Segun Adeniyi And E-Information Management

It was in the days of the old Nigerian Guardian newspaper website when it still had the chat room option that internet savvy Nigerians usually congregated to debate topical social, political, economic and cultural issues. The defunct Guardian chat room attracted all sorts of people, including Nigerians and non-Nigerians. People came for different reasons; there were those who came to look for love, some others for business partners and many others simply to vent their anger on the government. There were also some who perpetually had an axe to grind with everybody who did not share their world view. They would insult, abuse and attack the ‘dissenters’, hoping that their bully tactics would make the ‘dissenters’ to succumb.

The Guardian chat room proved to be a successful social experiment; this must have been why the Ibru clan burrowed into their business books and attempted to monetise the popularity of the chat room. They password- locked the chat room, granting access only to fee paying subscribers who could pay either in Naira or Dollars. I did not hang around much after this was done and did not know how successful the new business model they adopted was, there was no need to because at that time, Nigerian ‘techies’ based all over the world had started providing free alternatives. Many Nigerians took the free option and jumped ship, and thus were born popular chat forums and websites including Seun Osewa’s nairaland.com.

In the latter category belongs nigeriavillagesquare.com, popularly known as NVS, regular visitors to the site and regular members call themselves villagers. Owners of the website claim that the website is the flagship of all Nigerian news websites, many would readily agree although some others would have their reservations. However, the fact remains that NVS has increasingly played itself into reckoning and have in so short a time established itself as a Nigeria-focused online media brand to be reckoned with.

On a daily basis, issues of social, economic, political and cultural importance are introduced to the village square by the teeming NVS independent writers and contributors. Such issues are hotly debated and contested by other villagers; the general mood despite the fiery and feisty debates is usually that of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’.

It may seem therefore that NVS’ reputation is fast spreading, justifying the need for government information managers to incorporate NVS and several others including nigeriansinamerica.com, nigeriaworld.com, gamji.com, kwenu.com, nigerdeltacongress.com, nigerian-newspaper.com, chatafrikarticles.com, biafranigeriaworld.com, ukpakareports.com, saharareporters.com, Nigeria2Day@aol.com etc. into their information management framework.

This is indeed a good idea because if well managed, such e-media portals would provide supplementary alternatives to the traditional media channels i.e. newspapers, television, television, radio etc particularly in reaching Nigerians in the diaspora who are opinion leaders in their own rights capable of influencing the opinions of either family members in Nigeria, members of their community who depend on them for information, and the general citizens through informed opinion commentaries in the newspapers. Such a two-step communication flow is still relevant in today’s world despite the increasing sophistication and socio-political awareness of the general citizenry. These e-media portals could therefore serve as amplifiers of information or as base stations or platforms for starting certain information campaigns; a case in point is the political campaign of Professor Pat Utomi, the presidential flag bearer of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) who one may argue flagged off his presidential campaign on the internet using blogs, own website and other websites such as NVS to articulate his campaign manifesto.

The main challenge for government information managers however is how to go about harnessing the potentials of these emergent new media in information management without actually harming both the source, message and messenger i.e. the government officials whose information are being communicated, the information being communicated and the media spokespersons otherwise known as special advisers (SA) on media and communication.

In embracing these new platforms, ability to navigate the traps or information management landmines set all over these e-media platforms including on NVS may be key to successful information management in the new e-media world.

News travels fast on the internet; the rise of blogs and e-forums thus provides opportunities and also portends danger to government information managers. Unfortunately several government information managers having come up through the traditional newspaper ranks before finding themselves in government either do not yet understand the dynamics of e-media, or they are still grappling with the challenges like everyone else fairly new to this new all consuming e-world.

As an emergent new media, NVS can serve both as friend or foe to government information managers. In choosing to adopt NVS or any other e-media as an information platform, the four most important factors which should be considered by a government information manager are; The Profile of the E-Media Platform, Source Credibility, Message Validity and finally The Target Audience.

These factors may seem simple but they are very loaded. Beginning with the first – The Profile of the E-Media Platform, it is appropriate to engage the audience (based on segmentation) using the particular platform used mostly by one’s target audience. Whereas some of the other Nigeria-focused internet websites may be unique since their audience comprise mainly Nigerians from particular ethnic and geographic regions, NVS on the other hand seems to cut across all ethnic regions and could therefore reach multiple audiences from all the ethnic regions. The name alone (Nigeria Village Square) suggests that it may be the right platform for reaching all Nigerians. The owners describe the website as a marketplace of ideas.

