The Nigerian Army on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 announced the change of one of its internal security exercises in the South East from ‘Python Dance’ (or ‘Egwu Eke’) to ‘Dance of Peace’ (or ‘Atilogwu Udo’). This is a good and welcome development for which one would laud and applaud the army.
Just a week before the announcement was made, the issue of coding or naming was part of the focus of discussion during the Leadership Course in National Security 3 held between October 7 and 10, 2019 at the Nigerian Army Resource Centre, Abuja. In one of the lectures, the same ‘Python Dance’ was used for illustration and I see a close connection between the discussions that day and the action taken a week after, an indication of responsive leadership.
Specifically, after the brilliant presentation of the former Director of Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen Sani Kukasheka Usman (rtd.), on “Strategic Communication in Military and Paramilitary Engagements”, participants discussed the paper. They acknowledged that “strategic communication is the deliberate engagement of identified audiences to communicate key values and priorities through a process that synchronises words and actions” as defined by Paul Cornish or that it is “the purposeful use of communication by an organisation to fulfil its mission”, according to Hallahan et al., as cited by the speaker.
Meanwhile, the presenter and strategic communicator was taken to task by some of the participants that the naming of ‘Python Dance’ was problematic as factors to be put into consideration in strategic communication, as highlighted by him too, are the audience, type or purpose of that communication, the message, the theme, the mood and tone of the message, frequency of the information and the language. Therefore, given that pythons are snakes that use ambush techniques to seize their preys and constrict them to death, the message being sent through the imagery of a python might not be adequate to win the hearts and minds of the audience, and there might be a failure of strategic communication in that regard.
In my contribution, I especially emphasised the axioms, “communication is life”, “perception is everything” and “information is power” while reiterating the power of words in provoking wars and resolving conflicts. Putting strategic communication into consideration is especially crucial in this age of information superhighway as what is said may not be as important as how it is said. What is ultimately essential is the achievement of desired results and the less violent the process is, the better for the people and the environment as mere words make and mar, create or destroy, enliven and kill.
In this regard, the fact that communication is life entails that it is the lifebuoy of human beings. As a matter of fact, we cease to exist when we can no longer communicate. As human beings, research has established that we spend as much as 75% of our entire life communicating, which makes communication an integral part of our existence. Communication therefore should seek to enliven and ennoble.
The foregoing goes further to mean that every time we communicate, we create perceptions, positive or negative, peaceful or violent, and perception is everything. This is why in public relations, significant efforts are made in creating messages that create positive perceptions. The thin line between what is good and bad lies in perception and positive perceptions are relevant to sustaining and maintaining social order and peaceful co-existence.
Besides, that information is powerful as the engine of modern life and civilisation is incontestable. We are more inter-connected by the power of information than we have ever been in history and this is truly the Age of Information.
By and large, communication, information and perception go hand-in-hand. In engaging in any type of communication, be it interpersonal, intercultural, organizational, public, mass, strategic or otherwise, it is crucial to determine its why (the purpose), who (the persons the information is meant for, including their perceptions and beliefs), where (the place where the communication is taking place), when (the timing), what (the subject matter or the message) and how. This ‘how’ appertains to the saying that there are many ways of killing a cat, not only by setting a trap, meaning that different ways of producing messages create different results or effects.