Why the cries of “Crucify him”? Why the uproar about the on-air slip by the Lagos State Commandant of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC)? So, the man does not know the website of his organization. That is not a grievous offence, especially if one considers the social realities. I know it is funny, but let’s get serious about this thing. Before you sentence me for taking this stance, please read my argument.
From our cyberworld, it may seem as if the whole world is part of the internet, but that is not through. Yes, the internet is fast growing, and it is changing life and the world as we know it. But in Nigeria, the level of penetration of internet usage is 28.4% as at 2012 (from www.internetworldstats.com). Mr. Obafaiye Shem did not grow up in the internet-age. He never had to google a difficult concept for his assignments. He probably keeps an address book and diary for important places, and if you ask him for the physical address of his office, he most likely knows it. He grew up learning physical addresses, not web addresses. He is no different from today’s children who have stored thousands of web addresses in their memory, yet do not know their house number, and have to make several phone calls when filling their physical address in a form. Maybe we needed this incident to remind us of the technology disconnect – the digital divide that separates cultures, and generations. How many offices in the civil service have computers?
Shem’s ignorance of the organization’s website is the lesser evil, and we still remain blinded to the real issues. We have sensationalized the issue, creating tunes, tee-shirts and baseball caps to distract us from the real problems we have. The question should not be “How could he not know the website?” It should be “What is the state of information technology diffusion in the civil service?” Do you know that the Nigerian Police Force does not keep a computerized database? Have you realized that when cases are reported, they keep the records in loose sheets that can be blown away by the wind?
Some journalists stooped to muckraking and victimization, and we join them in humiliating Shem for an offence that could have very easily been committed by any of our parents with even more educational qualifications than he. They could very easily have let that question go, instead of their derisive insistence that led to his saying the now classic www.nscdc that’s all. Journalists are supposed to treat their interviewees as customers; interviewees are not supposed to be embarrassed. There is no acceptable justification for the way the Channels Sunrise Daily interview team managed the situation. Their exploitation of Shem’s ignorance is tantamount to ‘unprofessionalism’. It is a very low comedy, with no developmental value. While I acknowledge the classical functions of journalism as information, education and entertainment, I believe that these should be underscored by value, by relevance to development. What those interviewers have succeeded in doing is to generate distrust between public officers and journalists.
The subject matter was on employment scams. That is what we should focus on! Those responsible for such fraudulent activities should be exposed and humiliated instead. Journalist should engage in true investigative journalism, instead of stooping to sour sensationalism. The media (which I am part of) should develop and publish/broadcast content that will enlighten the public on such rip-offs, and on how to trap and report duplicitous employment agents. Expose the rotten system, instead of focusing on one trifling issue.
The NSCDC, and indeed organizations generally, should learn from this experience. There are great lessons on how not to do interviews and pitfalls to watch out for in public relations. This issue has created questions on the reputation of the NSCDC. The organization has been painted as one with riddled with ignorance and incompetence, and with a massive communication gulf. Forget the fact that it was just one person who made the slip on air.
This situation is not without remedy, though. I suggest that the “Oga at the top” takes an “Inside-Out” approach to dealing with this problem. Do not be in a hurry to communicate. This is not the time for press statements and press conferences. Clean house. Fix the website. Teach your staff effective communication and public relations skills. Organize regular training, workshops or seminars, and ensure that every department and member of the organization is on the same page. Prepare before going for interviews. Consult Public Relations strategists or specialists to guide you, so that you do not tarnish your reputation with your own mouth.
There is also need to explain the real issue to Mr. Obafaiye Shem. He may not have understood his faux pas or its implication. There is no need to fire him or even suspend him. Instead, let him know that this is the 21st century, and for survival in this age, one has to learn how to use the tools of the age. Teach him how to manage media interviews. Teach him to think on the spot, and to say ‘I do not know,’ or ‘I need to confirm’, when in doubt, and stick to it. He is in need of education, not reprimand. Maybe some good things will result from what seems to me like an unproductive sarcasm by the media. (I am aware that some wily business persons have taken advantage of this situation – if you call that productivity, that’s your fine.)
I have said my bit. What is your stance? Let me hear your side, please.