Being a boss in Nigeria is no joke. In Nigeria we say to be a man is not a day’s job. (Of course this applies also to women. Because a woman who has become a boss has become a “man”. That is why we have titles like oga-madam.) After all the struggles you have overcome, all the obstacles laid before you by your enemies spiritual and temporal, God has blessed your hustle and made you spokesperson or head of your organisation. One of your jobs as boss or spokesperson is responding when there are issues that threaten the stability of your organisation, state or country. This is how you must conduct yourself as a boss in times of conflict.
One of the first things you must understand as a boss in Nigeria is that the eye disrespects that person that it sees often. So as boss you must delay all responses until the crisis becomes protracted or severe. When, for example, citizens have been kidnapped, you must allow three weeks pass before making any sort of robust response. In fact, sometimes when there is a crisis, all you need is the promise of a response. Swear that you will get to the root of the matter. Say that the perpetrators of the dastardly act will be brought to book. Then you can hop on your jet and head off to a private holiday in Europe. Do not fail, however, to use phrases that Nigerians know and love: “We are doing everything reasonably possible”; “We are doing everything in our power”; “We will spare no resources”; and my personal favourite: “We are on top of the situation”.
People in other democracies may preach that security agencies be neutral in dealing with or responding to conflict. In fact, they write whole books about it. But they do not know Nigeria. In this country much value is placed on telling everyone your personal opinion, even if you are speaking for, say, the SSS. When you are sent to provide security for elections, Nigerians will not expect you to be without feelings and judgment. So it is in order to say what you think about political parties, especially the ones you do not like. Because sometimes a bad loser has to be called a bad loser. When there is a bombing, blame it on a political party you do not like. As head of a security organisation Nigerians should trust you to know these things and not ask you for evidence as if you were a mere journalist. If you say the APC is responsible for bombings, you must know what you are talking about. One thing that a public accusation of terrorism without any intention to prosecute or investigate does, is that it keeps the potential terrorists on their toes and they know that as the Department of State Services, you know what they are up to, even though you will not do anything about it. This helps.
As a spokesperson you need to deny every damning report against your organisation, whether you are in the police or the army. If someone says that a group of insurgents has taken over a town and hoisted a flag, unless you see a video showing this clearly, deny it. After all, Nigerians only believe what they can see. When a video emerges and you can no longer deny it, issue a statement saying you will investigate to see if the allegations are true. Nigerians also love promises; they will give you an A for promises.
As someone who runs a media organisation, there are many ways you can lead by example. When suspects are paraded by the police, it is important to mention their tribe in your news headlines. If herdsmen are involved, automatically assume they are Fulani. It does not matter that not all herdsmen are Fulani and not all Fulani are herdsmen. No one cares about these technical details. Never issue a retraction of a poorly edited story or information that turns out to be false. When you hastily publish a false story, what you must do is write a follow-up story as if nothing happened. It is not your fault if the story turns out false. However, if for any reason you have to apologise for publishing a rumour on your front page complete with a picture you got from Facebook, do it in a tiny 2x2 box at the bottom of the page where most people will miss it. You don’t want too many people to see you admitting to a failure. That can ruin your business. When there is a conflict, you can never lose by choosing speed over accuracy. People’s attention spans grow shorter by the day, and it is important to be the first to break the rumour. God who lifted you in the face of your enemies and made you an oga, will not allow another news agency to go to press before you.
When there is an explosion, you need to hurriedly report that there was a blast and that it might have been a bomb. Nigerians like it when it is hot. It is ok to go to press before you find out whether it really was a bomb blast or another type of explosion. If Boko Haram is trying to spoil your show by being slow about claiming responsibility, quickly add after saying there was a blast that it looks like the handiwork of Boko Haram. Then copy and paste that paragraph that everyone around the world uses to spice a Boko Haram report: “Boko Haram, which means Western Education is a sin, is fighting to create and strict Islamic state…” It is not your fault if you automatically assume that Boko Haram has a monopoly on blasts.
As editor, do not assign anyone to investigate or dig deeper if the police or army release a statement saying that a cross-dressed boy arrested at the scene of a bomb blast is actually the mastermind of the attack, disguised as a woman. There is no need. Not even if the suspect’s name and home address and family is known, as well as his previous proclivity for wearing female clothes. A press release is worth more than a thousand investigative reports. Especially when the security officials use the word “mastermind”.
Let me just add that, generally, as a boss it is important to have enemies. One use of enemies is that they come in handy when things have gone out of hand and you cannot defend yourself without looking guilty. At a time like this you can call up the spirit of your enemies, blame them for your woes and denounce them. Make sure to state that what is happening is “an orchestrated campaign of calumny designed to tarnish my reputation (or the reputation of your organisation) by some unscrupulous elements.” You don’t even need to mention who. Nigerians know what you mean when you say unscrupulous elements. Just say that you know who they are but you don’t want to mention names. If there is anything we respect in Nigeria, it is the right of criminals and unscrupulous elements to have their identities protected. Nigerians respect enemies because they all have them. Enemies are responsible for everything from childlessness and being single at 40 to accidents caused by drunken driving and poverty. This is why they will understand when you say the crisis you handled woefully is a figment of your enemies’ imagination.
Whatever you are, security chief, president, CEO, spokesperson or editor, Nigeria is a good place to be a boss, because then, things are mostly what you say they are. God bless your hustle as you consolidate your position as boss and deal with conflicts.
*Being the text of a talk delivered at the Responsibility to Report Seminar organised by dRPC and Femke van Zeijl on September 4, 2014.