Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Imperative of a new Nigeria National Communication Policy


It was a rare honour and privilege to be part of the august gathering of communication experts from across the country that gathered on October 17 and 18, 2016 at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru near Jos. It was a rainbow coalition of sort. Participants were drawn from the Academia, Civil Society Organisations, Political Parties, Regulatory Agencies, Media Professionals, Research Institutes, Professional Bodies and Security Agencies to brainstorm on Nigeria’s National Communication Policy and Strategy. Some 29 years ago, precisely in 1987 at Administrative Staff College of Nigeria in Badagry, Nigeria produced her first draft National Mass Communication Policy which effectively came into operation in 1990. Efforts were made in 2004 and 2013 to revise the policy; unfortunately, this is yet to be consummated.

According to NIPSS, last week’s conference was aimed at providing a platform for stakeholders to dialogue on the need for a comprehensive National Communication Policy and Strategy for the country; carry out a diagnostic review of the NCPS; conduct a Strategic Gap Analysis of the NCPS; and also make recommendations and proffer implementation strategies. In a paper entitled “Diagnostic Review of National Communication Policies and Strategies (1987 – date)”  ace broadcaster, lawyer, newspaper columnist  and former Director General of Nigerian Television Authority, Dr. Tonnie Iredia said inter alia that Nigeria was 17 years late to have her first  NCPS in 1987. Even at that, the effort was neither well-articulated nor comprehensive. It was also too ‘governmental’ and heavily ministerial, having left out the private media.   He also observed that public communication system in Nigeria is politicised, just as he submitted that the country’s communication efforts remain elitist, city based and urban bias.

Not wanting to be seen as mere arm-chair critic, Iredia made the following recommendations: citizen journalism/ new media trends should be recognised; institutional actors need to be better mobilised; public media should belong to the people; systems approach should be applied to formulation / implementation of policy / strategy; and lastly, Nigeria’s communication policy document should be integrative. 

In a presentation entitled “Strategic Gap Analysis of Nigeria’s Communication Policy and Strategies (1987 – date), Dean of Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Kano, Prof. Umaru Pate observed among other things that the “Implementation of the national communication policy was not  successful due to poverty, inconsistency in direction of government, emerging global realities,  corruption, difficult operational climate, weakening government investments and failing public media sector, commercialisation and its consequences, skewed elite and urban centred orientation  and  absence  of local participation”.  Speaking on the last attempt to review the country’s communication policy in Calabar in 2013, the communication expert said the vision of the reviewed policy was to make Nigeria “a communicating nation”: sustain open, constant, widespread, inclusive, constructive and development-oriented communication. The objectives include enhancing quality of life of Nigerians, resolving social conflicts, and facilitating systematic, coherent and comprehensive implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and other national priorities.

Among the yawning gap noted by Pate on the last NCPS was the fact that the review process was not broad based as it did not address the need to integrate policy implementation at the three levels of governance viz.  Federal, state and local government levels.  The eminent scholar also noted that the extant national communication policy has a huge gap between the existence of the policy and its understanding among the stakeholders.  Additionally, there is a hiatus between the spirit and letter of the policy and its implementation while very little visible efforts have been made by the government to make it work.

Many of the participants criticised the renaming of the country’s National Communication Policy as National Information Policy in 2013 owing to the separation of Ministry of Communication from Information. Despite the big gap earlier identified above by various speakers, the chair of Centre of Excellence in Multimedia and Cinematography / Radio Unilag 103.1 FM, Prof. Ralph  Akinfeleye in his paper entitled “Nigeria’s National Communication Policy and Strategy: Approaches, Policy And Possible Options”  observed that “In what appeared like a fall-out of the review exercise for the National Information Policy in 2013, the federal government in April 2015 announced the granting of broadcast license to a total of 17 community radio stations distributed across the six geo-political zones of the country.” Unfortunately, only three of these seventeen are currently operational.

Akinfeleye reiterated the need for a consistent and clear-cut communication policy that fosters national development. The renowned communicator stressed the need to de-emphasise urban journalism and put more emphasis on rural communication, community journalism or what he tagged ‘Peoples’ Press’. He argued that since most of our media houses are city-based, the rural areas and people are usually neglected or ‘information starved’ particularly on developmental issues as encapsulated in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

President of Association of Communication Scholars and Professional of Nigeria, Prof. Lai Oso in a paper entitled “Challenges for Nigeria’s Comprehensive Policy and Strategy” noted that “ICTs as tools of globalisation has no doubt weakened the capacity of nation states to control what comes in through the airwaves.” Global public sphere, he noted, is not only open but admits just anybody, anytime from anywhere at any location. He subsequently called for the need to identify the organs through which the policy will be implemented when eventually revised.

There were far too many paper presenters and discussants whose views can be captured in a synthesis like this. Suffice to say that the conference ended with a Declaration. I was privileged to be part of the team of four that crafted the nine point Declaration which includes the following: The need for one comprehensive, integrated and functional national communication policy for the country. This should reflect the Constitution, national core values and align extant and relevant policies; there is a need to constitute a committee of experts to fill in the identified gaps expeditiously using scientific research in line with global best practices; the national communication policy and strategy should be locally relevant, culturally nuanced and should serve Nigeria’s national interests.

Others are:  the NCPS along with a clear action plan should be reviewed every five years. The action plan should include training, research and measurement of effectiveness; the review process should include government and non-governmental stakeholders (private sector, civil society, and political parties);  the NCPS should include the strategic communication needs of security and non-security Ministries, Departments and Agencies; the NIPSS should engage with all relevant MDAs required to expedite the completion of the review of the NCPS as well as the necessary action plan (possibly within six months); the outcome of the Stakeholders’ Conference should be presented to the National Council on Information meeting of October 26 – 29,  2016 in Asaba, Delta State and the National Council on Communication.

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