Defence Information is a Serious Business
– Brig. Gen. Olukolade, Director Defence Information
Brigadier General Chris Olukolade is the Director of Defence Information. He had previously served as the Director of Army Public Relations and was one time Spokesman of the ECOMOG Force in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. As the Director Defence Information, he coordinates with other services to ensure a good flow of information to the public. He is also Chairman of Media and information Committee on Emergency Management (MICEM) where coordinates information of other response agencies in the country. An alumnus of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, he was trained at the Defence Information School in the United States of America. A holder of Bachelors’ Degree from the University of Ife and Masters from the University of Lagos, the General also has a Post Graduate Diploma from the International Institute of Journalism. He was recently awarded Best Security Information Manager in West at an event in South Africa. He speaks to the Spokesperson Digest….
As the Director, Defence Information what is the mandates of your department?
The essence and mandate of the Directorate of Defence Information is to coordinate the management of information for the defense headquarters and other operations under its control primarily. It is also to interact and coordinate information management process in the services of the armed forces. It involves undertaking the public relations functions for the defense headquarters and occasionally on behalf of the joint service that is the army navy and air force. We are involved in formulating programs and policies both in operations and activities of the DHQ. I am at the service of answerable to the Chief of Defence Staff directly, under which case I could be assigned any other task.
What is your relationship with other response agencies in Information management?
Very cordial, very encouraging, I find it quite interesting in the sense that apart from the cordiality, camaraderie, and robust relationship we have for ourselves as public relations practitioners. I also find it interesting and encouraging, the access and motivation we get from the principals of our various organizations. The principals have been very forthcoming and expectant of the support we can give to the achievement of the agencies. As a major cornerstone of his administration, the chief of defense staff have been so interested in our interaction together in a body and as a group. He has been highly supportive and motivating and quite often he reminds us of the need to meet regularly, he directs issues we should discus, and suggest quite regularly we should discuss issues of national importance. Even beyond the chief of defense staff, I also find other service chiefs, inspector general of police, DG NEMA and other bodies we interact with in the course of our job, so much expectant on the level of contribution we can make to the achievements of the various organizations. That has been very motivating and encouraging. Beyond me as an individual, I find all other members very interesting and supportive of the idea.
Let’s go to the major stakeholders that you deal with, how has the relationship been with the members of the fourth estate of the realm, media in terms of coverage of security and disaster issues?
I find the media very much friendly, encouraging and supportive, I am particularly privileged to have enjoyed very cordial relationship across the board. I trace this to my opportunity to have grown in this career and at the moment, am leveraging on the relationship I have built over the years of public relations practice, in the sense that I am able to interact across board. I have friends in virtually all levels of media practice, from the reporter to the editor. There is virtually no major media organization now in Nigeria that I don’t have friends. Friends I have met at the beginning of my career both locally and overseas. Recently when foreign journalist came to Nigeria, I found that most of them have been my friends, especially those we met in Liberia and Sierra Leone and other places I have been privileged to serve. Couple of editors are those we met in work or while training, some of them where my friends in the university and in the course of journalism training. So I have been leveraged in the relationship and it’s been very helpful to me.
What challenges do you face as regards your interaction with civil authorities?
Well, I won’t say there are no challenges. The challenges are understood and believed. In fairness to the civil societies, they are quite expectant. They expect so much from our organization. The next thing is to believe what we tell them. Many times they believe what we tell them, but problem comes when they have alternative views, coming from media that may say things different from what we are telling them, giving them doubts. And when there are doubts, it gives us challenges to convince the people that we mean well, and we are telling them the truth. So that has been our challenge but most times we have been able to scale it, by what I said initially; leveraging on our previous relationships with the media and also the help we can get from, friends, stakeholders and opinion leaders in helping us to convince the public, that we are capable of discharging what the nation is expecting from us.
How challenging has been managing information during crisis or warfare?
Very challenging and in line with what I told you before; assuring the people that the measures on ground are meant for their good and not punitive. The measures on ground are meant to end the crisis. Most of the interests that are so entrenched and not ready to change thus contending with such interest both locally and outside has not been easy. Some of these interests want to go to the extent of undermining the system, and that’s a challenge for the management of both external and internal information. Our responsibility is to manage information within ourselves and information going out. But when you find people seeking to misinform those within the organization or use them for surreptitious means of disseminating false information, you have a big challenge to persuade both your internal and external public. So far, we are coping; we are coping from the virtue of help we get and from Devine.