Knowledge of the audience profile and their characteristics/tendencies is also very important. Bearing this in mind, a government information manager should not therefore expect to release information at the village square, and receive pats on the back from all the villagers for the information passed on. Coming to NVS has often been likened to ‘someone wedging his neck in between industrial pliers’. What this means is that the staccato of verbal or written attacks that may follow information materials or articles not considered by the villagers to be ‘up to scratch’ could as also be likened to bursts of gun fire at the war front. Thus in coming to NVS, Segun Adeniyi should have seen the attacks coming. It is wrong to have assumed that NVS is peopled by cheerleaders who are ever in the mood to concur and rubber stamp government information without a bit of scrutiny.

Another important factor in this process is source credibility; this includes both the credibility of the principal and that of the messenger. Using Segun Adeniyi’s recent stopover at NVS as an example. As the Senior Special Adviser to President Umar Yar’Adua, one can rightly assume that his principal is the president of Nigeria. People that knew the President when he was the Governor of Katsina state speak highly of his strict financial discipline, a virtue Nigeria needs at this time.

People that know Segun Adeniyi from his This Day days also speak highly of him as a fine journalist. However, both principal (Umar Yar’Adua) and Spokesperson (Segun Adeniyi) now find themselves embroiled in an odd, or rather unusual circumstances. The principal has benefited from a corrupt electoral system, and the spokesperson must try to sell him to Nigerians who think they know the facts of his election, or rather ‘selection’ as Nigerians chose to describe the April 2007 elections. The challenge or rather question of source credibility which is strategic to an effective communication process is still outstanding and has not been passed by either the principal or his agent, particularly for Segun Adeniyi who is now considered as a full part of the system which he has been criticising for years.

This outstanding issue of source credibility has invariably gone ahead to also taint; or rather distort the message coming from the spokesperson. It has seriously weakened the validity and acceptability of the message that Segun Adeniyi brought to NVS.

Finally, understanding the target audience is key to the success of any information management campaign. Applying the rule of thumb, one can assume that villagers or visitors on NVS are graduates with a minimum of a first degree. Some of them may have travelled widely, may live outside Nigeria or even in Nigeria. They may also fall under the classification of professionals meaning that they may be considered people of above average means. Such people are usually well informed about social, political and economic issues. They would also have several agenda which they would pursue using their comments on NVS.

Why is it necessary to understand the target audience before attempting to plug one’s message?

Understanding of the target audience helps inform on timing of release of information. At the moment, it may seem as if Nigerians have generally acquiesced to the April 2007 election shenanigans, but they have not. Some of them particularly those that visit NVS may only be hibernating or lying low waiting for an opportunity to ‘pounce’ on those who perpetrated the misdeeds or ‘electoral acts’ of April 2007, on their minders or on those remotely connected to them, Segun Adeniyi became the perfect target and stood out like a sore thumb. In exposing himself through his ‘cameo appearance’ on NVS, he made himself and his principal vulnerable and Nigerians took advantage, particularly those that have been lying in wait.

Segun Adeniyi presented this perfect opportunity with his recent article on NVS. The first one perhaps not intentionally as it was courtesy of Laolu Akande’s Empowered Newswire. But obviously, by penning the second essay titled, why the hell am i here?, he was inviting trouble.

How then could Segun Adeniyi have gone about it? Well, first Segun Adeniyi was not well advised by his minders or associates who advised him to state his case on NVS in the manner that it was done. That should have been a no-no. I understand that he was influenced by some villagers including the likes of Taslim Anibaba to write his own account of his capacity building tour to America, i don’t know how true this is but it is still early days for Segun Adeniyi’s tour of duty memoirs. Nigerians are still licking their wounds so there is no point in scratching the wound at this time, let the wounds heal first.

Segun Adeniyi is the person the people know; therefore he should operate more through other people in his communications office at Aso rock. Such people may not attract the type of venoms he attracted. And there is no need to attempt to defend himself always, or even the president anytime someone criticises him or the president. He should know that people are not buying such feeble defences. Sometimes in communication, one should hope to ride the storm rather than utter a rebuttal. Rebuttals encourage more criticisms, let actions speak.

Segun Adeniyi should consider assuming a pseudonym at least for now when next he is stopping over at NVS, or even on any of the other Nigerian media channels where he has been defending the government, and his reasons for accepting to serve in the government. Pseudonyms and monikers are commonly accepted and standard practices in several of these Nigerian e-media platforms. That way, he could easily slip in and out without attracting much attention. From such undercover vantage positions, he could easily feel the pulse of the Nigerian internet community, the issues that are important to them, what they think of the government and its policies, then he would be able to advice his principal appropriately.

Finally, he should go ahead and enjoy his ‘good fortune’, he does not owe anybody an apology or explanation for accepting to serve as the President’s spokesperson, it is entirely his prerogative.

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