Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Communication inadequacies

One of the things that goes wrong time after time with organisations in both the public and private sectors in Nigeria is a failure of the leadership to clearly communicate goals and objectives to the rank and file. In my first job in Nigeria for a local management consultancy, no one knew where the company was going. Since then, I have all too often seen people in leadership positions vacillate and fail to provide clear messages, as well as fail to disseminate whatever message they have come up with adequately down the food chain.

This sense of communicational inadequacy occurs in a context where a tiny fraction of the populace reads the newspapers, and more significantly, where there is no community radio. The lack of community radio reflects the fear of successive administrations about the power of radio as a communication medium in Nigeria. One only has to see how many gate keepers hold their handheld radios as close to their ears as possible to see what a vital medium it is here. There has been a community radio bill before the President, to sign off on 400 community radio licenses, for years, but he has never signed it. Meanwhile, the police regularly confiscate illegal antenna equipment from pirate stations that get set up. Again, both the Voice of America and the BBC's World Service are available on FM in many (most?) countries of the world, but not in Nigeria.

The recent fiasco over the census, where people didnt know whether they could go to work or not, and the more distant air tragedies of last year, are both cases where the administration demonstrated its utter incompetence at communication and information management.

Contrast the situation in Nigeria with Ghana, where there are many community radio stations, and both VOA and the World Service are accessible on FM. Ok, Ghana is much smaller and less ethnically diverse, but it doesn't seem as if community radio is creating instability.

What the administration here needs to realise is that creating a communications infrastructure based around community radio will most probably create more stability than otherwise. It is where there is no information, or unclear information, that the rumour mill cranks into gear, and antipathetic forces take advantage. It would create a healing bridge between the executive and society. Signing the bill would be one of the most positive things Obasanjo would be remembered for. Not signing it, and staying on for a third term, threatens mugabification.


Akin 4:38 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

I think you raise a number of different issues under the heading of communication.

Communication in terms of business strategy is not so much about direction but the withholding information as a sense maintaining some leverage over your employees.

In some cases, the management is just clueless and probably have MBAs to prove it too. :-)

Communication in terms of the community radio is about awareness. That again takes power from those who can purvey untruths and false statistics to make their case.

If everyone is generally knowledgeable of events, news, issues and views it would be the elite have to work harder at retaining their positions of privilege.

Then communication in terms of information dissemination is another part of the power struggle situation.

Here, people hoard the information just in case it might give them some personal advantage.

Sometimes the information is relayed as a conundrum, or is incomplete and sometimes downright false or too late to be of value.

We have a tradition in Yorubaland of not announcing you are pregnant even if it is ever so obvious.

Thereby, a culture of obvious secrecy (if anything like that exists) hampers progress when people think the loss of the monopoly of information means a loss of influence and power.

I think there is more to why things are not moving along as they should. Unfortunately.

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