Page 102 - The Chapka 2016
P. 102

Nigerian Tri-Border Region
 In my last month at the Joint Information Activities Group (JIAG), I was invited by the British Army Mentoring and Training Team (BMATT) in Nigeria to conduct some crisis com- munication training for the Nigerian Armed Forces. I jumped at the chance having seen a lot of West Africa in my time at the JIAG but never getting into Nigeria due to other operational commitments in Europe and the Middle East.
The training that the Nigerian MOD wanted to focus on was their spokespeople’s handling of the press in reaction to a cri- sis, most likely involving the Boko Haram Insurgency. The North of the country, centring on the Sambisa Forest in the Tri-Broder region with Chad and Niger, remains gripped by the terrors of these fundamentalists. Attacks are frequent and bloody, with Boko Haram quick to claim them and push their version of events as the truth, leaving the Nigerian Armed Forces scrabbling to pull together an effective counter narrative.
The trip took place over a three week period, with the first week- long training package being delivered to 25 senior officers at one of the main barracks, Bony Cantonment, in Lagos. It focused on how to control a crisis situation with effective and timely communications: the importance of being first with the truth and developing relationship with journalists. This training was aided by the help of correspondent from the West Africa bureau of The Times who agreed to come and present to the Nigerians his feelings from the other side of the fence. Lagos is a ‘vir- brant’ city. A highlight being a prominent Nigerian Rap Art- ist recording his latest music video in the hotel swimming pool whilst I was trying to enjoy a sundowner; quite a sight to behold!
Half-way through the trip, I conducted a move up to the Capi- tal, Abuja. Having never flown internally in West Africa before I was nervously eyeing up the old, sand blasted and weather beaten aircraft at Lagos Airport, wondering if this really was as good of an idea as it had sounded in the UK. Thankfully, the flight was incident free and once the flight had touched down in Abuja, we were met by the BMATT team based there. A road move in civilian armoured vehicles for 4 hours to the northern town of Kaduna, gateway to the Kano Corri- dor followed. The landscape has changed dramatically in our short trip: the swampy inlets and the traffic of Lagos were a stark difference to the vast open expanse of scrub leading to desert fringes of the Sahara the nearer we came to Kaduna.
For the next period until the end of the trip I stayed at the For- eign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) compound in Kaduna
Media. No Slides. Media...whoops, wrong job
– aptly named The Residence. A beautiful old colonial building that the FCO have maintained and kept as a secure compound. The training took place about an hour further north in the UN Peace Keeping Centre in Jagi. The threat level increased signifi- cantly in this region and all road moves had to be conducted armed and with a Nigerian Army escort. The training package was broadly similar to the one that I had delivered in Lagos. However, on the second day of training it was announced that the Nigerian Army had conducted an operation and freed two of the Chibok Girls from Boko Haram captivity. This was a global story when they were kidnapped in April 2014 leading to the hashtag ‘BringBackOurGirls’ which was seen around the world and supported by many public figures, most notably The First Lady, Michelle Obama. The two girls that were rescued were the first and, as such, there was a media scrum to get a Nigerian Army perspective. This served to greatly focus the minds of the Nigerians that I was briefing, three of whom gave interviews to the international press that afternoon.
My time in Nigeria was extremely enjoyable and interesting. My thanks to the BMATT and the FCO for hosting me so well. Nigeria is a fascinating country with a huge amount going for it. Being at the epicentre of breaking news was gave a unique perspective on ‘short term training teams’.
   Captain O’Shea outside the UN Peacekeeping School in Jagi
The Residence FCO Compound

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