the 19th Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Computer Society, Chief Chikelu stated that “the federal government of Nigeria also recognizes the role of ICT in meeting its national development objectives through the process of reform intended to enhance productivity in learning, management and governance and has thus embraced the policy of E-governance as a cardinal objective”.

The Minister also stated that “in our task of public information collection, dissemination and management, ICT has a crucial role to play so as to ensure that while we embrace the development of modern means of communication, our culture and heritage are married with these new emerging technologies to give us a richer and more diverse communication and development strategy”.

The application of IT in public information has numerous advantages including speed. With IT, information can be disseminated within minutes, not hours or days as was the case. This speed of reporting, along with the time saved would enhance productivity and better use of human and material resources. Efficiency in public information management would also be enhanced as information can sorted and processed with electronic records management which is also a major advantage of IT.

The country’s national security is also another major benefit of IT in public information management because an authentic federal government website as currently exists is safe from manipulation of data or information. Thus, any form of communication posted on this site is usually genuine and can not be altered in any way. Other advantages include efficient utility of space, portability, lower costs, among many others.

Already, a project to link all federal information centers is being considered to ensure that information from these centers are transferred via internet to the headquarters to upward loading on the internet. The ministry, along with the NTA and FRCN are working towards web casting network news on the internet to make it accessible from anywhere in the world. Also, the National Archives, which is a repository of valuable historical documents, some of which are brittle with age would soon embrace IT. This would make it possible to have electronic copies of these archival documents which can be made accessible to millions of researchers simultaneously, while the original materials are secured. Accreditation of foreign journalist is also now possible on-line.

The recent launch of the ‘Nigeria Image Project’ is another effort of Chief Chikelu to enhance public information management in Nigeria using IT. The CD ROMs containing all relevant information are available to everybody seeking information about the country. The ministry will ensure that they are available to local and foreign investors, tourists, researchers, Nigerians in Diaspora and whoever requires information about Nigeria. In the same manner, the Nigerian official website is being upgraded to make it more user- friendly and to ensure that all relevant information about the country is immediately uploaded. The site will also become interactive in the not too distant future.

And yet, this is just the initial process of computerizing the Information and National Orientation Ministry. The objective is to ensure that public information is managed effectively in an atmosphere of trust by officers who are themselves conversant with the relevant technologies in use. To that end, the ministry has an E-learning centre which is aimed at providing basic IT training for all staff. Already some staff have been trained while a batch of six information officers are being trained with an IT bias so that they can blend their training and skills to serve the country better. With these developments, among many others, one can conclude that the Minister of Information and National Orientation has not only recognized the value of IT in public information management, but has taken steps to ensure that the ministry’s numerous clients are provided with credible, accurate information about Nigeria and that the country’s image is protected home and abroad. Chief Chikelu is a man with great ideas and a great future and with leaders like him, Nigeria is on the threshold of greatness.

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