In what way(s) has ICT revolution impacted on the activities of your department in relations to communicating effectively with the publics?
ICT has helped us a lot, consciousness has grown up. Particularly for me as an individual; my responsibility to report seminar. While we are mindful of risks and other negative trends in social media, we apply the ICT in issue and crisis management. Virtually all the services operate with their own websites now. All of them know the essence of increasing their capacity to disseminate information digitally and also to be visible in the social network.
There is this question I want to ask you, is about the media so far, how have they assisted or hinder your performance?
Generally, the Nigerian media are good, cooperative, encouraging, understanding in many instances. Yes, there are few isolated deviations but they’ve been managed properly. We have been able to reconcile position quite often. I will say we scale challenges together and it’s all based on understanding.
What kind of relationship do you think should exist between journalists and the military especially staff of your directorate?
Cordiality but mutual respect. I am aware that the media wants to be respected. We try our best to extend to them. But we also demand that they try and be respectful in interacting with us, so as to promote good relationship and makes both of us to do our jobs better. Secondly, to cultivate trust. I know by virtue of training as journalist, we are trained to be skeptical but we can moderate it once in a while. It doesn’t mean everybody out there is a liar. Then we should be available for one another. We mentioned the issue of transparency at the beginning; we only promote it by relationship. We become transparent and free to express how we feel, when we are trusted and know that we would not be betrayed. I will also urge the media to trust the spokespersons more, than trying to go behind the line to people who may not really have the perspective that are proper to promote vital and correct information. The people they are reaching through the back door may actually have only a minor perspective of issues they are asking for and that cannot represent the position of the entire organization. So relying blacklegs within the system is not always helpful to an organization. These are issues that I think will make both of us operate well enjoy our job.
As a fellow of Nigerian Public relations practitioner and a seasoned PR practitioner, what should be major requirement for a good spokesperson?
One is confidence in you and organization and the medium. Of course, knowledge brings confidence. Confidence in your organization also includes involvement. Involvement in installing and ensuring corrective measures on what we see as not painting the organization right. And that confidence relates to the amount of confidence superiors have in you. If they take you seriously, when you raise issues, they listen. But if you are not an ideal spokesman, your views may not be taken seriously in given direction to the organization. The spokesman should raise himself to the level where he will be taken seriously. This starts with his knowledge of the organization and his analytic ability. More so, you should be confident in your medium. This seem a bit difficult, but you should be confident in your journalist that he will deliver, accurately, properly, consistence with the policy both your organization and his editorial policy. That confidence is cultivated by regular interaction with the medium. The medium will also have confidence in you depending on how well you discharge your responsibility. I think these are the major ideal qualities of a spokesperson.
Do you think the Military have been transparent enough in information dissemination regarding their operations in the troubled zones?
As much as possible within the limit of what is operationally and security allowed, we have been transparent in our dealings with the press. We are guided in our information dissemination procedures with the principles of what we call SAPP: Security, Accuracy, Policy and Propriety. It must be in consonance with the security requirement of the moment. It must be accurate not wrong or misleading. It must conform to the existing policies of our organization that is determined by the direction, the leadership and the entire system of operations. And propriety involves some level of ethics. The information must conforms to organization and media ethics so as not to jeopardize the security of our troops, equipment and security of our country. I think that any transparency that ignores those elements is of no use.
Lastly, what are the landmark achievements of your unit since its creation?
We have tried to elevate the level of vibrancy in this directorate to the extent that we are improving our relationship with all our stakeholders: the media and the military community. We have also elevated the status of relationship between this directorate, and all the services of the armed forces, security agencies and all offices of disaster management bodies. We have tried to be more pragmatic in terms of interaction and even joint trainings and of course in terms of involvement in the activities of one another. All of these is what have dictated our actions so far. We have also been able to enjoy the confidence of the generality of the armed forces and the leadership thereof. All together we have had the privilege of far reaching interactions and effort yielding result. We have tried to elevate the level of vibrancy in this directorate to the extent that we are improving our relationship with all our stakeholders: the media and the military community. We have also elevated the status of relationship between this directorate, and all the services of the armed forces, security agencies and all offices of disaster management bodies. We have tried to be more pragmatic in terms of interaction and even joint trainings and of course in terms of involvement in the activities of one another. All of these is what have dictated our actions so far. We have also been able to enjoy the confidence of the generality of the armed forces and the leadership thereof. All together we have had the privilege of far reaching interactions and effort yielding result.