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Cablegate: Nigerian Armed Forces Public Relations Officers

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary. The Military Public Affairs Workshop organized
by the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy for the public
relations officers of the Nigerian armed forces and for
defense journalists succeeded beyond all expectations.
Director of the American Forces Information Service Cliff
Bernath and USAF LtCol Patrick Barnes of EUCOM Public Affairs
provided five days of training on the full range of public
affairs activities and issues that relate to defense and the
U.S. armed forces. Members of two distrustful Nigerian
professional communities ) the military and journalists --
worked together during class exercises, and each topic on the
schedule allowed for full exchanges that helped
constructively communicate their different points of view.
There were two concrete results of the sessions. The
Nigerian PR officers and the journalists, with Bernath as
facilitator, hammered out framework guidelines for their
professional relationships. The workshop's final session
addressed public affairs planning for Operation Focus Relief
Phase III, with the participants brainstorming through
audiences, events, and messages. The workshop gained the
Embassy dozens of new contacts in the two professional
groups, and the relationships and rapport developed during
the workshop should smooth public affairs planning and
execution for OFR Phase III, now set to begin in September.
The public relations officers and the journalists gave this
first professional training extravagant praise, and they
ardently requested continued U.S. help to enhance and
professionalize their role in Nigeria's new civil-military
relations. This is a GPRA report. End Summary.

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2. Key topics in this cable (see paragraphs below):

Workshop objectives, 3-4
Minister of Defense's Remarks, 5-10
Ambassador Jeter's Remarks, 11-12
Workshop sessions, 13
Media-Military Distrust, 14-15
Proposed Military-Media Guidelines, 16
Operation Focus Relief Phase III, 17-19
"Messages" for OFR-III, 20
Government Performance Results Act, 21

3. "Effective Military Public Affairs in a Democracy" was
the theme of a workshop organized in Abuja by the Public
Affairs Section of the American Embassy. Working with the
Director of Defense Information in Defense Headquarters,
Colonel G. A. Adewale, the Nigerian attendees included the
Director and his principal assistants, the senior (civilian)
information officer on the Minister of Defence's personal
staff, the public relations chiefs of each of the three
services, and officers and senior NCO's from a number of
service commands. At the request of the DDI, the defense
journalists accredited to the Ministry of Defense were
invited as participants, along with public affairs
representatives of the "paramilitary" forces ) the police
and the customs service.

4. The Office of International Information Affairs lined up
two extraordinarily qualified resource persons for the
workshop ) Director of the American Forces Information
Service (and former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of
Defense for Public Affairs) Cliff Bernath, and USAF
Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Barnes from the EUCOM public
affairs office.

5. The workshop was formally opened by Minister of Defence
T.Y.Danjuma and by Ambassador Jeter. Also present was Vice
Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi, Chief of Defense Staff.

6. The theme of the Minister's remarks was the necessity for
transparency, openness and accountability. "Public officials
are stewards who are accountable to the people," he said.
"The public has a right to know what government and public
officials are doing, because whatever they are doing is
supposed to be for the people. They have a right to ask
questions because they are stakeholders in the affairs of the

7. "The military is a unique national institution with its
own peculiar norms and practices," the Minister continued.
Because it is "preoccupied with the security of the nation,"
it tends to be secretive. This results in "mistrust and
misunderstanding in civil-military relations." Also, "the
misadventure of the military getting involved in politics and
governance has done serious damage to the image and
credibility of the armed forces." Now "we must make
conscious and sustained efforts to communicate openly with
the public."

8. The Minister told the participants that public relations
professionals in the Ministry of Defense and the services
must be "professional in dealing with our public," and must
create "channels for the exchange of ideas and information."

9. In closing, the Minister reflected that "over the years I
have come to appreciate the role and orientation of the press
in civil-military relations. The news media would always
report an event whether it gets the information from official
sources or not. The military wants to defend the nation, but
the media wants to watch and report the defenders so as to
make them accountable. There is often conflict in these
roles. We can avoid unnecessary tension and conflicts by
appreciating the complimentary nature of these roles." He
concluded by urging "the military and the media to be
steadfast and transparent in their relationship for greater
benefit of our society."

10. This strong endorsement of openness and transparency by
the Minister was greeted by the assembled public relations
officers and journalists with enthusiasm. Many told us
during the workshop that they hoped Danjuma would repeat the
message for their commanders, who have a strong aversion to
dealing with the media.

11. Ambassador Jeter in his opening remarks noted that the
armed forces now "serve an elected government, respond to
legislative oversight, face the media, and are accountable to
the Nigerian people." The democratic transition, he said,
"will make this country greater, more prosperous, and more
stable in the future. The Nigerian armed forces will win the
respect of the Nigerian people as corruption ends, as the
standards of training and professionalism increase, as
leadership takes on a democratic spirit, as your bases and
installations are recognized as 'good neighbors' in the
community they serve, and as people see soldiers, sailors,
and airmen engaged in useful tasks. Internationally, your
troops are a vital force for peace and stability in Africa.
Nigerians should know it; Africa should know it; and the
world should know it."

12. The Ambassador continued, however, that "for too many
journalists, there is a reflexive distrust of the armed
forces. For too many of Nigeria's leaders, civilian as well
as military, their press policy can be summed up as, "we wish
the media would go away." The Ambassador cautioned against
"the military habit that decisions are not to be questioned,"
"misusing 'official secrets' as a reason not to reveal
shortcomings or embarrassing facts," a "reluctance to admit
that the armed forces were, during the period of military
rule, as devastated and hollowed out as other institutions,"
and a reluctance to "face the reality that there was
wholesale corruption and tolerance of serious human rights
violations, and marked deviations from the rule of law in the
past." "building a bridge of trust between the armed forces
and the media is one more task for the democratic transition."

13. The workshop schedule included sessions on:

-- Internal Information Programs
-- Community Relations
-- Overview of Public Affairs Events -- Civic Tours, Open
Houses, etc.
-- Planning for Public Affairs Events
-- Military-Media Relations During Military Operations
-- Media Pools/Embedded Media
-- Preparing Public Affairs Guidance for Military Operations
-- Working with the Media: Two Perspectives
-- Media Availabilities: Press Conferences, TV Interviews,
print interviews, speeches followed by Q&A, the "ambush"
-- Crisis Public Affairs
-- Practical Exercises: Exercise press briefings
-- Public Affairs Products
-- Operation Focus Relief
-- Discussion and Planning, Operation Focus Relief Phase III

14. In the early sessions of the workshop, the accumulated
distrust and nursed grudges between the two Nigerian groups
(military and media) resulted in charges and shouting
matches. Bernath skillfully cooled this conflict with a
special session on self-image and definitions of patriotism
that clarified much of the gap. Heads nodded as participants
saw that the military officers regarded themselves as
patriotic because of their dedication to the country, while
the journalists defined patriotism as serving the public with
needed information.

15. Wednesday afternoon of the workshop was devoted to
preparing for press conferences. The Public Affairs Section
of the Embassy helped develop scenarios -) an explosion of
fuel tanks on an installation, a C-130 crash, and a conflict
between local citizens and drunken soldiers. Three teams of
participants, each team with military public relations
officers and journalists, worked together to prepare a
briefer to meet the press, while Bernath, Barnes, and Bishop
took the roles of aggressive journalists. This exercise
joined the two sides with positive results for the remainder
of the seminar.

16. On Thursday afternoon, Bernath led a session that asked
the participants to consider professional guidelines for the
interaction between the armed forces public affairs officers
and the media. All present agreed on these principles:

For the media:

(1) Media reporting will be objective, factual, balanced,
and fair. A professional reporter will subjugate tribalism,
politics, and religion to these goals.

(2) A professional journalist must be trained and informed
about military subjects.

(3) Media should be willing to share the risks of military
operations after training.

(4) The media will be sensitive to the legitimate security
needs of the military.

For the military:

(1) The military will provide complete, timely, accurate,
and factual information subject to national security

(2) The military will ensure accessibility to media to
adequately inform the Nigerian public of military activities.

(3) The military should understand the needs of the media
and assist them in meeting those needs.

(4) The military will provide reasonable assistance to the
media to cover military related activities and events.

Despite the numerous qualifiers, the two groups were
extremely satisfied by the professional airing of their
discontents and with these proposed guidelines.

17. On Friday morning, Embassy Defense Attache Colonel
Victor Nelson gave a comprehensive and frank briefing of
Operation Focus Relief, and he deftly answered questions.
The Embassy CPAO then led the group through a brainstorming
session focused on preparations for OFR Phase III, due to
begin in September.

18. The first part of the 90 minute session addressed the
question of audiences -) political leaders, academics,
youth, the business community, students, religious leaders,
labor, NGOs, community associations, traditional rulers, and
"average Nigerians" among them. The military participants
also saw a need to use internal information channels to more
widely inform service members (in non-participating units)
about OFR.

19. The second part addressed possible events that could
serve as news hooks for media messages. These included the
arrival of U.S. soldiers, visits to exercise sites, weapons
displays, marksmanship training, competitions, an "open day,"
local leader visits, the final ceremony, and the sendoff of
troops to Sierra Leone. The participants urged that public
affairs for OFR Phase III should begin at least two weeks
ahead of the arrival of American units, and they said that
Nigerian briefers would have the most credibility with
Nigerian audiences.

20. The third part addressed messages, and there was
agreement on four major thematic clusters:

(A) Mutuality: The U.S. and Nigeria are working together in
concert and in harmony, for mutual benefits. For Nigeria,
the benefits include new and better equipment for units,
enhanced training, and better logistics.

(B) Explaining Nigeria's National Interests: Nigerian
troops play an important role in maintaining peace and
stability in the subregion. Nigeria, Africa, and the world
benefit when Nigeria assumes a leadership role.

(C) Re-professionalization: OFR makes an important
contribution to the re-professionalization of Nigeria's armed
forces, whose professional military qualities seriously
eroded during the period of military rule. It also
contributes to combat readiness, and it demonstrates its
re-focus on military, not political, tasks.

(D) The democracy dividend: The role of the armed forces is
changing for the better. It is now firmly committed to the
constitution, and to a new spirit of military subordination
to the civilian government. This is a vital part of the
nation's focus on good governance. The people benefit from
the serious commitment of the armed forces to civilian
democratic rule.

21. GPRA Data: Date: 25-29 June 2001. FY-2001, Quarter 3.
Audience: 30 armed forces and Ministry of Defense public
relations specialists including the Director of Defense
Information and the public relations chiefs of the Army,
Navy, and Air Force. 15 defense journalists. Results:
"Excellent" is an understatement.

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