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As Nigeria Embraces IT in Public Information Management Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Salisu, Nigeria Aug 12, 2004
Citizen Journalism   Opinions
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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.

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