One of the critical challenges that confronted the Nigerian government during the ascendancy of the Boko Haram insurgency was how to contain the dangerous propaganda machinery of the terrorists and their collaborators who, not surprisingly, infiltrated a section of the media. Apart from their ceaseless heart-chilling violence campaign across the northern part of the country, the terrorists were also having a field day in the realms of media publicity. The truism that the publicity is the oxygen of terrorism was playing out. The publicity Boko Haram were enjoying in a section of the media that were influential in the north emboldened them and galvanized their recruitment drive. They were exuding confidence and a sense of invincibility while the image and respect of our country were dragged in the mud and our national security threatened.
It was at this trying period in our national life that a certain Yushau Shuaib was introduced to the then National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki. As the National Security Adviser, it falls within his purview to halt the escalation of the Boko Haram madness which is creeping into the media arena. He desperately needed the best hands he can get to reverse the dangerous trend, but he also needed a quintessential, result-oriented fellow who can quietly do the job without attracting unnecessary attention to himself. And he got one. A consummate public relations practitioner, an avid writer and media manager with tremendous contacts and network of friends in both the media and public relations fields, Yushau was the man and his brief was very clear: counter the growing terrorists’ propaganda and also help promote campaigns on security consciousness among Nigerians.
So, as Consultant to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) on Crisis Communication, he became an intermediary between the media and the critical stakeholders in crisis management, i.e military, security and response agencies in Nigeria. Yushau knew that the job was not going to be easy but he also knew that the job must be done. National interest was at stake! He threw his all into it and brought to bear the true worth of his professionalism and doggedness in the course of the assignment.
He proceeded first creating a formidable online news platform – PRNigeria – that functioned like a newswire service where most media organizations get first hand information on any security and emergency reports having established a relationship with the military, security and response agencies such that there were seamless sharing of information and breaking news. He, along with the likes of Gen Chris Olukolade, the iconic Director of Defence Information at the time, facilitated the establishment of the Forum of Spokespersons of Security and Response Agencies (FOSSRA) to enable a cohesive and coordinated crisis information management and dissemination.
Yushau’s relentless efforts and professional interventions expectedly succeeded in developing and sustaining mutual understanding and synergy within the military, security and response agencies on one hand and a coherent interface between them and the media. For the three years that he took the brief from ONSA, the narratives drastically changed. Boko Haram conspirators and collaborators who hid under the toga of religion and sectarian interests and sentiments to stoke the embers of hatred against the government and the military were at least getting a match. The public were getting the true picture of the dynamics in the war on terror. There was a better management of information as the security and response agencies began to harmonise information unlike when it a cacophony of conflicting voices and reports by different security and response agencies in times of emergency or crisis.
Prior to Yushau’s engagement, there were weak (or even non-existent) coordination and harmonization of information released to media by the agencies. It was more like unhealthy competition and bitter rivalry as agencies that were working or ought to be working towards a particular goal strived to outwit each other in the rush for media attention or popularity. Yushau effectively used the instrumentality of his highly successful online platform, PRNigeria and the FOSSRA structure to turn around the fortunes in the narratives of the fight against terror.
In spite of his non-partisanship, phenomenal commitment to his assignment, a dogged loyalty and patriotism to his fatherland, Yushau remained unsung in Nigeria. Not many people knew about the efforts of this one man except may be some of us who worked closely with him. As the Editor of Nigerian Defence Magazine in those heady days, I recall how the Directorate of Defence Information not only leveraged effectively on the instrumentality of his PRNigeria to communicate the prosecution of the counter insurgency operation but also relied on his counsel to engage some rabidly compromised and biased section of the media who were determined to undermine the efforts of government.
Most Nigerians may not know the roles he played in managing crisis in those momentous days but the international community was certainly watching and taking note. So, in recognition of the invaluable role he played in helping the country to managing crisis communication at the peak of Boko Haram insurgency, the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) early this month of November 2016, in far away Doha, Qatar, presented Golden World Award (GWA) on Crisis Management to Yushau Shuaib. According to the citation read, Yushau used his PRNigeria to effectively manage the adverse consequence of the growing Boko Haram propaganda machinery. In our climes where everything, including the protection of national interest and security is politicized, how can Yushau’s efforts be acknowledged? It took the discerning eyes of the global public relations organisation to point out one of us who has served us well in his own little but very consequential way.
Kudos to Mallam Yushau Shuaib and his PRNigeria for!
Head, Planning, Research and Statistics
Centre for Crisis Communication