Let me formally welcome you all to this 46th meeting of the National Council on Information, holding in this beautiful and friendly city of Asaba. Permit me to thank our host Governor, His Excellency, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, and all the members of his Executive Council, especially the Honourable Commissioner for Information, Mr. Patrick Ukah, for being such wonderful hosts.
2. The theme of this meeting, which is “Leveraging on Information and Digital Technology to Sustain the Change Agenda of Government” reminds us, as government information managers, of what I choose to call the paradox of technology. On one hand, the information and digital technology provides us with great opportunities. On the other hand, it if fraught with great challenges. We are therefore being tasked, on a daily basis, with how to balance this paradox and make the best of it. I will speak more on this in the course of my speech.
3. Without mincing words, let me say that we, as Minister or Commissioners in charge of Information, and indeed all other stakeholders in the business of government information management, are the true agents of change. Our portfolios and responsibilities bestow upon us the primary role of informing, enlightening and educating the people. In normal times, this task is daunting. Today, with the advent of new information and digital technology, the word “daunting” becomes an understatement.
4. Yes, cashing in on the still evolving new information and digital technology will undoubtedly facilitate our work. The multiplicity, immediacy and pervasiveness of the platforms of information dissemination mean that we can reach more people much faster. That should be a good thing, right? But when you remember that those who are trying hard to distort the information you are putting out also have access to the same technology, you will realize the meaning of the paradox of technology that I spoke about earlier. In other words, the democratization of the technology of information dissemination has posed new challenges to us.
5. Anyone can wake up this morning and decide to become an online newspaper publisher, an online television station owner, an online radio station operator, a purveyor of news, photographs and videos using the numerous Social Media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, Instagram and IMO, just to mention a few. They spread whatever information that catches their fancy without engaging in the rigours of accuracy, fact-checking and fairness imposed by the traditional media. But there is another problem: They have their own public, and this public believes whatever information they put out! To worsen matters, the traditional media now regurgitates whatever is put out by these emergency purveyors of information
6. This explains why someone will report that “Change Begins With Me”, the national reorientation campaign which was launched by Mr. President last month, is costing the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture 3.4 billion Naira, and this will be believed and regurgitated by many, including seasoned writers, without interrogating the imaginary figure against the overall budget of the entire Ministry! This explains why Ministers are daily being dropped on the Social Media. Many of us now wake up to read that we will be dropped as Ministers or have our portfolios changed. Even our families and friends believe what they read or hear in the Social Media than what we tell them.
7. But we, as media managers, must not despair. We must up our game by keying into the same evolving new information and digital technology through training and re-training of our personnel, acquisition of state-of-the art technology as well as deploying uncommon commitment and passion to what we do.
8. As agents of change, we must understand the concept of change itself before we can talk of sustaining it. People have asked: What is this change agenda all about? The answer is simple. It is the change from impunity to accountability, change from corruption to transparency, change from a mono-product economy to a diversified economy, change from unemployment to job creation, change from moral decadence to moral revival, change from lost values to restoration of time-tested values, change from reliance on imported goods to Made-in-Nigeria products and change from gender insensitivity to gender sensitivity, just to mention a few examples.
9. This is what we set out to do with Change Begins With Me campaign, which I referred to earlier. Simply defined, it is aimed at ensuring a paradigm shift in the way we do things. The campaign has no religious, ethnic, political or other coloration. It is just our own way of bringing back those time-tested values that once defined us as a people. We will provide you with more information on this campaign in the course of this meeting, so that you can better understand it and then explore the areas in which you can be a part of the campaign.
10. We must all be at the forefront of the efforts to reshape our country, to bring back those good old days in which the children of poor parents do not need to know anyone before gaining admission to the best public schools. We must change the widespread perception of our people as corrupt. At the 11th Annual Lecture of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria in Abuja yesterday, the keynote speaker, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, spoke extensively on this issue. He dispelled the popular misconception of the ‘’Nigerian factor’’ that invariably refers to an inherent tendency for corrupt behaviour that is said to be in our DNA. He said and I quote: ‘’I believe this to be both untrue and unfair. Corruption is not inbuilt in the Nigerian character. The eminent American Economist, Wolfgang Friedrich Stolper, was one of the architects of Nigeria’s first National Development Plan. He was a constant visitor to our country during the years 1959 to 1962. From his autobiographical accounts, Stolper described the Nigerian civil service that he met as the best in the developing Commonwealth, well ahead of India, Malaysia, Singapore and Ghana. He interacted with eminent Nigerians such as Pius Okigbo, Simeon Adebo, Jerome Udoji, Ali Akilu and Ojetunji Aboyade. Stolper, an emigrant from Vienna, Austria, was never known for hyperbole. He described the Head of the Western Civil Service of the time, Simeon Adebo, as one of the greatest human beings I have ever met.’’ End of Quote. You can now see, ladies and gentlemen, that corruption is not in our DNA and that we have not always been the way we are now being portrayed.
11. This brings me to the issue of perception. It used to be said that there is a thin line between perception and reality. Today, that thin line has totally disappeared. It is now so difficult to say what is reality and what is perception. Little wonder then that perception management has become a whole new vocation. On our part, we must always stay a step ahead of those who are trying to impose a new perception on us.
12. Now, let’s flip around the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. Let it read that to whom much is expected, much is given. The new challenge of managing the paradox of technology or managing perception imposes a lot of burden on us as information managers. Ours is undoubtedly the most important portfolio. We are the ones who clean the mess after every holder of other portfolios. When there is Ebola, Lassa Fever, or any emergency health challenge, we are the ones at the forefront of informing, enlightening and educating the people. When disasters strike, we are at the forefront. When the economy faces a downturn, we are the ones to explain. We are not just expected to project positive information, we are also expected to suppress negative ones. In fact, we are required to know much about everything. But when the budget is drawn, we get the lowest allocation. Information management is the most expensive but the least resourced. Our principals must appreciate and ensure that this is reversed in order to put us in good stead to carry out our duties. We must have the resources we need, the training we require and the state-of-the-art facilities we deserve to excel.
13. Ladies and gentlemen, a new dawn beckons that will greatly enhance our work. The imminent transition from analogue to digital broadcasting offers immense possibilities and opportunities. Apart from the fact that the digitization of television can create 1 million jobs in three years, it will change the way we disseminate information for good. With 24 million television households acquiring the set-top-boxes that allow them to plug into the digital TV revolution, critical information can be passed on to the citizenry through the STBs’ information portal at the push of a button and little or no cost! And the same portal provides for feedback mechanism from the citizenry.
14. Let me round off by saying that we must always endeavour to make the best out of these interesting times. We must key into the information and digital revolution in order to better deliver on the tasks before us. We must use factual information to drown out those who are bent on misinforming our people and making it impossible for them to be a part of the change agenda. We must always stay ahead of the pack. We must be proactive rather than be reactive. We must never let down our guard because, for information managers, there should be no down time, because while you are fast asleep, those who will make your task impossible are fully awake! We must understand and harness the enormous powers of the traditional and the new tools of information dissemination to communicate the activities of government and also get feedbacks. By these tools I am referring to the radio, television, newspapers, movies, mobile phones and the Social Media. The last two are particularly important, because they are complementary. Almost everything that the Social Media offers can be accessed from your smart phone: Internet, websites, Emails, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, video calls, just name it. But remember, just as you have access to these tools, others also have. You can only make a difference by staying one step ahead of the pack and using facts to drown out fiction.
In the end, if we stay on top of our game, the results will be there for all to see.
15. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention