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During World War Two, the British Army was very secretive about how things were going at the front. Of course, that was because things were going very badly for them initially and going by the kinds of defeat they encountered at the Battle of Dunkirk where they would have been driven into the sea but for the unexplainable German decision to halt their advance.
With the history of aristocracy and secrecy that characterized Europeans, the manner in which the war was reported swung from two extremes. And it was not until the Americans, with their more history of openness, got involved that balance came into crafting the narrative of the war.
The European reportage were of two types and they were both propaganda. First was the Lord Haw Haw type of broadcasts. These were radio broadcasts from within Germany by British citizens who were German supporters. The most famous of the Lord Haw Haws was William Joyce. They reported news of British defeats with glee and exaggerated losses suffered by the British army in the war. But because the British government actively hid information about how the army was faring from its citizens, the citizens listened intently to the Lord Haw Haw broadcasts. This was in spite of public knowledge of the exaggerations by the broadcasters. It was simply the only way available for the citizens to get news on their friends and family who were at the warfront.
The second type of reportage that Europeans gave of the WW2 in the early days were the Joseph Goebbels propagandist types. Goebbels was the Nazi Minister of Propaganda and his ministry did the opposite of what the British did. Rather than starving Germans of news of the war, Goebbels kept a steady stream of information flowing. But much of the information was disconnected from the realities on the front. German losses were never reported. The people continued to believe in German invincibility even as the Allies tuned the tide and drove the German army back. As late as 1944, German citizens still believed they were winning the war when the reality was totally different. Clearly, propaganda is important in warfare. But wars are never won solely on great propaganda.
Nigeria is at war. We have lost territory to insurgents whose belligerence is rooted in a belief that negotiations cannot change. As I have repeatedly said, the most important thing we need to do to solve the Boko Haram problem is to first defeat them militarily. So our military must be given the priority and support it deserves.
And in reporting this war in Nigeria, there are two extremes that have come to dominate public discourse. This is precipitated by the general distrust that the Nigerian people have for any communication coming directly from the government. So we have those who report and exaggerate reports of Boko Haram victories and their strength. Many times, like the Lord Haw Haws, they have knowledge of what is going on at the front and therefore add these to their exaggerations which make it sound credible. But the tone of their messages almost sound like they are rejoicing at the victories of the insurgents.
But the second group are not any better. Rather than take the real feedback from soldiers and those at the front on Boko Haram victories and territory gains, in order to understand the strength and strategies of their opponents, they refuse all such reports. Like Goebbels, their stance is that any negative news about the army’s performance in the North East is equated to non-support of the army. They see such reports as an attack on their Fuhrer, President Goodluck Jonathan, and attack such reports as such. And like the Germans, they require us to keep believing that we are winning in spite of reports to the contrary, with people dying and territory in control of the insurgents. Propaganda alone, I repeat, does not win wars.
Balance, is what we need. We need the Haw Haws to realize that we are all Nigerians and that defeat of our military in the North East that they all ululate about affects us all. Their glee at reporting bad news dishonors the brave soldiers who lose their lives defending us. The Haw Haws of yesteryears ended up on the executioner’s block. The Goebbels too would do well to realize that their propaganda insults our collective intelligence and dishonors the soldiers who lose their lives defending us. Our media needs to step up to plate. The most credible and balanced sources of news I have for what is going on in the North East are Cameroonian. I don’t think the Cameroonian press have better conditions than our media so we can at least perform at their level and provide credible and balanced reports that are both patriotic and reflect reality at the same time.
As of now, we need to defeat Boko Haram militarily and reclaim our territory. All efforts and resources must not be spared to achieve this. However, when this is achieved, we need a thorough review of the structure of our military, from the funding, the procurements, the command structure, the coordination between the different forces, and the battle readiness of our men. The most important job of our armed forces is to protect our territorial integrity. We have lost territory in the North East, which is a military setback. Politicians must take a chill from politicking and 2015 fixation to realize that nothing is more important than reclaiming this territory back and securing it. And then making sure our military is able to ensure that this never happens again.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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